How Speaking Too Many Languages Is Limiting
I know, by saying this - that speaking too many languages is limiting- I probably go against years and hours and sweat tears of very dubious as well as very serious research that say the contrary. As a matter of fact, if you go about googling the advantages of speaking many languages, the number of results is around 123 million results (yes, millions). So who the heck do I think I am to say the contrary?
Well, here goes. I've always liked writing. I've written as long as I can remember, which probably dates back to my absolutely quiet and boring adolescence. We're talking a few decades here. However, ever since I've moved to Germany, I've stopped writing. Not completely, I will take the occasional napkin or more fashionable Facebook status to spit out a few well thought-out words that are spinning round in my mind. But on average, I have not written in the past eight years nearly a quarter as much as I have in the 20 odd years before that. Why? Not sure. But today I came to the realisation that this whole
"I speak so many languages it's so cool" thing might be the core of the problem.
My thing about writing is that I usually write for someone. Not always someone in particular, but as I jot words down on a piece of paper, a name will pop out, and then maybe another, people past or present, who I'm thinking might find my words funny, moving, stupid or great, whatever. These people usually never get to read those words, but they are still the targets of my words. The problem starts when these people don't speak the language I'm wrting in. Mind you, I write in English or French most of the time, and German comes a far third, so it's not that many languages. But still. That's three languages, and not all of my friends or acquaintances, or people I want to talk to actually speak all of those three languages. Some might speak one, others two, a few do speak the three, some even speak only very little of those to start with (that would be some of my Italian and Spanish speaking friends). So of course every time I write, I feel limited in who I can talk to.
Take this blog. Lately I've written in German, because it makes sense to write about Germany in German, and because frankly, it's often easier than to have to translate what I'm living on a day to day basis. But it's frustrating. Because as much as Germans might be interested in what I have to say about them, I'm also quite sure that my French speaking friends are interested in what I have to say about Germany. And I've caught myself numerous times citing my blogposts to someone as an example of what I think/do/feel and realizing that the blogpost i'm talking about is written in a language they do not speak.
Truth is, I am one person. No matter what language I speak. So if you know me in one language, you know me, and not just some part of me. And while I find that speaking three languages somewhat correctly and understanding two more quite well has sharpened my thinking process (the more languages you speak, the more accurate words you find to say exactly what you want to say), it also has limited my will and freedom of expression. I want to say things, but I'd like to say them in all the languages I speak AT ONCE. Not have to translate, but just write things as they come and they'd be automagically translated (and make sense, as opposed to simple machine translation) in all the languages I'd like to see them translated to. Unfortunately, we're not there yet, so I'm frustrated and I don't write.
But I have made a decision. I don't care any more. I am just going to write. If it's in a language you understand, good for you. If it's not, I am sorry, you'll either have to pass, or use bad machine translation. I need to write more, it's all cluttered in my many language head these days, I need to sort things out and writing is my way out.
- Photo: Restaurant sign in Figueres, Catalonia. All rights reserved. © Jeremy Sutton Hibbert - Used with author's permission.