Saturday, November 29, 2014

Another Language

It’s estimated half the world’s population speaks two or more languages. I do, which makes me a member of the world’s largest more-or-less secret club.
Here’s what you can do when you’re bilingual:
  • Talk with a friend about other people who are right there and won’t understand a word you’re saying. Of course, you do have to make sure the subject of your conversation doesn’t speak the language you and your friend are speaking, or great embarrassment can ensue. This happened to me once while riding the bus with another French speaker.  We were joyfully commenting on the size of another passenger’s nose when the person in question stood up, called us horrible names in French, gave us the finger and stalked off the bus.  
  • Be part of two cultures and,
  • Be able to compare the pluses and minuses of two or more cultures, because obviously, language is a culture’s spokesperson.
  • Seems twice as smart. Notice I use the word ‘seem.’  This is because some people who are bilingual can also be dumb in two languages. As a matter of fact, if you’re a dolt in one language, it’s almost certain you’ll be one in a second language too.
  • On the other hand, you can know twice as much as others on about just about anything. Knowing something in one language is not the same thing as knowing it in another.
  • Have a mind open to new and different thoughts and opinions. People in other nations think differently. This is OK for the most part, unless you’re dealing with a mad person of any nationality, or a terrorist.  Then it’s better to pretend you don’t speak any language at all.
  • Read the works of authors in the language they wrote them. Albert Camus in French is actually interesting.  In English, he’s deadly.  The same can be said of St. Exupery’s Little Prince. The book has been translated from the French a dozen times, but reading it in English just isn’t the same. I’ve heard Spanish friends say the same thing when speaking Cervantes.
  • Travel with fewer fears. It’s amazing how easier it is to get from point A to point Z if you can speak the local language, even if it’s only a little.
  • Meet interesting people.
  • Cultivate a really neat accent. I can still do a killer Parisian accent in English, and my faked American accent when speaking French has motivated real Parisians to be nice to me and even once buy me a cup of coffee in Montpartnasse
  • Wear cool clothing. More and more I am seeing people in the attire of their native countries. Scots in kilts, Indian ladies in saris, Vietnamese girls in ao dais. I have a beret. But to tell the truth, I never wear it because it makes me look like a largish Basque shepherd. I could, though, because I speak French.
  • Swear multilingually. A woman I know asked me to teach her several profane French words she could use when stuck in traffic. I have a few Cantonese expletives, taught to me by a man from Shanghai though I’ve been told my French accent when swearing in Chinese is truly terrible, particularly when I’m behind the wheel.
For all the above reasons, and more, you should learn another language. Pig Latin doesn’t count.

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