“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

English isn’t my first language. It’s not even my second language. I was born and grew up in Germany – so German is my native language, obviously – and when it was time in school to choose a second language, I chose French (out of French, English and Latin). I’ve had 8 years of French; that is all of high school in Germany. I’ve learned all the grammar that there is which, in French, is QUITE A BIT. I’ve written pages and pages in French. I read novels set in WW2 and I went to absurdist plays (Le Rhinocéros, anyone?) and, most enjoyably, I made crêpes at my French teacher’s very French apartment with the entire class. And yet, almost nothing remains today because I never use French in my everyday life. I can still read most of it because after a few sentences it starts to come back to me. You start to recognize words, sometimes because they’re similar in German or English or any other language you might speak. I could still probably function in Paris; buy a métro ticket or ask for directions. But I’m a far, far cry from being fluent in French. It makes me sad but then, I just don’t really need it.

It’s the opposite with English. I took it as my second foreign language two years after starting French, and was better at it within a year or so. Because English is everywhere. Especially if you have an interest in the Anglo-American world already and, say, watch Friends in the original English, rather than tragically dubbed versions on German television. That is how I learned English, by the way. For real. We had a comically incompetent English teacher for the longest time, and I ended up being the only one who actually knew some English by the end of it because I watched Friends, at home, in English. Then came other shows and movies, and the internet, and I went to the U.S. for a year, and along the way English became my best subject. To this day, everything (every. single. thing) I do online is in English, most of my friends and I communicate in English (because we don’t have the same native language), and I watch all TV shows and movies in their original language (usually English).

I love English because of it’s vast – and in almost all instances: superior – vocabulary. German comes close; it has some fantastic words that cannot be translated into other languages. However, most of the time, I find it easier to accurately express something in English.

I also speak some basic Dutch and some Swedish because I lived in both countries for a while. My Dutch is a little better, since it’s closer to German. I really want to improve my Swedish because I hope to move to Sweden some day. Generally speaking, I just want to learn All The Languages! I am especially intrigued by Arabic and Hindi ever since friends taught me a few words and phrases, although I think any language is extremely interesting because it gives you perfect insight into its culture of origin.

What language(s) do you speak? Which ones would you like to learn?

(Quote in the title by Ludwig Wittgenstein.)

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One thought on ““The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

  1. I absolutely agree on English. I don’t know if it is because I lived in the US for such a long time now, but I often find it easier to express myself in English than in German. That is not to say that I do not still love my native language, I do.
    I learned French, Spanish and Latin (ha!) in school and then took Italian at the VHS… unfortunately, I haven’t practiced either of those languages, which makes me really sad, because at some point, I was at conversational level. 😦
    Swedish must be hard… it sounds like such a complicated language.

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