Can one be in love with a language?

About two years ago I was finishing my thesis and since I didn’t have to follow a rigorous schedule I decided it was a good time to pick up a new language. Not really for work purpose, just for the sake of learning a new language itself. I thought about Hebrew or Japanese, since I was interested in a non-European origin language with a different writing system and interesting pronunciation. The chances I would use Hebrew were remote, so I picked up Japanese, at least I thought I was closer to Japanese culture.

Fascination

So I enrolled in a course. Now as I look back, it seems one of the happiest times in my life. From the beginning I enjoyed learning every new word, a character, a grammatical pattern. Learning was a sheer pleasure. Whenever I came in a contact with the language, be it simply in the class or watching a movie or listening to a song would make me truly fascinated.  I think this fascination could resemble being in love with a person and craving for getting to know more about this person and spending time with them as much as possible. I was happy to know there is still so much more to learn.

The course was a little slow and in the end I was left with rather basic skills.  I kept on studying Japanese on my own, sometimes dreaming I could actually talk to people in this language. Little did I know.

Slap in the face

It also happens that I have a deep appreciation for Japanese architecture and was lucky enough to get an offer for internship in a studio in Japan. My first times were rather complicated especially due to so many hardships with communication in Japanese. First of all I realized and became instantly disappointed that everything I learnt didn’t matter much. I could understand very little and speak almost none.  This slap in the face hurt for some time, but I kept on this stormy relationship with my language-partner.

Foreign language anxiety?

I guess if I studied Japanese in a university, things would be much easier, but I wouldn’t experience nor learn some valuable lessons.  In my case I have to work while living learning the language.  I still get excited whenever I learn a new word, a character or a grammatical pattern, but speaking belongs to a completely different universe. With my language level, upon meeting a person for the first time, it seems I have to adapt to their voice, pronunciation and way of speaking as they were carrying out a conversation in a completely different language. Here the language gets very personal and sometime it’s really complicated for me to get over a sort of social anxiety. Being in Japan and trying to communicate with a native also reminds me of being an outsider still not fully familiar with the culture and the language, making a bad impression or not offending a person with something inappropriate I might say. On the other hand, speaking undoubtedly accelerates learning process.

Mishima

I believe that every language reflects way of living and thinking, culture, society and ethos it is related with. Of course, being able to communicate in a specific language brings you closer to people.

When people ask me why Japan or Japanese language I cannot give a fully logical explanation. The answer I usually give is my interest in the culture and wish to read Yukio Mishima in the original (good luck, maybe in 20-30 years from now on). It may sound pretentious, but it is true, I do like this guy’s books and his personal story. Fair enough, everyone seems to understand this explanation.

Personality check

It’s been said that passing from one language to another may induce a personality shift.  I have had an intense second language experience with English, Portuguese and now Japanese and I do agree to a certain point that it influences one’s personal identity: speaking a specific language makes us unconsciously do it in a certain tone of voice and adapt some expressions and even gestures related to that language.

As I said before, I am really afraid of being inappropriate and it will take me some time to interact naturally in Japanese, but at the same time, sometimes I get out of my comfort zone and try to say things I wouldn’t say in circumstances before. And I question: why am I doing this? This is so not me. Thinking this way makes me realize what I am and what I am not, what I could be and what I couldn’t.

So, of course, there is an influence on one’s behavior, thought and feeling. But speaking different languages inducing personality shift is a pure myth. Luckily, there is so much more to personality and personal identity. No matter how many languages you speak and unless you suffer a mental disease, at the end of the day you are still your old self.

Back to demanding yet dear partner

Language is not a solid stone, it’s rather a flowing river. I consider the languages I have been learning, no matter the level, in need of improvement.

In my case of Japanese, trying to communicate in a language I am far from proficient, adds up to everyday stress and overwhelming situations. In the beginning I would misunderstand and even make up things. It happens when I have no a complete notion of something, my mind automatically fills in with different alternatives which maybe sometimes far from reality. Hello, confusion.

For instance, I fail miserably in trying to tell a joke, which in its turn, result in a new amusing situation. Comic, because it is funny to see myself struggle so much with the language and tragic, every time I realize how much of a failure my language level is. While it is getting better, I realize limits are where you draw them. Despite all these let-downs and being-out-self-comfort-zone situations, the joy I feel learning it is bigger and every time I am happy to come back to this demanding yet dear partner.

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6 thoughts on “Can one be in love with a language?

  1. Great post. I’ve been in love in Japanese for over 20 years and plan to keep studying.

    Good luck learning this tough language, and if you have any questions let me know (:

    Like

      1. Yes, I’ve been to Japan 3 times, but for relatively short trips (~2 weeks each). I speak Japanese at home with my son and wife.

        I’ve written much about my experiences learning Japanese in my blog (almost ~500 articles now), so feel free to browse around (:

        Liked by 1 person

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