I’m watching Bush’s visit to Zagreb on Croatian TV this morning. Of course, Bush doesn’t speak Croatian. He also doesn’t speak English all that well (He said “Nucular” again instead of Nuclear during his speech to NATO). However, the Croatian Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader did manage to speak a little English without much of an accent, which makes me think he speaks it fairly well… or maybe just has a good accent coach. That made me wonder at what point in his life he started really learning English. He studied comparative literature, so he’s fluent in five languages.
Sanader is a bad example because of his background, but the idea of successful people (especially men) learning foreign languages strikes me as funny. I’m sure that they do, but the idea strikes me as funny because learning a new language is a lot like going back to being a child. I used to joke when I lived in Switzerland after only two years of German that I felt like the village idiot. In English, I’m a reasonably well-spoken person with a sense of humor. In German at the time, I was able to speak simply about my needs and wants, but I was the village idiot when it came to anything more complicated. I remember accidentally telling my guest family that my parents were dead instead of divorced (which made it very confusing when I called them on the phone).I’ve spent much of the last 10 years learning two languages, and for both cases I went through the same process of being an idiot before I reached the point where I don’t sound like an idiot. So, it just makes me laugh thinking of these big-shot government leaders going through the same process of being a high-status person through most of their life and then being the village idiot while trying to learn some language.