23 January 2008

On my adopted tongue...

Many who read my work or who speak with me are not aware, or may forget, that English is in fact my second language. I forget too, sometimes, until I encounter the occasional heteronym that throws me for a loop, if only for a brief moment.

"What does my work history have to do with my DVD player? How 'Big Brother' !" I thought momentarily, the first time I saw the word "resume" blink on the TV screen.
Sheepishly I realized a second later that it said "resume"---as in "continue".

Yeah...we'll just call that today's embarrassing confession. Moving on...

I learned to speak English when I was six years old. I had just moved from Colombia and was enrolled in the first grade for the remainder of the American school year.
The first morning, my mother abandoned me... I mean dropped me off at the classroom, but not before teaching me one very useful phrase.
"I don't understand!"
Armed with that, "Hello, my name is", a random smattering of words (garbage, cookie, dog), and a charming rendition of "Tweenkle, tweenkle leettle Es-tar"...I went to meet my fate.
Sink or swim time!
A girl name Brooke Boqua, to whom I am forever grateful, drew the short straw and was assigned to spend time talking and reading with me. I absorbed everything I could, though I had a few minor setbacks.
Very few native English speakers realize what a difficult language English actually is to master.
I recall one particularly traumatic day when we were reading in a group. I was stumped by one word. I could not make heads or tails of it, try as I might. I was frustrated to the point of tears and the class bully was laughing at my efforts to sound it out.
"Sound it out, think about it. What's he doing?" The teacher asked me, trying to be helpful.

I had not yet learned the words for "he's pissing me off!".

There was a "u" and a "g" and an "h"...I could not, for the life of me, imagine how they might be strung together.
"He's laughing!" the teacher finally supplied.
I still didn't understand. Where was she getting an "f" sound and where did the "u" come in?
I redoubled my efforts, and within two months I became fluent.
I read voraciously. I collected words the way some kids collect coins.
By the time I returned from summer vacation and had gone through two months of the 2nd grade, I was obviously bored. Having spoken English for a little less than a year, I tested at a high school senior reading level, and got moved up to the 3rd grade.

Thus began my love affair with language.

There is something inherently sensual about it---the way tongue and lips and breath work in tandem, shaping sounds...
While I'm not a true synesthete, I do experience a mild form of synesthesia with language, spoken or written.
There are words that are an absolute joy to speak or read...and then there are others...they are ugly to my ears and eyes.

One such word was a recent topic of discussion with several friends and readers.
The word "blog".
Say it.
It sounds like something that should be accompanied by dry-heaves, not something entertaining or interesting.
One reader suggested a word from his adopted language.
He wrote:

"Oh and a thing about the word 'blog' I was wondering if we could change it to the word 'projev' pronounced 'proyef' I think that it sounds much nicer and it is a better word in Czech meaning more than blog."

I'll have to find out what the gerund is, but I like it...

As proud as I am of my grasp of the English tongue, I have to admit, it does lack a certain lyricism present in other languages.



All Content Copyright 2008, Juliana Tobón. All Rights Reserved

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