I just finished reading an article on tips for writing in non-native languages, and … can I just take a moment to say how much I admire those of you who are bilingual or multi-lingual enough to take on such a challenge? It’s hard enough to write well in a primary language, but to do so in a secondary or tertiary one must qualify as some kind of super power. 🙂
I have always loved linguistics and always wanted to be fluent in another language. I remember being interested in Spanish first when I was a small child because I lived in Florida and watched several bilingual kid shows. That’s where I first became aware that there were different ways to say things. But then I moved out of that multi-cultural setting and latched onto French in high school — minored in it in college to go with my English major. Over summers I would try out other languages: Russian, German, Swedish, Old English, Drow … 🙂 (Yes, even archaic and fictional languages intrigued me enough to learn some basics.) I used to work as a librarian, and I can remember sitting at the desk counting microfiche, 5 per envelope for boxes of hundreds of slides. And that would get terribly boring, so I tested myself on how many languages in which I could count to 5. Drew some very strange looks from passers-by, but it kept me alert and awake because language is music to my ears.
But I never got to truly develop my French skills in spite of my six years of education in it because I never had a reason to use it. Then I unexpectedly move to Japan. (Cue “Hallelujah” chorus.)
So OF COURSE I was excited to have a reason to study Japanese! I dove in head first and fell in love. I loved the language. I loved the culture. I loved being immersed in the language I was studying, so that I could actually use it, rather than being limited to repeating what I heard in lab recordings.
(This was before the Internet allowed us ordinary people access to the world at large, so you could be stuck in a lab two hours twice a week saying, “Des saucisses, sans doute,” into a microphone for the teacher to grade your pronunciation and listening comprehension skills … you know, in case a French person ever asks what’s for lunch and you happen to be having sausages. And that was it. That was your entire foreign language exposure in the American classroom experience.)
But then I had to return to the States and suddenly my Japanese immersion morphed into isolation. To say that I miss Japan terribly is an understatement. It was one of the few places I’ve lived, out of 22 addresses so far, that actually felt like “home” to me. I’ve never really fit in anywhere because of my constant moving, but Japan felt like a perfect fit for me — like I could have been happy to spend the rest of my life there. And I’d never felt any kind of “sense of place” or “connection to place” like that before. So, memories of Japan are bittersweet for me because I don’t know when or if I will ever be able to go back.
But I am desperate to hang onto my Nihongo skills, since my French is all but lost to me after so many years of disuse. A couple of years ago, I decided to restart Japanese lessons. At the same time, I wanted to restart French and add German and Spanish to my lessons, as well. Ballsy to take on that many languages at once, I know, but it was a bucket-list thing. I had graduated from counting to 5 in five different ways. Now I could say, “That is a red car,” in five different ways during my neighborhood walks. But those plans eventually fell through because of unexpected life events that shook me to my foundation. Yet here I am missing Japanese again. The desire to learn it just won’t go away.
So, I’m restarting lessons again. I pulled out an old notebook the other night to look at old study pages, and looking through it made me even more determined to regain my old level of fluency and surpass it. I want to be able to add “translator” to my freelance jobs. And if I get a chance to move back to Japan, I would like to be able to seriously consider it.
At the same time, I’ve also become interested in Korean, so I’m now learning the Korean alphabet. (You know you’re a language geek when you get giddy over adding a new keyboard to your language bar and can type “ㅏ” for the first time.)
Someone dear to me once made a comment that made me feel like loving and studying languages was stupid because it’s not as employable or practical as other kinds of degrees. Au contraire. 🙂 I think it’s one of the smartest things a person can do, even if you’re not employed as a translator or interpreter. The world is a global village now, so you open more doors for yourself — and for others — by learning more than one way to give and receive information. You are less limited in the business opportunities and friendships you share. Polyglots are usually more open to understanding the cultures of the languages they study, because languages inherently teach us about culture. Plus, recent studies have shown that knowing more than one language just makes you smarter. Doh! … Did we really need a study to prove that? Apparently so because just a generation ago experts thought learning more than one language would confuse children. So, in America, immigrant parents were discouraged from teaching their own non-English languages to their kids. (American culture still has issues with non-English languages, but that’s a rant for another time when I feel like discussing how crippling it is to be limited to only one language … how it fosters prejudices.)
I have many friends whose native languages are something other than English, and I cannot express my admiration of them enough. I’m truly envious of their ability to communicate so effectively in English. (Especially since, in my opinion, English is one of the most screwed up languages around!) 😉 They are my inspiration to keep trying to overcome obstacles to fluency. And recently I’ve been reading several articles from other non-native-English speakers that have also been inspiring.
So, in my fiction, I have my own elven languages. And I had fun researching Old Norse, Gaelic, Welsh, and Faroese to create them. Maybe I will share a little more about my language creation process in the future.
But for now, as I trace my Hangul vowels and crack open my 日本語のノート once more, I just want to take a moment to express my admiration for all writers out there who brave writing blogs, songs, stories, whatever in a language that isn’t their primary one. The whole point of language is human communication. Spelling might not be perfect. Grammar or idioms might be tough to navigate. But you do it anyway because of the desire to express yourself and be understood beyond the language barriers. You learn from your mistakes gracefully. You get better by doing — by being courageous enough to try to speak your mind with unfamiliar tools. And many of you have gone beyond basic communication to truly touch base with the beauty and melody in other languages. Hopefully, I will be able to join your fluency ranks eventually. 🙂 Wish me luck on finding the time and energy to add these studies to my daily responsibilities, so that I can eventually add them to my job descriptions. がんばりますよ。＾＿＾