I enjoy other languages. I think it is amazing how expressive and beautiful they can be. Back in high school I took up Spanish and have been speaking it ever since (though not well and not fluently). Once I tried to learn French on a flight to Paris. I managed to learn enough to get around, but I have never been very good at French.
There was this infomercial on TV when I was a kid. It was a language learning system for children that used cartoons to teach French1. There was this one part that stuck with me, “Je suis une jeune fille.” I would repeat it any time I heard something that sounded remotely European. This continued on until I was 15 or 16 when a friend of mine asked me if I knew what it meant. I did not. She informed me that I was proudly telling the world that “I am a young girl.”
My lingual faux pas2 did not stop there. When I moved to Dallas for college3 I befriended a lovely Columbian girl at my school. We spent quite a bit of time together regardless of the fact that she was not entirely fluent in English. After several months I started to become attached to her and I felt the need to express it in her native tongue. For weeks I would tell her “te quiero.” I felt clever and happy that I knew how to tell her “I like you.” I was mortified when I realized I had been telling her “I want you.4“
It’s embarrassing when you say the wrong thing. A little joke about “What’s really on your mind?” or simply “I meant to say…” will usually get you out of trouble. But when you find that you’ve been repeating nonsense or, worse, phrases with meanings that you did not intend, there’s no real way to recover. Lo que sera¡, sera¡.