Trying to give directions to my driver, and apologising for my lack of Dari, he consoled me that in two months I’d be speaking fluently. I was told the same when I first arrived in Afghanistan more than a year ago. Obviously it has yet to come to pass. I appreciate the optimism of the thought while being ashamed of my failure to learn.
Frida, who is now the Zen Peacekeeper, has some good advice on learning a new lingo that I should study carefully.
But my ability to delude myself into thinking I will actually learn is fading, which is as lame as it sounds. Although in my defence, with my new employer I would be ideally learning two different languages right now – Dari and French (Pashto simply not being an option) – and I’m slightly overwhelmed by the thought.
There are no sub-compartments within the part of my brain labelled ‘foreign languages.’ When I first started learning Dari, my mind would search for a given word and find a Spanish one. More recently, dredging up a French phrase and it came out in Dari. My synapses need disciplining (not me).
One language I can speak well is a bastardised version of English: a slowed down, enunciated, simplified English, with a note of my listener’s accent creeping in. It’s a form of parroting I find hard to stop myself doing and don’t always notice, a subtler version of the British trait of shouting very loudly to make oneself understood perhaps, and I fear it’s deeply patronizing. It’s not meant to be, and I do think it helps people understand what I’m on about. It certainly seems so when I forget who I’m talking to and start rabbiting off ten to the dozen with all the strange phrases of one’s native language – before catching their look of bewilderment.
But clearly it’s a sorry substitute to actually making the effort to speaking their language, even if that means driving around lost occasionally. This Eid holiday, I plan to sit down with my grammary in the garden. Just haven’t decided which language to study.