dj column on learning Spanish

Learning a new language is like learning to ride a bicycle. You're likely to fall flat a few times.

I've been learning Spanish all my life in bits and pieces. From high school to college to broadcasting it's been a rewarding and humbling experience. On my first visit to Mexico I bravely ordered breakfast: "Dos ojos fritos, por favor." instead of two fried eggs, I asked for two fried eyes.

But knowing a foreign language, even a little, can be invaluable even in the most unlikely settings. In 2002 I represented WFIE-TV on a mission to the Ukraine. Myself and two other colleagues were there to mentor a privately owned TV station in a country where everything had been state owned under the old Soviet Union.

When we arrived at the Borispol airport in the capital Kiev our luggage was missing. I can say "Good morning" in Ukrainian but that's about it. By coincidence a traveler from Spain had also lost his luggage and he spoke Ukrainian. I described my luggage to him in Spanish and he passed the information along in Ukrainian to the airport workers and I was reunited with my luggage the next day.

When it comes to languages the world is a ''tower of babel." it's estimated there are 6,912 living or spoken languages. Mandarin Chinese is by far the most spoken language because of China's huge population. I was surprised to learn that Spanish, English and Hindi are in a close race for second with the number of native speakers around 330 million each. If you're traveling, English is the language to know. English is spoken in 115 countries.

And here's a great quote for all of us struggling to learn a new language. Author and columnist Barbara Ehrenreich writes, "There is the fear, common to all English only speakers, that the chief purpose of foreign languages is to make fun of us. Otherwise, you know, why not just come out and say it?"

And here's a bonus quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "One who speaks a foreign language just a little takes more pleasure in it than one who speaks it well. Enjoyment belongs to those who know things halfway."