I speak one language. I took 7 years of middle school/high school/college French, and my comprehension is ok, but my ability to speak is pretty poor. I understand some Spanish, just from having heard a lot of it (and because you can make educated guesses on a lot of the nouns if your French vocabulary is decent). I’m just starting to learn German. I can sign the alphabet in American Sign Language and I can code in a variety of programming languages. That’s it. Actually, I feel pretty good about it.
I was, therefore, incredibly impressed today when ordering coffee at Starbucks. The person in front of me ordered in German, and the barista taking the order spoke in such quick and fluid Austrian-accented German that I was thinking, “Uh-oh. She sounds like she might be one of those few Austrian Starbucks baristas who doesn’t actually speak English, so I hope my German is ok and the other baristas haven’t just been humoring me.”
I step up, order in German, she smiles, and replies in perfect English (as they often do). “Whew”, I think,” I got to use my German, but she’ll understand me if I have to correct/add anything. Great!” Then I remembered that I was going to order a brownie, blurt that out in English, and she smiles, gives me my total in English, and all is well.
Then, the person behind me steps up and says, “Bonjour!” and proceeds to order in (surprise!) French. To which the barista replies in perfect (as far as I can tell) French, responding to questions, corrections and several specific requests.
Damn. I can’t do that. I’m totally impressed. And humbled. And grateful for the Austrian educational system, which lets me get by with my 30 words of poorly spoken un-articled German. Danke!