“New Year’s Day is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” ~ Mark Twain
As I begin this post on the last day of the year, the newswires and social sites are full of New Year’s resolutions. Along with the made up holiday which is New Year’s Day, we make a practice of virtual new beginnings every year at this time. Yes, it is arbitrary, but it is probably a good thing to do annually.
One of the perennial top five resolutions among Americans is to learn another language. This is not a new desire for me but this year I am doing something about it. At least, that’s the plan.
Before our first adoption trip to Colombia, my husband and I studied Spanish for two semesters. We could carry on a simple conversation with each other and frankly enjoyed the challenge of describing ‘things we didn’t really know the words for’ with ‘the words we did know.’ Over time the Spanish has seen less and less use, and the reluctance even to try to use it has increased. So Santa came to the rescue!
Santa and I purchased the Spanish (Latin American) version of that Language System You See Advertised in the Airline Magazines for my husband and me to share. Excitement all around! Two days after Christmas, my home I.T. Department (husband, again) tried to install the software (and headset and internet connection) on his computer. Excitement crashed into a wall and exploded! It was not a happy time.
First we blamed the Language System in the Yellow Box for being a stupid, clunky, 80’s era system. (I have left out a few adjectives, but you get the idea.) Then (is this better or worse?) we learned that the problem was probably in the computer as it proved unable to read music CDs which play just fine on other computers. So now my I.T. Department is busy ordering parts to repair the computer – and the Fancy Yellow Box is just sitting there. All our computers have some sort of issue, so we are now doing triage to decide where to install the system next.
By the time the System is installed, Mr. I.T. will probably want nada to do with it, despite his earlier enthusiasm. He treats me very well, mi esposo, and provides much more support than one would ask of paid staff!
But why bother with fluency in another language? A consistent pre-occupation in my life has been connecting and communicating. Americans, especially, tend to be insular, self-centered and provincial in their attitude toward other languages. We speak English so the world should speak English to us. Rubbish!
My experience has been that trying to speak and understand another language always leaves me re-examining my own sentences, words, and ideas. How would I say that in Spanish? Or in my pre-historic German?
Colin Firth did an amazing job depicting King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” In an interview he explained the issues of speech impairment:
“[A writer who used to stammer] took me though the terror and the way your day looks to you if you feel you can’t tackle it with language. [If you’re trying to speak a language in which you are limited] you find that you end up saying what you can rather than what you really want to say. You start to circumnavigate the real thing. So who are you in that world?” (emphasis added)
Who are you, indeed? Identity and presentation of self are touchy enough if you know the language. I think it is worth it to gain mastery of one extra way of being in the world. Who knows when I might need it?
Ask me about that Yellow Box again in another month.
Travel for Language Study
One obvious way to learn a new language is to travel to a place where that is THE language everyone speaks. There are two obvious ways to do this – formally and informally.
Formally you can enroll in a language learning program which might extend for a week, a month or perhaps even longer. You would attend classes, very likely on a one-to-one basis, to learn and improve your command of the language. And you would not ‘go home’ at the end of the day. Immersion in the culture would increase your learning speed.
Informally you can visit a place and work at building your own facility with the language by interacting with the locals chatting in natural (for them) ways.
The decision about which method you choose should be affected by how quickly you want to learn, how much time and money you want to invest, and how comfortable you are with being out of your (language) element.
Call me if you want to explore this more.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
3 January 2013