I used to love learning languages. I started French at 10, before high school. I learned as much as I could, I went on every exchange available, I bought loads of books in French, went to a summer school, watched movies without the subtitles. My French is pretty good though it is a bit rusty.
I like the idioms, the softness, the roundness, the cadence, the grammar, the beauty, the culture.
When I was 14, I chose to do German in five school terms. From zero to hero (and back down to just more than zero a few years later).
I like the long words, the math/logic side to the grammar.
There was Welsh when I lived in Wales. Not a lot, polite stuff, kid stuff. Stuff to help me around the place.
I like the way the words change (mutate) depending on context. I like the lispy quality, the tonal up and down of it, the fun of making ll sounds, the encouragement you get from Welsh speaking people to make the ll sound (Imagine you are making a fountain over your tongue).
There was Swahili, I even went to night school when I moved to London. I used some today with a kid from Kenya and made her do a big smile. I have forgotten a lot.
I like the way you put little blocks of grammar together to make words.
Hakuna matata for example… Hu-negative ku-infinitive na-have ma- plural tata-difficulties
“There are no problems”
It is lovely.
There was Japanese, last year. Oh, how I slaved over those letters and words and grammar. As soon as my Danish is competent, I will start again, patiently and hope for the best.
I like the backwards Yoda grammar. I like the writing systems. I like the nuances. I like the way it is pronouncable, I like the poetry of it. I like watching Japanese films. I like Aikido. Oh, I love it. I need to make the last year count and not be wasted away.
Not to mention the Dutch before I could even read in my own language. But that doesn’t count. I was living in Holland and people were talking to me in Dutch. I was two.
One of my Danish exercises was to write what languages I knew and I did and the teacher wrote HOLD OP on my work. (Translation: Stop it! STOP SAYING YOU KNOW SEVEN LANGUAGES THAT IS CRAZY TALK, all I wanted was “English” and everyone knows English people are shit at languages)
It is hard to remember what I liked about learning languages. I will try.
- Thinking around corners
- Seeing where words came from
- Having a fun time with interesting people
- Finding new ways to express myself
- The intellectual challenge of it all, the applied linguistics?
Now, last year I decided to come to Denmark and it was … it was SO exciting. You can probably read it for yourself. I mean, it did not hit me most of the time but I would think about having to learn A WHOLE NEW LANGUAGE and the possibility that I might get fluent in another language. It was so exciting.
There are things that work against me and some of them happened this week. There is nothing special about this week. They usually happen frequently.
- People pressuring me. How ever well intentioned, telling me I need to learn Danish faster does not make my brain work any quicker (one of the people that told me this is an Urdu/English/Danish speaker but he is only 12 and his brain has not turned to so much dried out vaseline)
- People mocking me. A kid asked me what ‘various’ was and I took a stab at saying it in Danish and one of my students who I have got on well with in the past did the most awful mocking laugh. Like, it was entirely made out of malice and I had to remind him that I was not “born in your stupid country” which of course offended everyone else but I was going to follow it up with “which is why I don’t make fun of you when you make mistakes in my stupid language” but didn’t because of the outrage. In the end, I cleared it up with “I like YOU, I just hate the sounds you make”
- People boring me. This is bitchy. I am a bitch, the sooner we all accept it the happier we will be. But holy moly, I hardly ever hear anything exciting in Danish. Important stuff, sure. But interesting, exciting, fascinating, beautiful? Hardly ever. I learned about the history of my town in Danish class on Monday. For what end? I have no idea. I already knew it in English.
- People over doing the praise. A smile and a nod is all that is required. But I practically get my head patted by some people. GOOD DOGGIE you didn’t do it in the house this time.
- People telling me the things I should say next. Though this did lead to a sweet situation where I said “you keep making me say that so you can laugh at me, when am I going to eat some?” and a little girl BOUGHT ME some strawberry compote with cream. It was nice.
And I am a completely different person. In some ways, a worse person. I feel really bad about my Danish practically every day. I feel bad that I have not made the progress that everyone else seems to think is possible, I feel bad that my progress has not been recognised on its own terms, I feel bad that saying things can lead to ridicule, I feel bad that saying things can lead to condescension and embarrassment, I feel bad that people use it to bully me (usually kids but you know, not exclusively), I feel bad when I skip class, I feel worse when I go, I feel bad when I ignore my studies, I feel worse when I do the exercises. Slem værre værst.
This is NOT me. I LIKE languages. I love learning them. That is who I was 12 months ago. That was me. Not this imperialistic caricature of me. Not someone that thinks “if it was not important enough to translate, it is not important enough for me to read it now”.
My boss told me I “should get more Danish friends” and I told him that as many Danes I meet shout at me to SPEAK DANISH, they are not the sorts of friends I want to have. Plus, what, I should actively disable my communicative ability? That hardly makes me good friend material.
Also, see how it is again my fault that my Danish is not good enough? Because I do not have Danish friends that I see regularly, I have deliberately slowed my progress. Bad, lazy me. Why won’t I just integrate, already? Like, it is so easy, if I am having trouble IT MUST BE ME being difficult.
I cannot think of why I even want to learn it except
- I live here and would like to continue to for the forseeable
- Sometimes people have big flouncy arguments in the staff room and it would be nice to know if they are legitimately pissed off or being whiners
- I like communicating with the little kids about stuff on the playground/in cover lessons
- Sometimes people do not tell me things and this leads to situations at work. It is not good enough to say “if you aren’t sure, then ask” or variations. If I have not even realised I needed to ask by virtue of being foreign then what am I supposed to do then?
- I live in terror that I will have an accident or be a victim of crime or get appendicitis and will have to make an emergency call. They are hard enough in my first language.
It is telling that the people that hear the most Danish from me (including in my Danish lessons) are the little kids I meet at work and outside. If I do a fejl they just frown. I realise it is wrong, I make a correction or clarify with hand signals and TADA we have just communicated.
I know it is nothing personal and I know that it is other people’s insecurities acting out most of the time. I am just disappointed in this bit of my adventure. I really wanted to learn a whole new language before my brain dried up for good and I had no idea that this one might put me off all of the other ones.
I need to think of things that inspire me to learn Danish and I am drawing blanks. At the moment it is a very unpleasant chore.