I listen to Catchphrase in the car on the way back from work, so if you see a woman talking to herself in Welsh on a country road in the High Weald of Kent, that'll be me! Welsh is beautiful, and my only regret is that I didn't do this earlier in life, when I could have had some enjoyable conversations with my father-in-law, who spoke excellent Welsh. It always amuses me when I hear English people complain that, on entering pubs and shops in some parts of Wales, the locals continue to speak Welsh in their presence. It is their mother-tongue after all! Surely English tourists wouldn't expect the same, when en vacances, of a French person?
I've always loved languages, and, like my siblings, have inherited my mother's ear for picking them up and being able to reproduce their sounds so confidently that it can cause native speakers to think I know the lingo far better than I do! This can sometimes be embarrassing - that's what comes of being a natural-born parrot and show-off!
Dad, on the other hand, did not really have the language-learning gene, though he spoke English beautifully, and as a small child in India I believe he spoke both Hindi and Urdu. He spent years learning Spanish in his dressing-room when he toured with My Fair Lady, assiduously practising his pure text-book Castilian, but when he and Mum moved to Alicante in the early 1970s, he found to his dismay he could barely make himself understood. He related that, when going into a posada in the countryside and asking for a beer, his request went something like "Landlord! Bring me a flagon of thy foaming ale, that I may quaff it!"
Mum on the other hand had no truck with text books but picked up the local Valencian dialect in a matter of weeks, as she similarly did with Tyrolean dialect when she worked for several summers in Austria.
My formal language learning stopped at A Level, but early years with German au-pairs and summer holidays playing with a gang of kids from all over Europe in my Aunty Janet's campsite on the Ebre Delta must have given me a good foundation. Although it's decades now since I spent more than a week or two at a time in Spain, Germany or France, I can still dredge up enough basic language to get by. Inevitably, the holes in my vocabulary grow larger as the years flow by, but I dare say a couple of months immersion would restore fluency.
I saw a notice at the local library recently for learning British Sign Language. I'd like to do that, but maybe learning Welsh, and trying to buff up my German for a forthcoming Rhine Christmas markets trip, may be enough for the time being!
One of my colleagues speaks Arabic, Spanish, French, German and Chinese. I'm envious! And another clever young man I worked with, currently studying German and Russian at university, taught himself Swedish by listening on the internet. Good on them - any British person who makes the effort to learn another language is admirable in my eyes, and combats the deeply embarrassing spectacle of many who do not, including the majority of our politicians!
When I was a teenager, on holiday in Spain, there was nothing more joyous than sitting round with French, German, Spanish and Dutch friends and communicating in a hodge-podge, from one language to the next. We were young, and relatively free from the fear of getting things wrong. You see this even more in small children, who quickly improvise ways to play together even with no shared language.
It's worthwhile learning another language - it helps break down the barriers of ignorance andimproves mutual understanding and respect between our fellow human beings. If you didn't learn any when you were at school, why not join an evening class and give it a go?