I find languages absolutely fascinating. I could talk about them all day. I find the study of languages endlessly engaging – and it appears to be the link between all of my other interests.
I am, of course, an aspiring writer. An excellent command of my first language, English, is a natural prerequisite of any great writer, and is therefore something I am aiming to develop. I have yet to perform any great feats of writing; despite producing four novels I am unpublished and reading much of my past work makes me cringe too much to go through an editing process. I acknowledge that I am still maturing as a writer. But at least I can out type any of my colleagues at 90 WPM…
I have also studied music. I have an MA in it, though I am not confident I deserve it: I scraped through, and my sight reading is – and always has been – appalling. But music is another language. ‘Sight reading’ is just like learning to read – recognising the symbols quickly so you can read with fluency and alacrity.
Acting was also a language of sorts. I learned the language of the body, of the face. How to display complex emotions that weren’t your own. How the language had to be modified, like dialects, for stage, screen, improv, musical theatre, and so on.
日 本 語
Sun (ni); source, origin (hon); language (go) = Japanese.
“Nihon” (or “Nippon”), being to the East of China, was in the direction of the sunrise, hence being the country of the ‘Sun’s origin’.
The character ‘go’ (language) is formed of the radical for ‘speech’ (the horizontal lines and box on the left). The right hand side is made up of the number five (top right) and a mouth (the box, bottom right) – so by my understanding, in Japanese, a language is ‘speaking in many mouths’.
Japanese has proven to be my greatest nemesis – my ‘Everest’. I have been through about 4 separate periods of studying it for a couple of years, each time giving up because I believed it had become too difficult. The first barrier was time: going to university and realising I was doing too much to truly invest in it. The second time I gave up because kanji was too difficult. The third, I couldn’t find a decent teacher. And fourth, I stopped a period of self-study because I made the mistake of looking up at how much farther I had to go, instead of acknowledging how far I’d come.
Yet I always come back to it. Taking a course with others, including pre-defined metrics on what we should expect to be able to do at each stage, has been invaluable. It’s also something I hope to do with my writing skills, starting with a set of improv classes to help me unblock and develop my lateral thinking. Apps have also been really useful to help with my language study, particularly at a basic level – but will I ever be bilingual?
What a commitment to develop a skill in a language, and then to maintain it. It’s that last part, the maintenance in the ‘off-season’ – the time when there are no classes available, no people around to practice with. It’s also expensive. It was the same for music.
But one reason not to lose hope: each time I have returned to something, like Japanese, it’s been easier to pick up again. Each time I’ve reached further, hit new records of understanding.
So, I’ll keep trying. And I won’t stop once I’ve got there. Keep learning. If nothing else, it keeps you young, right?
Oh right, you’re actually asking. Well, how about:
- Improving and maintaining memory and developing resistance to dementia
- Gaining huge confidence in your ability to communicate and develop new skills
- Learning how to learn (“metalearning”)
- Getting a much better understanding of your own language and how it works
- Learning to make more logical decisions (thinking in a foreign language can apparently contribute to more sound decision-making)
- Enjoying the true meaning of foreign works of art when abroad
- Avoiding being taken advantage of abroad – and often paying reduced rates for tours in the country’s native language
- Opening yourself up to new experiences and friendships
- Standing out from the crowd of monolingualists…