The Language Files 10: Now that’s my language…

I don’t know about you but I sometimes find it hard enough to express myself when I’m speaking in my mother tongue, let alone a foreign one. I’m much more comfortable with the written word, where I have more time to formulate. There is sadly no backspace for your mouth. E-mails to friends, even facebook messages, can become meandering, elaborate essays and I wish I were as articulate when speaking, but the words tend to trip over one another.

That’s in English. Imagine how it is when I am trying to express my more complicated cogitations in French, and I am (as is usually the case) in an awful hurry to get it all out. It’s amazing, then, how I have somehow managed to have some really quite profound (I like to think) conversations in French. A challenge enough with a native speaker, but imagine with another non-francophone…

Yet, somehow we manage. My comely German neighbour and I do not share a mother tongue, yet our regular tea and chat sessions in (albeit staccato and mixed with German and English) French are more enjoyable and rewarding than many a conversation I happen to have in English. And she’s not the only one. How is it that, umming-and-ahhing and vocabulary mind-blanks aside, sometimes conversations in French just seem to flow better than with others in English?

This is how I know that language can be completely arbitrary, if you got the click. I know couples who do not share a mother tongue, yet muddle along just fine; better than many couples who do. It can be difficult for your full personality and sense of humour to come across in a foreign language, but they are often transmitted without a word being spoken anyway. Indeed, an Italian I know, who happens to be in a non-native-language-sharing romance himself (there must be a simpler term for this!), really likes to emphasise the importance of body language!

But seriously though, to communicate one’s values and motivations and find them compatible with another’s (the essential ingredients for a friendship, or any relation that brings any kind of satisfaction), an expansive arsenal of advanced vocabulary and sophisticated grammatical manipulation is not necessary. All you need is that little bit of magic, that chemistry, that affinité, and you’re laughing.


2 thoughts on “The Language Files 10: Now that’s my language…

  1. I agree with this, wholeheartedly. The reasons I revel when having such flowing and profound conversations in a foreign language is because I am actually managing without floundering. Of course, I come across difficulties, that’s natural, but the fact is I’m talking whilst simultaneously surprising myself – which gives me joy in talking and thus less stress/panic. This combination means I’m constantly in awe of my own ability sometimes. And, the reason my conversations probably flow so well in Spanish is because I am constantly thinking of what to say albeit perhaps subconsciously. In English I can speak and speak and speak and there will be heaps of tangents and irrelevancies but when I speak in Spanish or even French, I have to analyse the architecture of the conversation, as abstract as that may sound. So even if it is flowing, it’s because I’ve created that meander myself.

  2. A common trend with most people is that they know how to speak in their mother tongue. Although though some people might not be as fluent but at least they can have a conversation. However, when it comes to writing in ones mother tongue, most people often don’t have this skill. It is completely the opposite with foreign languages. Most people not only know to speak a second language but they also know how to write in a foreign language.

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