Everyone here wants to know how Leo's English is after 6 years in the US. Never one to lie, I tell them that his comprehension is fluent and that he can converse with anyone in any situation... but that his grammar is atrocious (and, in my humble opinion, totally adorable). In 6 years, he probably ought to have learned more, but -- to be fair -- I forced him to speak exclusively Portuguese with me during the last two.
"I would only need 4 months in the US before I would speak fluently!" announced Leo's uncle, Ze Lopes, over dessert on Saturday.
"I was there for 10 weeks," said his mom, "two more months and I would have been speaking like a native!" (Mind you, the only English words I ever heard her utter during those 10 weeks were "good morning" and "thank you," and we could hardly get her out of the apartment long enough to use them.)
"Must be lazy..." Leo's aunt said, ribbing him.
They, meanwhile, are completely nonplussed by the fact that I'm fluent in Portuguese.
No one appreciates language and just how difficult it can be to learn a new one like those of us who've lived abroad and have experienced that all-consuming helpless feeling of being unable to request a restroom, identify and purchase basic necessities like shampoo, or of getting hopelessly lost and being unable to explain where home is to an obliging but terrifically confused stranger. Until you've spent 20 minutes drawing, miming, and clucking like a chicken to convey simple ideas; until you've felt your intelligence draining along with your vocabulary; until you've unwittingly called a 5-year-old girl a slut when meaning to say fish; until you've waded through the Portuguese subjunctive, French genders, and the rule of English exceptions, you just can't possibly understand the value of language and what a gift it is to master at the very least your own -- and if you're lucky a handful of others.
(I happen to think it's a fabulous, humbling, and enlightening experience to learn a language abroad, and I actively wish it on all of those "SPEAK ENGLISH!" bastards out there who -- to the last of them -- don't speak another language.)