In high school I took one year of French. Because I’ve never had the opportunity to use it, I’ve retained very little, although I can still sing a mean first verse of “La Marsaillaise.”
A couple of years ago I invested in “Spanish for Dummies,” thinking I’d learn it so I could speak more easily with my neighbor from Columbia. But while “Spanish for Dummies” gathered dust on my shelf, my neighbor improved her English at such a rapid rate that I didn’t need Spanish anymore.
Still, I am bilingual. A second language was spoken in my home when I was very small, a language used by the adults to speak in my presence about things they didn’t want me to hear. Before I was three, I had mastered it and understood everything they said:
“Opstay erhay! Eshay isyay oloringcay onyay ethay allsway.”
“An’tcay ouyay akemay erhay utshay upyay? Eshay isyay ivingdray emay azycray.”
“Issusmay Onesjay oldtay emay atthay ethay ilkmayanmay ayedstay inyay Issusmay Ithsmay’s ousehay orfay ortyfay-ivefay inutesmay Uesdaytay.”
The grown-ups were shocked when I started speaking Pig Latin back to them. After that, they resorted to spelling all their secrets when I was around. And for that, I give belated credit to my family, who unintentionally paved the way for the eighth-grade spelling champ of Jarrett Jr. High School.