We get into the cab and ask for the cab and ask for the bus station. In this initial encounter the driver gives off the impression of speaking far more English than he actually does. We pull out a map and once again say bus station while pointing to our destination. He still doesn’t understand. He starts driving off, we hope in the right direction.
Then we start throwing languages out there. One of my friends speaks some German and some Chinese. These fall flat. I speak French fluently. I start saying autobus and Francais and he perks up. He speaks French. Excellent.
From here I manage to explain that we are not trying to go to a hotel or hostel — I fumble for the word then remember it is auberge — but to the bus station. We are thankful to make it to our destination — especially since our bus leaves very soon — and I am pleased with myself. I conversed in French. I got us to our destination. Once I stopped being worried it was fun. At home I never have a reason to speak French but for some reason in Lithuania I am given the chance twice — the border patrol also speaks to me in French.
For the most part you can get by with just English while traveling, especially in Western Europe. But then my encounter validates my belief that one should speak at least two languages, and probably more. I have been thinking of learning Chinese or German or something else for a while. I feel two languages are not enough. It reminds me of how handy it can be to communicate with others.
My roommate has also been telling me that for him learning Chinese was as much about speaking the language as learning a new perspective. The language is much different than any European language and reflects the culture and nation that spawned it.
Then I think of university Spanish. I took two semesters of it because of a language requirement and remember how to say I don’t like cheese and ask where the beach is. The second semester went so fast that by the end I barely remembered the present tense. And to make matters worse it was marked on a ridiculously hard scale — my eighty per cent only earned me a B, with a ninety-four per cent required for an A. To say the least I wasn’t really invented in Spanish. I took it because it was supposed to be easy if you spoke English and French, and I had to do a language. In the end it was a lot of work.
Learning a language was tricky and one has to really be invested in it to put in the work. That is why I resolved to never take a language for academic credit ever again. That is why I didn’t take Danish language courses while on exchange in Denmark. That is why I barely speak Spanish.
I think that doing it on your own time is different. I would learn Chinese because I am interested in China. I wrote my honours thesis on Sino-American relations and would consider living there. It would be a project undertaken because I believe it to be valuable and enriching. Who knows maybe one day in a cab I will have a driver who doesn’t speak a word of English. Perhaps it will come in handy. After all speaking French is the reason we caught our bus.