Teaching An Old Dog A New Language

By: Dick Wolfsie

One of the things on my bucket list is to be fluent in another language. In the past I’ve taken lessons in French, Spanish and Hebrew and I wasn’t very successful, assuming I wanted to do more than say “Hello,” “Goodbye” or most importantly, “Where’s the bathroom?”

Mary Ellen and I are planning a trip to Mexico this winter and I am determined to really learn Spanish.  I did some checking to see who was available for some personal one-on-one guidance. A lot of really nice houses popped up on my computer screen, but then I realized I had googled Spanish TUDOR instead of Spanish TUTOR.

Then I decided to look into the many apps that you hear advertised on the radio like Babbel, a lousy name for an application that claims to help you speak a new language clearly. There was also Rosetta Stone and Duolingo.

I opted for Duolingo and have spent the last six months dedicated to achieving some success. Up until now the app has been pretty good as long as I speak in the present tense and only want to order beans and rice at a restaurant.  It often gives me different scenarios and then provides the terminology I might employ in those situations, like at a library or a café. Here’s one:

You are walking down the avenue alone one evening. You see a stranger. You ask for directions and then strike up a conversation. Then you suggest you have a drink so you can talk, maybe get to know each other better and have some fun.

This sounds to me like a lesson from “Spanish 101 for Street Walkers.”

Now that I am in my sixth month of study, I get the feeling that Duolingo is running out of new things to ask me to translate from English to Spanish. The sentences below are actual examples from Unit 14 along with a few editorial remarks by me.  All are 100 percent true. Totalmente Cierto!

Yesterday, the birds cleaned the kitchen.

(What about the bottom of their cage?)

The horse and the cow went out for dinner.

(Good luck. It’s hard to find a good vegan restaurant in Indiana.)

My cat cleans the house.

(But his litter box is still a disgusting mess.)

The duck learned to use the toilet.

(But never flushes or puts the lid down.)

The cow cleaned the dog’s ears.

(I can say it, but I still want to see it.)

The pig wrote a letter to his grandmother.

(How many pigs still have a living grandmother?)

The horse is taking lessons in German.          

(But had trouble putting on the lederhosen.)

The horse watched his favorite movie.

(There’s one scene in The Godfather he hates)

The cats are learning Chinese.

(Big deal, they are Siamese cats.)

Pigs can learn to spell.

(Yes, and they think “farm” is spelled E I E I O.)

I doubt I will ever have to use any of these phrases, but it’s always good to be prepared. For example, right now I have to wrap up this column quickly. There is a lot going on in my house and I need to attend to it now…

Mi cerdo y mi vaca estan en la computadora pidiendo una pizza de anchoasa entregar.

(My pig and my cow are on the computer ordering an anchovy pizza to be delivered.)

– Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@