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Monday, 25 June 2012

My Bad Language Day

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?

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  1. I sooo know what you mean :) For me though it gets really bad only when I have to continuously switch between languages (I've ended up speaking Latvian to Daniel because of that...)

  2. Yes, I know a thing or two about bad language days...
    Anyhow, I take all the compliments I get with my Dutch. Dutch IS a very tricky language, at least for someone like me who isn't born with the ability to sponge in a language, but actually really need a lot of practice to be able to use it in real life. It almost makes me feel a bit ashamed of my Dutch, because I am here already for 5½ years and I still need to rely on English in very tricky situations. What I honestly hate is when I try my best and then someone says "should we speak English instead?"

    1. Tarja, your Dutch is really good! And it's OK to rely on English if the situation is tricky- after all when something is important and difficult, clear communication is the key! I've experienced the same situation you describe and I insist on speaking Dutch!And yes, Dutch is difficult- as are all languages.

    2. I think people have different approaches to languages. I lived in Italy for a while when I was in high school and after 3 months I could understand most daily conversations, after 8 months I was already mistaken for an Italian (and had to show my passport to prove that I'm not). But when I moved to Holland, I realized this wasn't going to be my learning curve with Dutch at all. Somehow I just *got* Italian and I think this would be the case with any Latin language. But Germanic languages have always driven me mad, especially Dutch. :D

    3. Yes, you are right, Tarja. Some people "get" certain languages, while they can't seem to learn others. I think I'm better with Germanic languages than with others- French for example, is extremely difficult for me, even if it was always present in my home. Then, on the other hand, for some reason, I can understand a lot of Spanish which is weird as I have never learned it, or anything.

  3. Hahaha, that's funny, Ilze! That actually doesn't happen to me- I can switch between languages easily. But sometimes I really just wake up and can't speak any language at all. It feels pretty debilitating. Luckily, I don't get it that offen.

  4. For what it's worth, after spending a lot of time on the internet without much face to face contact, I sometimes have to think a few seconds before I can remember what a certain word or expression is in dutch. That would probably be a lot less embarrassing if I wasn't born and raised here. On the bright side, Bad Language Days do not seem to be a chronic ailment and can be treated by actually using the language some of the time. :-)

    1. Oh, I was sometimes struggling to find Polish words when I was living in Poland. But yes, you are right. Speaking -exercising does help!


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