All entries for Monday 18 December 2006

December 18, 2006

Floating, Drowning, When Learning a New Language

Those who learn a new language invariably enter shady and absurd areas when trying to express themselves as they would in their own language. And I’m still confronted with that truth on a near-daily basis.

When I began to live in English-speaking communities, I would at times say something which resulted in looks of surprise or just blank looks with a response like: “That just doesn’t work, you can’t say that in English”, even at times when I was really convinced I used the right forms of speech and realised I had always up to that point been saying that particular thing incorrectly. For I don’t know how long, for example, I was sure that hideous and gorgeous meant their metrical opposites, so in my world hideous would mean gorgeous and vice versa. This conviction was so strong that when I realised things were actually the opposite, my whole sense of significance revolted against this change. For me, “gorgeous” could not mean a pretty thing anymore.

Now that I’m much older and wiser and never actually have such problems anymore with my English, I’m beginning to notice old worn-in mistakes in my Spanish. The example that I noticed today was my use of cuando (meaning “when”) and cuanto (“how much”). And believe me, even though it’s natural, you feel pretty stupid sitting on a rush hour train, saying something like “so how much is S. going to invite her to the Christmas dinner?”, only to realise your mistake 5 minutes later.

December 2006

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