Languages Come Easily

As regular readers of this blog know, I had a rough childhood. Since I was left on my own and had to take care of myself, I was allowed to indulge in whatever pastimes appealed to me. One of them was learning languages.

Since I had no data for comparison, I didn’t know that Americans consider foreign languages exceptionally difficult. All I knew was that they intrigued me. So I proceeded to teach myself French and Italian. The similarities between them and their dissimilarity to English fascinated me. I began to understand that the human mind can think in a variety of different logics.

In high school, by choice, I had four years of Latin. The source of so much English vocabulary and the basis of French and Italian in Latin made me understand for the first time that languages are interdependent and regularly influence one another.

In college, I added German to my language bank. Here was a language that was not derived from Latin which was, in fact, the underlying basis of English. The complexity of German vocabulary and grammar awakened my mind to the complexity inherent in languages and greatly enhanced my understanding of English.

Through it all, I marveled at the degree to which language shapes and sometimes limits thinking. It became a habit with me to mentally express the same thought in each of the languages I had studied and note the subtle differences in meaning an idea takes on as it moved from one language to another. That habit became so ingrained that it was a regular voice in my mind going on constantly at a level somewhere below consciousness.

Up to that point, all the languages I knew were western and interrelated. When, after college and joining the army, I began to study Asian languages, I found myself in a new world.

More tomorrow.

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