Observations of a Linguaphile
OK, I guess I can’t speak for all language nerds so this is actually a list of thoughts I have on a fairly regular basis. Do you have them too? (How many language lovers have to agree before the post title is accurate?)
1. I wonder how many languages they speak?
I always wonder how many languages people speak, especially if I can hear that the language we are speaking is not their first language. Many people speak more than two languages (and I’m jealous!). In India, for example, most people speak a minimum of three: either Hindi or Punjabi, one or more of the over 1500 local languages, and English. I am always fascinated to hear all about people’s experience with language learning, and want to ask them all about it.
2. Yes, that is offensive.
But I don’t always ask them about it because, without establishing a meaningful connection first, it is often offensive to single out someone’s differences. I am regularly horrified at how people ridicule others for their language use or accents. Whether to their face or behind their back, making fun of the way a person speaks is never ok. Learning additional languages is challenging, especially when it comes to perfecting an accent. And there are many nuanced ways of speaking the same language – none is more correct than the other.
3. I wonder why that is?
But it is ok to be curious. Whether it’s accent differences, word choice, or unique sounds in different languages, I am often curious about why people speak the way they do. I find that my ear is always tuned in to the nuanced differences between the ways people speak. I like thinking about why and how those differences exist, and marvel at all the diversity in human language. With friends or others that I have established a connection with, I love discussing these and many other linguistic themes [insert nerd emoticon].
4. How fascinating!
Lately, I find myself saying “how fascinating!” a lot. This is a phrase that perfectly sums up all the marveling I do about language. It’s also a phrase I’ve learned from the Where Are Your Keys method for learning languages. It is a phrase (along with an awesome celebratory gesture!) that we make whenever we learn something new and whenever we make a mistake. That’s because making mistakes is the best way to learn new things! That’s something that language learning has taught me over the years – that you really have to get out there and try new things and make mistakes so you can learn from them.
5. Yes, you can do it!
Which brings me to my final thought for now: everyone can learn a new language. YES. YOU. CAN. People are always telling me that I’m lucky that I have a knack for languages, but I don’t think I have anything except a nerdy fascination. Adults learn new things all the time when they want to (new recipes, new technologies, new relationship habits, etc.) and languages are no different. It’s intimidating because it does take a lot of work, but there are so many strategies and tools available to meet diverse learning needs that, if you truly want to do it, you can learn a new language.