Lingos

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.

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4 Responses to “Lingos”

  1. Alanna Says:

    I read an article once which made a pretty convincing argument that multi-national companies should stop paying Americans to study foreign languages and instead retrain them to use simpler English so that they could communicate with colleagues who had lower standards of English. One thing I remember was avoiding sports metaphors.

  2. Roberta Says:

    See [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_english|Wikipedia’s International English]]. One of the first rules of writing is “consider the audience”. The same goes for speaking, too. Brits and Yanks, divided by a common language, etc. There is nothing patronising in slowing down and making an effort to be understood.

  3. Marianne Says:

    We all do it, and we do it so that our colleagues (who we acknowledge are much smarter in our language than we are in theirs) have a better chance of making sense of the multitude of accents etc they have to deal with. Patronising? Nah. But yeah, it is still a poor substitute for speaking Dari. I reckon forget French (for now at least) and practice the language of the place you are living. I have faith in your synapses! Sounds like your driver will be happy to let you practice your verb tables with him.

  4. ash Says:

    Marianne’s advice was good. I need to do the same. I have been wanting to brush up my Spanish. But my main concern is having wanted to learn Arabic for some time and just haven’t sat down all that much to start. Granted in the US…I don’t need to use it that often, but if I am to travel and expand some opportunity, I need to take advantage of the advice…esp b/c I have people w/in my work circle who speak these languages fluently and are from the areas of the world that use them. I hope, Harry, that you are able to get better and more conversational w/ your Dari and French….to us…Who need to learn these things!!!!

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