Tim Istock column: It’s all Greek to me

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

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By Tim Istock

Okay, so here’s the pitch. Actual names have been changed to protect the fraudulent:

“Hi, I’m Dick Van Drivel. Have you always wanted to learn a foreign language but thought it would be too difficult and time consuming. Well, no more, because with Gibberish Galore, if you’ve got 30 minutes a day, we can have you speaking Spanish, French, Icelandic, Mongolian, Navaho or any other language of your choice in just 30 days, and all in the comfort of your own home or car.”

Now unless you have been living under a rock since exiting the womb, you’ve all heard an ad like this on radio or TV at some point in your life. And I’m also guessing that for at least a few of you, the notion of speaking a second language has percolated around in your noggin at one time or another, representing what appears on the surface to be a pretty hip idea with more than a few practical uses, but one which you also suspect would require more time than you can muster up given your already non-stop hectic life.

But wait, you think, enticed by the persuasive come on, these folks are telling me that in only 30 minutes a day, I could be speaking Swahili for kicks in just 30 days? Shoot! Now that doesn’t sound too bad at all.

Uh huh, right! And I suppose for an additional nominal fee and an extra 10 minutes a day of your “free” time, you could learn to be a rocket scientist as well.

Listen mi amigos, I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to learn a second, third or even tenth language with one of these foreign language instructional programs.

I’m just saying that based on my own personal experience of painfully enduring eighty gazillion hours of Spanish instruction in high school and college — a language, by the way, which ranks second only behind political double talk as the easiest language on the planet to learn — and coming away from the experience with a working knowledge of Espanol which includes, and is limited to, such helpful phrases as, “Mas cerveza por favor “(More beer, please), and, “Besa mi trasero” (Kiss my #$*), well, let’s just say I’m a tad bit skeptical of these fast track to fluency promises.

Now, having said that, if you’re that person who happens to be amply intelligent, intensely motivated, and maybe most importantly, have been threatened with learning a foreign language or else face being locked in a small interrogation room for three days with a life insurance salesman, then yeah, maybe a trip to Mozambique to converse with the locals might possibly be in the cards for you. But for the rest of us schmos, who have a hard time understanding the prevailing teen slang, let alone a complex foreign language, we are probably more likely to learn Pig Latin in 30 minutes a day for 30 days than we are to even begin mastering a dialect as challenging as Mandarin Chinese.

So, limber up those lips and spring for the lingo lessons if you want to, but for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that unless someone airlifts me to a foreign country, like say, Miami, and drops me off for six months where I’m forced to choose between either learning to communicate with the locals or else face starvation and sleeping with no roof over my head, my chances of learning a foreign tongue compliments of some language program I’ve listened to in my car while dodging demolition derby wannabes on Lewisville-Clemmons Road, are probably about as good as Arnold Schwarzenegger being tabbed for the role of Hamlet in a Broadway play.

In other words, limslay and onenay.

Now, on the other hand, if there was a program that could help this transplanted Yankee better understand his lovely wife’s deep fried, home grown, southern Tobaccoville dialect, well, I’d be on that faster than a duck on a June bug, whatever that means.