When I took both Latin and French in high school and college, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. These days, though I'm happy that I can understand some of what the French tourists on the train are saying, and that I can often figure out the definitions of words with Latin roots, I don't quite remember enough to help my kids with their language homework, and I definitely couldn't read The Aeneid if I tried.
I am realizing, however, that in order to survive, both as a parent and
as a professional, I kind of have to be multilingual. I need to
understand and speak Teenager and Video Game and Theater Buff. Not to
mention Networking, Creative, Manager, and Technician. And I guess,
since I'm still standing, I've picked up a few of these. Mind you, I am
more fluent in some of them than in others. But the better I master the
language, the better I relate to the person trying to speak it. And
that's good for everyone.
Perhaps it would have been better to have become fluent in Spanish or
Mandarin. It might have made me more current or more globally
marketable. But on a daily basis, multilingual ends up being as much
about learning to speak your home and work companions' "language" than
about learning to speak the language of another country. You may not
have to use a dictionary or master conjugating verbs, but it requires at
least as much "mental gymnastics," and definitely keeps you from
feeling like a foreigner in your own home.
These days, I'm working on competence, not fluency. These are languages that may be crucial right now--but ones that will likely be useful for a much shorter time than even partly
remembered French or Latin.