I was just trying to help two Italian tourists understand why the Votivkirche in Vienna was built, and came up against my limitations in that language. (They didn’t speak English or German.) How do you say “emperor” in Italian? And “kill”? (Oddly enough–or perhaps not so given my operatic background–I know how to say “die” but not “kill”.) My (unsuccessful) gyrations reminded me of a joke about speaking foreign languages.
A man was hiking in the Austrian alps. He came across a couple of old guys sunning themselves at an alpine hut. The hiker needed directions so he asked, “Do you speak English?” The old mountain men shook their heads. “Parlez vous français?” Shake. “Parla italiano?” Shake. “Habla español?” Shake. In desperation the hiker made one last attempt. “Nihongo-o dekimasuka?” Shake. Dispirited, the hiker moved on. One of the old guys said (in German), “Maybe we should learn a foreign language after all” whereupon the other replied (also in German), “Why? It didn’t help him any.” 😉