For nearly a month I’ve neglected a lot of my blogs, but this is in part due to holidays, my game design, and also quite a lot of study.
This weekend marks two important events for me. For one, the Polyglot Conference, in which I and many others will meet in person many of the authors and luminaries who inspired us to go on our many language journeys.
Second, October 10th and 11th marks four years to the day that I began my three years abroad right after college, which began in Krakow and then ended up in too many other places to count. Alas, I seem to have forgotten all but the most basic Polish, but another task will soon come to me before this academic year is out, one that will require me to re-learn a lot of it!
Through the study of a lot of my languages, I’ve had to re-evaluate some of them both down and up in the past month (The Celtic Languages I was a lot weaker in than I thought, and the Finnic languages were stronger).
In the past month, I also made the difficult decision to drop Greenlandic from my repertoire for the time being, although it is truly impossible to forget a language entirely. Given how much I have already devoted to Greenlandic already, it seems that this is merely a pause.
But I also remember that Icelandic and Danish I first struggled with a lot at first, and then, upon becoming more hearty a “language hacker”, I wasn’t nearly intimidated by them.
The past few weeks have been replete with virtually non-stop study, putting my work for my game and even my MA final examination on hold (I was told by my MA examiners that I should use my language abilities in my reading list, but there is only so much you can do with a something like Icelandic in a final exam about Jewish History).
I do not say this lightly: there were also times in which I was absolutely frozen and unable to continue with studying, perhaps worried that, despite the endless hours I had thrown into lots of languages, that I somehow “wasn’t good enough”.
But above all, language learning is not a contest. Not particularly a sport, either. It isn’t an issue of who speaks language X the best being the winner, it isn’t about who speaks the most languages being the winner, it is a process of exploration, in the same way that hiking really isn’t a competitive sport.
To make this point, my biggest shame in my language learning experience, followed by my biggest mirth.
Heidelberg, Germany. February 2014. I was asked to give a “Referat” (something like a class presentation / teaching the class for one day). Obviously, the class was held in German, but I remember using so much Yiddish, Hebrew and English in between (the topic was Jewish studies) that one of the co-teachers actually shook her head in despair, wondering how a “stupid American” ever made it into this program to begin with.
That semester was actually quite replete with similar incidents like that, my journey through the German language, more than that of any other, being one of “tripping and falling”. The fact that I had Yiddish and Scandinavian languages under my belt at that point didn’t help much—I thought that my truest attempts at “High German” would always be tainted.
But as it turns out, in the last few months (June – July) my fears evaporated. Sometimes I still think of that semester and cringe. But I suppose I would cringe even more had I chosen to try even less than I did.
Now the biggest pride:
April 2015, Ben-Gurion Airport. On the way back from Israel, visiting my family members, with my Anglophone parents on the way back to the U.S. Given as I am the spokesman, the security staff, without my knowledge, puts me in the line for people who have Israeli passports (he mistook me for one of his own, and Israelis have possibly the most refined American-radars on the planet, blame Birthright).
Upon reaching the security staff at the end of the line, we were told that we should be in the line for foreign passports and that we had no business being in that line whatsoever.
And then of course there is the honorable mention of passing as a local in a place rumored by some to be the hardest to get the locals to speak to you in the local language.
Well, whatever becomes of this conference, it will definitely be fun, no doubt!
Looking forward to meeting my fellow hikers,