Languages I’ve tasted:
- Spanish (4 years in High School, a couple of years at college, lived in the Spanish dorm a year)
- Hungarian (Magyar – felt comfortable enough with the basics that I wanted to travel to Budapest on my own)
- American Sign Language (some classes in college, hung out at TN school for the Deaf)
- and I can say "Hello" in Arabic. (I said Arabic online! Alert Homeland Security!)
My sign language is weird because I was trying to learn ASL but because I was hearing, the kids at TSD wanted to use signed English with me. Despite my pidgon sign, I was comfortable enough to take orders from the deaf and hard of hearing at a Shoney’s restaurant where I worked right out of college. Now I can’t even talk to my wife (but what does that have to do with sign language?). Through the University and working at The Foreign Language Division of The Learning Company, I also gained exposure to French, Japanese, Russian, German and Italian but not enough to claim any knowledge.
So, My question of etiquette: When I bump into someone Hispanic, I always address them in English. Sometimes I get that blank look that I would give if I were being addressed by someone not speaking English; you know, that agast, expressionless face as your mind reels thorough the relatively small number of words you may have in hopes that something rings a bell. My Spanish is not good enough to strike up a conversation but I can still make some appropriate greetings. What is appropriate? Assume they speak Spanish and say, "¡Buenos días!"? Ask if they speak Spanish, "¿Habla español?" Or just stick to the uncomfortable smile, head nod and hesitant wave?
I don’t hesitate to talk to anyone. My inclination is to speak in Spanish. Perhaps my vocabulary will return!