You’ve all must have heard about the Bad Hair Day. You know, the day when your hair really can’t be bothered to look properly. It will be straight where you want it to be curly. Then obviously, you’ll get curls wherever you want your hair to be straight. And straight hair? It can also be straight in the wrong way- too flat, too long, too… something. And sometimes there’s just nothing wrong with your hair but you still feel like you’re having a bad hair day.
This is how I feel sometimes with languages. I can have a what I call a Bad Language Day. Now I know that complaining about speaking too many languages is like complaining about having too much money. But please bear with me for a while, and I’ll explain. Actually, that money analogy is pretty useful, so let’s stick with it.
Does it really help you if you know you have loads of money, only it’s hidden in a safe somewhere, and of course you have lost your keys, or forgotten the numeric combination that opens that safe? I feel the same way sometimes when I wake up and I know I won’t be able to utter a single coherent sentence that day, because although I speak 5 languages, they are all safely locked up where I can’t access them.
And even though I’m having a Bad Language Day, I still have to go out: do the grocery shopping, run errands, the lot. On a very particular Bad Language Day, I had a specific recipe in mind that I wanted to try out. It required me to buy ground meat, so off to the butcher I went. Usually, I would have just stated my request for 500g of ground beef, paid and left. But not on a Bad Language Day.
On that particular Bad Language Day I searched in my head for the Dutch equivalent of “500 grams of ground meat, please”, and couldn’t find it. Eventually, I managed to blurt out: “500 gram rundergehakt, alstublieft”. Everybody in the store clapped their hands and they told me Dutch was an extremely difficult language and that I did really well.
But I didn’t! I know my Dutch is much better than this! After all, I speak German, and English, and that does help with Dutch. But not today. Today was my Bad Language Day. So instead, I felt very ashamed, and I blushed, and if there’s a person made for blushing, that’s me! I am The Mistress of the Blush, and nobody blushes as easily and stays blushed for such a long time as me. The fact that the butcher was sympathetic didn’t help because I felt he was being patronizing.
Sometimes, when I'm lucky, Bad Language Day only affects one of the languages. So I can have a Bad English Day, or a Bad German Day, or even a Bad Polish Day. Or, it can affect all those languages, depending on which one I need at any given moment. I need a word for something in German? We don’t have it today, mam. But we have English and Polish available! That doesn’t help me right now, sorry.
To come back to my money analogy, this is how I feel when I am in a supermarket, ready to pay, and it turns out that there’s no money left on my debit card, and when I look into my wallet, I see lots of money. Only, it’s Zlotys, Polish currency. Doesn’t help me either, because I can’t pay. Knowing a word in German or English when I need Polish doesn’t help me, either, because I can’t communicate. And of course, hours/months/years later I’ll remember that word, but it won’t matter anymore.
What to do in the case of a Bad Language Day? It usually means that your mind is busy with something else. Maybe it’s working on that problem you’ve been trying to solve for ages? Give it time, and- just like a Bad Hair Day- it will be over. Which reminds me that I really, really need to get my hair done.
How about you? Can you relate? If you can, how bad was your Bad Language Day?