I grew up in a French Canadian family. My grandparents and older relatives spoke French as well as English. They tried teaching me to speak French. "You have to rrrrrrrrroll your Rs", they'd instruct. " But that HURTS!" I'd complain, one hand clutching my throat.
Once at a family gathering, my mom and aunts were making Tourtieres, or Canadian Meat Pies. My aunts were rolling out the pie crusts and my Papa was teasing them, "It's too thick over here", he'd point to a corner of the dough. They'd yell at him in French and he'd burst out laughing. I asked my mom, "what are they saying?", wanting to be involved. She repeated it, but still in French. I still didn't understand, so she wrote it down. Now I pronounce things the way they're written. I eye the paper and struggle to sound out the words. "Mangeeee laaaa Merdeeee", I drawled. "No, you got to roll your r's, it's mange la merde", my mother corrected. "What does that mean?" I asked. "Eat Shit," she replied with a chuckle. "Oooookay" I muttered and eye-rolled at the group who now were giggling at me.
Then there was my experience with Spanish. When I was a teenager, my parents had a 32ft pleasure boat. We spent weekends and holidays cruising around Georgian Bay. It had an upper deck with a bench for driving, then there was the main deck with the main steering wheel and more seating room, then you go below to the kitchen, bathroom and bed in the front berth. We were all crusing along on the top deck when my dad asks "Can you get a music tape for me?" "Sure, what do you want?" I replied. "Hulio" I lipread him saying. So I climb down the ladder and down to the living area and pull out the big box of cassettes and start scanning the titles. "H...H...H...H...Dad!" I holler up, "There's no Hulio!" My dad then climbs down to me, scans the tapes and pulls one out. "It's right here" he says exasperated. "But Dad that's J, you said Hulio, not Julie-o" I complained. "It's Spanish, J is H" he explains. "Okay if J is H, then what's H?" I asked, confused at this new set of language rules. "Well it can be silent like 'ola, or a W sound, depending on the word" he clarified. "Oh so then it's not a Chi-who-ya-who-ya" I asked, sounding out every syllable. "Chi-WHAT?" he blurts out in confusion. "You know, small dog, big eyes, shakes a lot" I explained, cupping my hands to demonstrate the size. "That's Chihuahua" he sounds it out, while snickering and eyerolling at my previous prounounciation.
Fine, I give up on Foreign languages! I'll just stick with my struggle of English and Sign Language. Can't go wrong with signing, I thought to myself. I learned that was a naive guess, it turns out if you have the wrong hand shape, or it's in the wrong place, it's a whole different meaning! When I was at University, the guidance counselor told a funny story about when he was at Gallaudet University for Summer School Interpreting program. He finished a class and was walking outside and saw some Deaf friends sitting around chatting at a picnic table and he joined them. "Wow hot today?" he signed to the group. "Yes hot today" several signed back. "Lots of bugs around" he signed. "Really? Where? Where?" they asked while howling with laughter. He's puzzled by their reaction but continued to chat. Later on in the day while in another class, "Don't mind to help me" he signed to a hearing friend. "Sure, what is it?" his friend signed back. "I was chatting with Deaf outside earlier and I signed 'lots of bugs around'" he explained. "This is the sign for bugs", his friend blurted out while demonstrating the correct sign. "Oh, then what's this sign?" he asks while signing what he thought was the sign for 'bugs'. "Orgasm" his friend replied, snickering.
So yeah.....I have trouble with foreign languages.