Compared to most of my other entries, this will come off as more of an Op-Ed piece.
I speak several languages and understand several more. On top of that, I pride myself on being able to distinguish and identify many languages almost immediately (both upon hearing them spoken or seeing them written). It is a strange kind of pride to many, I am sure, but as strange as it is to be a single polyglot (at least that is what I strive to be) the experience becomes ever-stranger when I interact with my quite gifted—and quite adorable if I might add—polyglot girlfriend.
My openness and interest in language surely stems from the family I grew up in. To illustrate, although I have been brought up in a primarily English-speaking household my parents are an international couple and as a result there has always been a strong Chilean influence from the language to the food. As a result of this (and the very open and accepting minds of my parents) dual-language as well as dual-culture learning was quite the norm in my life.
However, as strong as my upbringing was on my ability to grasp language, I will not waste any time to say that the biggest influence in my love for language is born from my heart for travel and a keen sense of diplomacy. There is very little that excites me more than the idea of traveling to country unseen by my eyes and tasting food untasted by my tongue! It is from experiences such as these that we gain a true understanding of the human being and a genuine appreciation for what we have left behind, our family, and our friends. Yet, what good are these experiences without the ability to communicate even on a basic level with the locals? We lose so much when we can not even ask the natives for the best spot to watch the sunset! (or to indulge in a few spirits?)
Beyond this is the fact that when you try, however little, to learn the language of the country you are visiting…and you show it by trying to speak it with the locals…the illumination on their faces and the plummeting pressure in the room as tension exits their body is unmistakable! However horrible your pronunciation your utterance will always be met with such a reaction. This is my diplomatic side. Recognize that learning to speak another language is not only a key to finding your way around a foreign city but among foreign hearts.
This brings me to my girlfriend: Born and raised in a foreign (by my account) country but with extensive study-abroad experience she learned English out of necessity but to such a level of perfection that I always speak to her as I would a native English speaker. In fact, she probably understands English grammar better than I do on several points! Combined, we are capable of speaking to citizens from Korea, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, and every English-speaking country and citizen of this world. In addition and with little effort we are able to decipher mostly written Italian, French, Portuguese, Esperanto, and Chinese.
What this means is that at any point one of these languages is spoken around us during any given day, we immediately tune in to try to hear and identify language. A whisper in Japanese or French and we are on our toes to try and grasp it. A conversation at the other end of the bus with intonations and speech patters foreign to the local tongue and we immediately silent ourselves in order that we might better hear what is being said.
Between us it is very amusing and always exciting! There is, however, one single drawback.
Take any conversation we may be having at the time, anything at all whether it be about the weather, politics, dinner plans, jobs, school, family issues, philosophy, religion, taboo, etc. because you see it simply does not matter: Why? Well because when someone walks by us speaking a not-too-commonly spoken language we will either stop mid-sentence or babble nonsensically for a few seconds as we zone out to tune in to the passer-by. We are so enthralled at the opportunity to use our talents of tongue that we forget not only our partner but our very own train of thought in the process! In my opinion it is quite obvious when either one of us “zones out” (I recognize even my own instances of “zoning out” but often several seconds after actually doing so).
It is a unique and wonderful “problem” to have. Sure our thought and conversation is disrupted but the game we play with eachother is academically romantic, is it not? Two language lovers lost in language. You see, the best part of zoning out it when we zone back in because that is when this happens:
Her: “Did you hear that!?”
Him: “Yeah I did!”
Her: “Nihongo!” (Japanese)
Him: “Un!” (‘Yes’ in Japanese)
Her: “Oh my gosh, what were we talking about? I completely zoned out.”
Him: “I don’t know I was too busy listening to them hahaha!”
And we laugh together at our fascination and inability to focus and eventually find out way back to the prior conversation. Does this happen to anyone else I wonder? Please feel free to comment!
If you reached this entry and are yourself in an international relationship, perhaps you will find this website of interest to you. Should you feel that your problems are unique and that your situation is unsolvable, please consider the countless success stories at present and the many many more of the past. You are not alone: