Thursday, May 11, 2017

speak in tongues

the other thing keeping me occupied right now, other than screaming about wrestling, like, all the time: using free apps to brush up on my languages!

is her opponent jeff hardy

true story: i've always been into linguistics. (get the "cunning linguist" jokes out of your system now, people.) there was always just something about languages that clicked in me, particularly where technical skills like math and science didn't. for real, i had to beg my parents to let me drop high school math as soon as it became non-compulsory, because they were convinced that me not having full math credits would "close some doors" in my future. never mind the fact that i was getting a wonderfully consistent 43% average on all my tests.

i don't mention it often because why would i, but i taught myself japanese when i was a teenager. half the time i laugh it off as something i did because i grew up in the country and was bored, but it was more something i did out of sheer goddamn will.

see, i loved anime and manga in my early teens, but i didn't want the english dubs (of which there were scant few at the time) - i wanted the actual japanese stuff. but like...the technology that we have now to translate languages wasn't there back in the late nineties. the resources weren't there either. the big-city library only had one set of japanese dictionaries, and they were in the reference room so you couldn't check them out, so i would go in almost every weekend with a stack of manga (comic books) and imported artbooks that i wanted to translate.

and it's weird to describe it as "exciting", but man, it really was, you know? it was a big thrill to be able to unlock the meaning of even a few japanese words. it was like i was getting to be privy to knowledge that other people didn't unless they also knew japanese. moreover, it sort of cemented the idea that i'm actually good at this; i had always been pretty decent at french, but tackling a new language was on another level for me.

so after the japanese, i did a run on dead languages, taking a year of irish gaelic in high school and also trying to pick up latin because why the hell not. around this time was when i first got into rammstein, so i added german to the mix (and went on to take it in first-year university, because i thought it sounded so beautiful and badass). i didn't continue with french after high school, but up to that point i'd done around thirteen straight years of ontario-curriculum french classes, so i was fairly well-equipped.

all this is to say that i was so serious about languages in my late teens/early twenties that i was honestly considering going into linguistics in university. (i think at one point my parents imagined me working as a translator at an embassy or something.) yet i didn't want to do something that broad, and it was actually ridiculously, stupidly hard to major in japanese at university of toronto. i was only ever very average at german, and was mortified during the speaking portions because i could never roll the damn r's correctly. y u no cooperate, soft palate? (i'm very self-conscious about speaking other languages aloud if i can't hit the accent properly. i don't want to sound like a dumb anglo.)

but like, what i know now is that it can be a tough slog before you hit the major breakthroughs. (for me, it was twofold - both picking up the japanese accent when i speak it, and also when i first broke the barrier between the japanese characters and english letters.) also, immersion is suuuuuuper important. it's the main reason why i was even able to pick up japanese on my own - because i was so engrossed in watching anime and reading manga and playing video games all the time. it honestly does end up making a huge difference when it's something you 1) want to do and 2) are super fucking driven to do.

anyway, right now i have a lot of time on my hands in the evenings (and the mornings too, really, because my dumb brain keeps nudging me awake at dumb 6:30 a.m. every day), so i downloaded duolingo to fix up my german skills. and hey, pro tip!: uhhhh maybe don't use your nascent german to translate rammstein song lyrics because you will invariably be creeped out and ruined forever. i've learned that it's always the most fucked up possibilities (though now i know the differences between "burn"/verbrennen, "fire"/feuer, and "flames"/flammen).

not rammstein lyrics.

something that i always keep in mind, though, no matter what language i'm trying to pick up, is that it's not about translating a language to english - because honestly, done word for word that shit sounds clunky and weird. instead, it's about understanding the language as it is, and being able to identify the meaning of a word based on the circumstance, placement, and so on. english really shouldn't be the arbiter of all languages; i'd rather look at it as appreciating different languages for what they are and seeing if i can understand the gist of something instead of the direct translation.

also, it's like...i mentioned this on twitter a couple weeks ago, but to me it feels pretty arrogant to expect everyone we meet to speak/understand english. to me, learning another language is a respectful thing. i always remember the time in elementary school when we took a class trip to quebec, and everyone spoke english to us without expecting us to speak french to them. i remember thinking wait, that's not fair to them, even though they probably didn't mind/were used to it. i wanted to be able to do something in return.

plus i'd rather learn a useful skill than just be bored on my phone all the time.


[ music | smashing pumpkins, "bullet with butterfly wings" ]