Friday, October 19, 2012

The joys of learning a second language

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the joys of learning a second language:
And you even start to understand the differences in how you think about the world and how they think about the world. The Frenchmen doesn't so much "wake up" as he "wakes himself up." (Or some such.) I can detect subtle differences in psychology and culture, perceptions of the self, but I'm not yet prepared to analyze. 
This was the best part of learning French -- seeing how the differences in culture manifest themselves through language.  In French, one doesn't say, "you can't do that," but rather, "that is not done." ("ca ne se fait pas").  It's not merely the case that you should not start eating at a BBQ before everyone has been served; no one may do it, it is unthinkable.
4.) The feeling in the brain is itself interesting. My brain will cut on the "French" portion and sometimes I'll start to say something, the thought fully formed, and realize I don't have the words to express it. It's as if I got on a speeding train only to discover that the tracks weren't yet finished. 
When I was learning French, I used to say that speaking was like trying to maneuver through an obstacle course while driving a big clunky bus.  I would try to say something, realize that I didn't have the words, and have to back up and try to find another route through.  The more French I learned the more, the smaller and more agile my car got, so that I could maneuver through previously treacherous sentences with ease.  

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