Saturday, 4 June 2011

Imperfectionally Quadrilingual

I use four languages every day, both in written and spoken form – a few days a week I also need to speak a fifth one. Let’s be clear, that’s a fact, not boasting. (I always have a feeling that people think I’m boasting when I mention languages, so that’s why I prefer not to talk about them at all).

However, I feel that the level of my language skills is slowly sinking – I make stupid mistakes (not only in English), and I often find it difficult to express myself. My brain seems to be stuck – the information should be in there somewhere, but how do I recover it? There is no use of information that only wants to hide. And it should be growing.

I’m also very insecure about my language skills (or any other skills, for that matter) – maybe that’s a cross every perfectionist has to carry.

The question is – what is the ultimate goal? I can communicate, people understand me perfectly well – most of the time, at least. That’s not enough. Producing texts is not impossible a task either. I managed to write a first-class dissertation in English, among other things. What then?

For me learning a language is becoming the language. It’s about understanding every word, every nuance. I’ve never had a proper mother tongue, nor a complete cultural identity. For me, a language has to achieve just that, it has to offer me a “home”,  a place where I belong – provide me with the roots I have never had.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Picking a foreign language, deciding that this language is the place where you belong. Making it replace a whole childhood, culture and years of existence. You’ll never belong: you can be good, very good, fluent – but never perfect. And those people who are part of that language, who have lived with it for all their lives, they are perfect in the way that matters. At the same time, you will never stop halfway, you will struggle until the end, because that’s all you can do when you don’t have another place to go.   


Natalie said...

Seriously, you're probably being too hard on yourself. You probably know all your languages much better than you think you do. If you're having trouble expressing yourself, perhaps it's just a phase you're going through (I actually have had occasional phases when I could not express myself properly!) or you just need a bit of deliberate practice.

Are you familiar with the concept of deliberate practice? Forgive me if you know this already, but basically, it's the idea that you practice in the areas that matter, i.e. the areas where you need the most help. Maybe you could do deliberate practice in each language for a week, perhaps.

This is turning out to be quite epic but one more thing: my main issue with languages is vocabulary. It's always so difficult for me to remember. It took me a while to acquire a good enough vocabulary to get a good score on the SAT (I did it by reading) and I'm working on my Russian vocabulary right now (also by reading).

And remember this: even if you don't speak your languages perfectly (or at least with native-level fluency), you still know more languages than the vast, vast majority of people in my native country and probably most of the world. :)

Senorita said...

I think it's great you speak four languages. I agree that no matter how and how much you try to perfect another language, that you will never feel that you fit right in.

I think you are being too hard on yourself.

Zsuzsi said...

Natalie, thanks for suggesting deliberate practice. It sounds like something that could benefit me a lot, I will definitely look into it.
I think it's quite easy to get stuck in one's comfort zone (even in language-learning), so it might be an efficient way of trying to get out of that zone.

Señorita, thanks for the comment... I agree with you!

keishua said...

Wow, I think it's amazing that you know 4 languages. I have struggled for years to learn elementary spanish. I do think that immersion and use help with proficiency.In a way, you do have to become the language.