The school that I attended for junior high and high school offered three language choices: French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Given that the school in question was in Hong Kong, I chose Mandarin as the most useful option. (Besides which, why take a language I could take in any school in the US when I had the opportunity to study Mandarin in Asia instead??) Six years later, I was reasonably fluent in Mandarin, with the added bonus of being able to operate fairly well in Japan too. Written Japanese is composed of three basic elements, one of which is Chinese characters--this came in very handy when I needed to read a street sign or the card on the front of a train. The characters--aka kanji--are not pronounced the same way in Japanese and Chinese, but they have the same meanings. (The other two written components of Japanese are both alphabets, one for the Japanese language itself and the other for phonetic translations of foreign words, the two alphabets being easily distinguishable by the style in which they are written. I was able to quickly teach myself to read the phonetic alphabet as well.)
Back in the Dark Ages when I was there, my university only offered Mandarin I and II, in addition to a full slate of the more traditional European languages. I had a language requirement to fulfil, but taking introductory classes in a language I already spoke pretty well seemed like a complete waste of time. For reasons long forgotten, I chose to study German instead (hopefully because Spanish didn't fit into my schedule--no idea what I would have been thinking from a practical standpoint otherwise.) At any rate, three semesters of German later, my command of the language was deemed adequate for graduation purposes, and my formal language training ended.
Fast forward to the present. Our community is staggeringly homogeneous, one of the few things I don't like about it. But bless their color-blind, innocent little hearts, none of my children seem to notice the ethnicity of their friends yet, and two of the three have very close friends whose mothers speak virtually no English whatsoever. In this community, that is highly unusual, so the odds of this happening x2 at the same time are low indeed! As it happens, both mothers speak Spanish--one is from Mexico and the other from Honduras. I've written about the Mexican mother before--it was her son who had the wonderful birthday party last summer. The Honduran mother is newer to the scene, and a lovely woman, but communication is always a challenge. Her son is currently at my house (the reason for these musings today)--I wasn't at all sure that he would show up at the right time or with his swimming gear, charades being much more effective when you can actually see the other party, but it did work out, though. Playdates set up by phone are an exercise in guessing and goodwill on both sides!
The universe has offered me two chances to learn Spanish, and both times I've elected to study a different language. Now that my children are a little older and I have more time, perhaps it is finally time to make a serious stab at learning foreign language #3, since it has been made abundantly clear to me that this is the one that will actually be useful in my daily life here! I can take a hint...