My wife cooks all the time, so I wash a lot of dishes. Sometimes I wash them in silence, but most of the time I listen to music, commentary, or language tapes.
For two years I listened to Teach Yourself Italian until I had memorized both CDs. Then we went to Italy where I spoke Italian with taxi drivers and hotel clerks.
From the passenger seat, I asked a taxi driver how he liked his European Chevy SUV. Out poured his knowledge of European Chevies—which country made the engine, which one the body, where they were assembled, how they handled, the gas mileage.
When a hotel clerk finally coaxed her computer into printing my bill, I said “Brava!” Her face lit up, and she laughed. I had crossed not only the language barrier but the guest-staff barrier as well.
When I speak a foreign language in its native country, I feel like Superman—able to leap tall barriers with a single word.