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Following my Father's Lead

For my dad, communicating was key. He loved talking to people. He loved telling stories. He loved connecting. However, he understood that connecting would often mean knowing something other than English. Growing up in the Tampa/St. Pete area, he was exposed to Cuban culture early on. Then with World War II, he found himself in North Africa, the Middle East, and then Europe. Wherever he went, he picked up enough of the language to at least be polite, and could often do better than that just get by.

When I came along, well after the end of the war, he was still enamored of language. He would put signs on things around the house, with the labelled objects named in English, Spanish, and French. I still remember the Spanish nursery rhyme he tought me, to help me roll my Rs, and by the age of 3, I was able to say a dozen sentences in French.

By the time I was in my teens, my dad was with the airlines. Work often took him overseas, and he always studied hard so he could present his speeches in the language of the country he'd be visiting. He managed that beautifully in German and Swedish, but the languages he came to love most were Italian and Japanese. However, for dad, the best travel would always be family travel. That meant Italian or Spanish or German lessons around the dining room table for months before a trip.

I was already completely hooked by this time, however, and didn't need much encouragement. I had started French lessons in sixth grade and added Latin in high school (it helps with a lot of languages). I happily added to what I learned in school the lessons from home, and I got fairly competent in Italian -- at least enough to get around, ask questions, talk about travel, shop, and order food and wine.

By the time I finished college, I was fairly fluent in French. Over the years, I've gotten a bit rusty, but I find it comes back quickly when I get to French-speaking countries. However, I've continued to add bits and pieces of other languages as I've traveled on my own adventures, learning hello, please, and thank you in a dozen languages, and basic converstation in a few more (including one of dad's favorites, Japanese).

When I was a child, young enough to still believe just a little bit in the possibility of those three magic wishes, my number one wish was always that I could speak everything. Obviously, that will never happen, but I've at least made an effort to always be able to be polite wherever I am. It makes a big difference to people. Like my dad, I love to connect, and even a few words in another language can help make that happen.

Thanks, dad, for language and the lesson about the difference it can make.