Alison Garwood Jones

Language classes

May 30, 2014

At first we were told to study French.
And so we did,
Memorizing hundreds of verbs:
To resemble, to be like, to look like.
To loosen, to unleash, to let go.
To daze, to stun, to bewilder …
And when school was done with us, we found jobs in government.
Or moved to Montréal to become servers.
Most of us never bothered with it again, except …


Knowing even a little French was a source of smug satisfaction.
Especially in places like The Louvre Gift Shop:
“C’est un cadeau pour ma mère.”
Or the BNP line:
Pardonez-moi, je suis venu ici en premier.”
Or on boulevards at insistent businessmen:
“Va te faire foutre, Ass Hole.”
That told them.


Some of us added German and Italian to the mix.
But then we were told, “Nope, now it’s Chinese.”
现在 我需要知道中国
Tutors held us hostage for hours learning this language.
Our Twizzler consumption tripled.
We started to wonder whatever happened to Esperanto?
All those plans to foster world peace and international understanding?
This was right at the time we were saving the Whooping Crane.


Naturally, that moment passed and was replaced by another,
With brand new rules.
The Whooping Crane survived.
And from the head of Zeus sprung Code,
The new global language.
Our stress over the past perfect seemed so silly now.
So neoclassical.
HTML tables drowned out verb charts, periodic tables,
Powdered wigs and harpsichord scales.
Border collapses, vertical alignments, global attributes.
Amo, Amas, Amat.


Be bold.
That’s easy today: <strong>Take that</strong>
Colourful. Are you kidding me: <span style=“color: #ff0000;“>I’ve got plenty</span>
Ignore said punctuation at your peril.
Practice it for 14 hours a day — at least.
And don’t expect to get the girl.
Wait! Invent an algorithm to see if she’s single.
Come up with the best combinatorics, graph theory and string analysis.
Watch out for the Russians and Chinese.
Don’t sleep.
Don’t change your underwear.
Just win.
Then collapse with some beer, pizza and porn.


But wait …
If your idea of language is something other.
If bold to you is Angelou and Mandela,
And search is Odysseus, not Google,
Be prepared to justify yourself to the Arbiters of Now.
Steel yourself for a life of economic poverty.
Or learn to speak their language in exchange for food,
And come home at sunset
To shelves stuffed with gold and folded roadmaps to Byzantium.
Embrace compromise, but bookend each day with riches.
</span><span style=”line-height: 1.5em;”>Not the end.</span>


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