45 Things I Learned... 36

Sunday, February 19, 2023

I spent my first 2 years mostly at my maternal grandparents. My aunt Lodi, who was a headmistress, insisted on speaking to me in French only. I must have shown some potential and the books that were read to me were all in French. My aunt used to take me with her on her visits to her friends and ask me to recite this or that text, and even to "read" some Martine book. I had a photographic memory and it wasn't a problem retaining the passage related to a specific drawing or picture. This led to me not knowing how to speak Lebanese or Arabic until I was sent to school, at a very young age. I had to learn our country's idiom in class. Not at home... Although it was suggested that I skip a year because of my mastery of the French language, mom refused this, based on her own experience. She had been a very bright student and had skipped several years and ended up having her baccalaureate at age 15. For years, I was upset that my mother wouldn't let me finish school earlier just like she had done. It was only as a teenager that she ended up sharing with me all her struggles in philosophy courses when she was 13 and everyone else in the same class was 17 or 18...

As an adolescent, I learned Arabic, French, and also English at school. When I was sent to Munich, other than becoming proficient in German within a few months, I requested to add Spanish to the list. I figured Latin wouldn't serve me much. I didn't intend to study either medicine or law. At age 13-14, I was already dreaming of becoming an architect. Plus, Spanish was so easy to pick up, French being my mother tongue. I would try to learn Swedish at some point when I turned 15 or so, but I wasn't capable of understanding the article differentiation. See, in German, there is the feminine, the masculine, and the neutral. After a while, I figured out how to know, by the sound of the words, what gender they were assigned. But Swedish had a fourth gender that I didn't get. And even native speakers couldn't explain it to me. I hence dropped Swedish, even if I picked it up again recently when I was trying out the Duolingo language app. Only to drop it once more a few weeks later...

A decade later, my best friend's mother, who is Brazilian, noticed that I figured out what she and her daughter spoke about. She offered to teach me Portuguese and I was more than happy to accept. Unfortunately, those lessons didn't last long. She didn't stay in Lebanon and I didn't like the book with CDs that I had bought to keep on studying Portuguese. In 2005, when I visited my best friend in Brazil, I had forgotten most of what I had learned. I hadn't practiced Spanish either over the years. But I still could make out what was generally said from the person's body language, the tonality, and some words that remained registered in my mind. I promised myself back then that I would get back to it even if it would take me years. And I did. After about 15 years, but I still did. In the meantime, I worked in different countries, and evidently, learned a few words from every place I worked or stayed a little longer than a few weeks at. Because speaking the local language always facilitated things 😊

Some quotes on language:

Language is to the mind more than light is to the eye - William Gibson

Speak a new language so that the world will be a new world - Rumi

To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture - Frantz Fanon

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow - Olivier W. Holmes

The structure of a language determines not only thought but reality itself - Noam Chomsky

With languages, you are at home anywhere - Edmund De Waal

A different language is a different vision of life - Federico Fellini

I am forever grateful to my aunt to have stimulated my interest in languages. Since I love traveling, this was a key asset when discovering a new culture and/or country. It also allowed me to exercise mental gymnastics in trying to find roots and origins of certain basic words to grasp the grammatical structure of a said locution. Because knowing an additional language to one's own is not only a "doorway to wisdom" as stated by Roger Bacon, it is to "possess a second soul", as Charlemagne so beautifully asserted...

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