Learning to Speak, 2021 edition

How ya doin’? I declined to post a la fin de l’annee blog before the onset of the neujahr. Guess I lacked “inspiration,” which is how that word is spelled in both French and German. Verstehen? Comprende? Oui? Nein? Look! I’m multi-lingual!

Okay, maybe not so much. Actually I’m I’m not even semi-fluent in any foreign language. Took Latin in high school and a semester of it in college. Latin, the “dead language”. Hmm. The anti-social language? Not always, though. It was all the rage in ancient Rome. It’s all about the timing. If I were born in contemporary Rome, I’d be speaking fluent Italian. However, I was born in rough and tumble Chicago. Of Scot, Irish, German and Italian bloodlines. But I am fluent only in English, although I didn’t “choose” it. Any more than I didn’t choose where to be born in Chicago. But I yam what I yam, to quote Popeye the Sailor. English is the most common language on the planet, counting both native and non-native speakers. But who wants to be common, other than Common, the talented and successful actor/rapper? Should I choose to flee the country and seek a satisfying sunset on distant shores, I ought to be able to get by with my oh so common English language ability.

Go to live in another country? Many people do just that. And what’s a most common destination? If not Chicago, somewhere in the United States.

As an educator at the freshman/sophomore level of higher education, I’ve had students who not only spoke English (some quite well, some not so much) plus one, two, sometimes even three or FOUR other tongues. Quite impressive, no doubt. Exotic. However, most of these bi, tri, and quadrilingual speaking people did not speak French or German. Quite a number spoke Polish. More than a few spoke Russian, and/or Ukrainian. Or: Czech. Romanian. Bulgarian. Latvian. Slovenian. Lithuanian. Bosnian. Serbian. Croatian. Albanian. Slovak. Hmm. Oh, and there’s the occasional Hindi, Arabic and I recall one who spoke Tajiki. Plus languages from other of the “STANS” countries. Uzbek. Kazak. Urdu. I’m probably still forgetting a few of the other native languages that arrived in my classroom along with the mono-lingual homies who, like moi, learned English not knowing what the hell language was being babbled at me while I fussed with a crib toy while repeatedly pooping my panty. Now there’s a universal experience.

Where am I going with this, you may be wondering? It’s more like where is this tedious litany of foreign languages coming from?, since everyone knows (once one is just a few years past the panty-pooping, goo-goo, gaga, universal gibberish of infancy writ worldly) that not everyone speaks the same lingo. Well, I’m saying that native German or French speaking students virtually never end up parking their backsides in a seat in my classes. Why not? Because they’re all in France or Germany. Why would they need to attend college in the U.S., as an undergraduate, especially? The same goes for rarely if ever having a student from Spain or Great Britain, Austria, Belgium and certainly never from Andorra (quick, try to picture that country’s location on a map). Evidently, there are countries whose citizens are able to feel life is just fine where they are, natural born citizens, again not by their own choice buy, hey, glad they were. The Andorran’s, et al, might come to the U.S. to visit, but going home again raises no concern for their well being. And good for them. Coca-Cola had that mojo back in the early 70’s via (Latin!) I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony….Or, cue up Kumbaya and let’s all hold hands…

no wait, that damn pandemic.

Ah, but life in the US of A these days is so not kumbaya, and might have scores of its natural born citizens pondering about the wisdom staying on for the longer and longer haul. Why?

Well, 2021 is in its fourth day. It’s in goo-goo gaga territory, given there are 361 days waiting their turn to possibly have something important to say. 2021 is going to grow up really fast as far as speaking to we the people. Especially to we mostly exclusively, English speaking, natural born, denizens of the United States. It’ll be speaking to all my soon-to-be and former international students too. It’ll be speaking to everyone, anywhere here or abroad, since the U.S. is the major global player. We have the gigantic economy and an even more massive military. We have the most nukes, and we’re the ONLY country ever to use nuclear weapons in anger, toward the end of WWII. Keep a close eye on our actions, for sure.

Keep both eyes on the U.S. since, at this early stage of 2021, we have a president and a portion of his party’s members clearly attempting to stage a coup d’etat. Well, not exactly a coup, since the current Big Cheese already has Big Cheese power. It’s more of a coup to overthrow the legal election of a new president, due to be sworn in on January 20. The voters have spoken in the unambiguous language of electoral mathematics. That is, the Big Cheese (also known as the Big Cheeto, Agent Orange, Angry Dreamsicle, Captain Chaos, Cadet Bone Spurs, Orange Julius, and even Godzilla with Less Foreign Policy Experience) and his acolytes want to reverse the election results by using the mystical language of the mathematics of magical thinking.

But wait. That’s coming this Wednesday, the 6th of January. Tomorrow, the 5th, there’s the crucial run-off election for two Senate seats that will determine which party rules that branch of our government. But wait, again. If the coup is successful (supposedly it is not possible, but given what 2016, 17, 18, 19 and oh so especially 20 has dumped onto our laps, anything might still happen) then those two senate seats won’t matter. But wait yet again! If the opposition party’s two candidates defeat Cheeto’s preferred candidates on the 5th, then what happens on the 6th could be dramatically altered for better or worse. In a twisted game of cause and effects, if the President-elect’s party gains those two seats, tens of millions of Americans will be rejoicing. Simultaneously, tens of millions of Cheeto’s followers will be using very fowl language, both verbal and non-verbal, when the 6th of January showdown takes place. Again, the legal experts say Cheeto has no possible means of staying in power, but for those who voted to thrown the bum out over TWO MONTHS AGO, the current countdown to the 6th brings with it a surreal sense that the 6th won’t settle a damn thing. Merely having to engage this 2021 scenario of the treacherous 5th and 6th tandem is an act of maddening cognitive dissonance.

2020 and its pandemic has brought out some very disturbing behavior on the part of millions of people. There are those who refuse to wear the mask, or who still gather in crowds where other mask-refusers choose to gather, or who start fights in stores or on the streets blathering about their rights being taken away, adding fuel to an already toxic stew of stupidity, anarchy and black magical thinking. 2021 is just a number, but many want to think it will ultimately speak the language of common sense, decency and good will. Hmm. Right now, as I’ve said, 2021 hasn’t said much of anything, electorally or pandemically, different than 2020 hadn’t already been screaming for months and months. But 2021, unlike 2020, isn’t going to sneak up on anyone. Four days of stasis is all we get. Nothing is likely to be settled after the 5th, 6th or even the 20th, one way or another. Even if Covid-19 never came along, this would still be a sick-ass country.

Perhaps, right now, there are many who want to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents or great grandparents by coming to the U.S. and its legendary opportunity for advancement. If the pandemic that did indeed come around doesn’t permit that to happen anytime soon, I wonder what affect the month of January 2021 might have on how good an idea that might still be.

At this precise moment, to those from troubled native lands wanting to come to America, 2021 edition, I’d emphatically invoke caveat emptor.

Hey, see? Who said Latin was a dead language?

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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