If this blog strikes you as that of an obsessive language learner, you’re actually right. I probably wouldn’t have written this post had it not been for the Inspire Language Learning Competition (and I quite like the idea of having a few more readers), but I do sometimes wonder (and I’m sure people who know me also do) how I ended up like this.
I can spend hours with books, textbooks, magazines, dictionaries, notebooks, films and websites in or about different languages, occasionally emerging with a giggle only to notify whoever is present of a newly discovered word, phrase, a remarkable quote or a mind-boggling difference in grammatical structures.
To a normal person the reasons for such an obsession might not be immediately obvious. Most rational human beings would learn a language to get a promotion, to go travelling or be able to talk to their partner in his/her mother tongue. While some of these reasons apply to me, there is a bit more to it.
Even though English has pretty much become my career – I have been working as a translator (and having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the job) for over 6 years now – the only thing I can be certain about is that there’s still a great deal to learn. As to travelling, it is a huge advantage to be able to speak the language of the country you’ve wandered into, but even this does not guarantee you a smooth journey. Thinking of an example closer to home – how are you supposed to know that in the UK it’s perfectly normal to pay with a card in a supermarket, but in a pub you would be much better off paying cash (even if they have the card machine)? Knowing the culture (and gosh there’s a lot to know) takes you to the next level.
So, what’s the most exciting thing about learning a language?
I think that speaking a foreign language gives you a chance to be a new you, to reinvent yourself. It’s a bit like trying on new clothes, only much cooler. Even though the jury’s still out on whether the language we speak determines how we think or the other way round, I am pretty sure there’s something to both of these suggestions. When speaking English I become very apologetic, unnecessarily embarrassed (don’t say it’s just me!) and occasionally attempt a play on words or a pun, because that’s what the English do. Talking to Frenchmen I subconsciously mimic their inimitable facial expressions and become easily agitated about the things I normally wouldn’t be. German…. I haven’t actually spoken German for a long time, but it has this rhythm and melody about it that I find very appealing. Oh, and the composite German words are one of my biggest joys! Russian is the language which I perhaps feel most at ease with, for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t dare mention Spanish, it’s early days. But initially it didn’t really appeal to me because my temperament is hugely different from that of even the shyest and quietest Spanish person, so I’ll be learning it for this very reason – to imagine what it’s like to be a loud Spanish woman!
Learning a new language is a bit like peering through most weird looking glass and finding your way around a new place with strange rules and unfamiliar landscape. It is also a bit like putting together a puzzle of one billion pieces and knowing you’ll probably never get it right, but doing it just for the hell of it. Learning a new language can be a lot of different things and you never know what’s in store for you, so go for it!
(The infographic below is quite informative. It is also the requirement for taking part in the competition!)