It would be nice to unify the world or each continent with one language. Switzerland, a tiny country, has four official languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh. The government forms are written in four languages even the driver’s licenses.
South Africa has 11 official languages and knowing human natures each person thinks theirs is better than the other. I wonder who speaks all the official languages of that country.
Languages are confusing. The first time I arrived in NY from France, with no English, all the stores had big signs with SALE on them. I could not understand, why boldly tell the public of dirty display windows. Why not clean them and move along.
The word SALE means dirty in French, it is later on, upon improving my English, that I found out that “sale” were great places to save money.
In French a word may sound the same but with different meanings. The sound [me:r] means mayor (maire), mother (mère) and sea (mer). The sound [fwa] means liver (foie), time (fois), faith (foi) or Foix a town in France. Also, French love to silence the last letter of some words and the grammar is a maze of exceptions. I never fathom why people venture in learning this language. Experiencing grammatical torture is not romantic.
In Kiswahili, many words have double syllables; Sasa (how are you), barabara (road), katakata (garbage), buruburu (a neighborhood in Nairobi), wewe (you), kuku (chicken) and mimi (I).
I never learned it because I am bad at stuttering.
Spanish pronunciation is straightforward. However, in Dominican Republic you say “cómo etá” but a Spaniard will say “¿cómo estás?” and notice the punctuation marks and accents.
Write a letter, take a chicken, dip its feet in ink and let her walk across your page.
Perfect! Now you have mastered Spanish punctuations!
In Spain it took me two days to understand the pronunciation. Not only that but they have body language.
I got lost, looking for a hotel, with my bags in Madrid. Tired of looking I decide to take a taxi, the driver put my bags in his trunk then I give him the hotel’s address.
He removes the bags from his trunk, looks at me, and taps the ground three times (matador style) with his right foot then turn his head to the left.
I look towards the direction his head was pointing to notice that I was in front of the hotel entrance.
I said “thank you” and he never mumbled a word. He looked at me and made me feel like a bull with no balls.
In NY the average American will give you the middle finger. The one of Italian origin will clench a fist and give you the forearm while tapping on their elbow. Body language and pizzas are the best in NY.
The first time I arrived to UK from the States, at the airport I decided to buy some newspapers and magazines. I ask the cashier three times for the total amount of my purchase. Embarrass, and instead of asking a fourth time, I open my hands with bills and coins and tell her “take what you need”. I never understood what she said.
Once in Kabale, a town in Southern Uganda, I enter a convenient store and ask a clerk do you have… and enumerate all the items which I need for logistic purpose. For each item he answers; yes, yes, yes. I finish my long list and “since you have everything I need, can I have them now?” In a perfect Queen’s English he replies “I am sorry, but I do not understand you”.
That’s why I modified my English American accent to a more neutral one. I no longer say a “bod’l of wad’r” but “boTTle of waTer”.
People with a good command of languages frighten me. I had a colleague fluent (reading, writing and speaking) in English, French, Arabic and Russian. Her brain was perfectly sectioned in these four languages and she never made mistakes. She petrified me each time she would read my letters in French, my mother tongue.
She could even correct newspapers.
A friend told me that he knows so many languages that now, with the years, he is good at none.
I seriously think the world should choose one common language. Let’s pick one and leave the rest for the culture, the house, the linguist and anthropologist. Believe me, in school I learned Latin and to date I have never bump on two persons conversing in that lingo.
Latin used a large percentage of my brain’s space which I could have used for other exploits.
- You: Chur Journal: In Multilingual Switzerland, One Tongue Struggles (nytimes.com)
- Flemish-speaking Belgian minister wants English to be Europe’s ‘common language’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Does Pope Benedict sound different in a foreign language? (blogs.reuters.com)