Monday, March 14, 2016

A language for all seasons and reasons

« To know another language is to have a second soul ». -Charlemagne, King of the Franks (742-814)

It also makes one slightly schizophrenic as well as a wee bit lazy!

When I switch in between I take on not only a slightly different voice (I have been told that when I speak French my voice goes down: this totally makes sense as 95% of the time when someone I don’t know calls on the telephone they take me for a man, a fact that I often use to my advantage) but also a somewhat changed persona. In French I tend to use more hand and body gestures, in German I am more even and goodness only knows what’s going to happen if I ever learn enough Italian to make it a viable language in my daily life.

If I mostly write, read and think in English during the day, I speak and dream more often in French: the German comes in handy for letting out the anger, swearing when I hit something or simply want to let of steam and not have the whole entourage know automatically what I am saying: so although not quite sure about the second or third soul I am definitely mixed up.

Then there is the laziness that comes with being able to express oneself completely by relying on several languages: if what I want to say doesn’t come readily in English I can always throw in a French phrase and if the French word isn’t adequate (there is only one verb for like/love – one has to use qualifying words to define whether one is talking about liking someone, appreciating someone or romantic love) then one can use the English and if both fail switch to the German.

There is a richness to one’s life when one can understand another language: the news is presented differently; local life is more understandable; one can get several takes on the same event; one can interact culturally better; one has greater access to understanding on many levels, not just the language one. In short I cannot imagine my life today, were I stuck with just one language.

So it’s on to learning Italian – one of those things that has been in the back of my mind for the past twenty years as each time that I travel to Italy I can understand part of what is going on; can order food and drink (and pay the bills, for some reason numbers in any language don’t phase me), but can’t get into a discussion – very frustrating for someone as verbose as I.