Learning a second language is hard. No way around it. Hard. There’s so much to think about: phonetics, spelling, grammar, tenses, familiar vs formal, the list goes on and on. Ahh!! And we must get it all perfect. Right? Well, no. Why? If one learns a language to perfection, that makes him an academic. If one learns to a point of utilization, that makes him a communicator. And I’d argue that the second is far more rewarding than the first.
But that’s enough about that. You know what’s fun? Mistakes. We all make them. And not just language learners, native speakers too!
Yesterday I read a newsletter written by a French friend of mine. She ended the editorial letter with a typical French salutation, je t'embrasse chacun (which essentially translates to my kisses to each one of you). Except a little typo changed everything. She left out one letter and the greeting became je t'embrase chacun (I set each of you ablaze). Quite a bit different!
Reading/hearing mistakes from native speakers does make me feel a bit better about my own frequent faults. But that does not erase them. Here’s a few of my favorite ones from the past:
-When leaving a friend’s house I made a simple conjugation error and tried to explain myself by saying “my brain is tired” but instead said “my goat is tired” (I still don’t know where I pulled ‘goat’ from, the two words aren’t even similar in French).
-In Swahili, a single vowel change morphs a greeting of “how are you?” (lit. ‘no problem’) to “are you farting?” Or the response can easily morph into “I’m farting”. I had a lot of fun with that one. Mostly on purpose.
-I once went to a music practice session with a local songwriter. On the phone he’d asked me to bring something. I didn’t understand perfectly, but thought I had the gist of what he asked. So I loaded up my 50’ extension cord and headed out. When I arrived, he thanked me for the extension cord and asked if I’d brought the amp adapter he’d asked for (a tiny 1” long piece of metal).
-One night we were playing games with some French friends, and one young man handed out paper to everyone in a circle. He then began his instructions in English by saying, “so you take this piece of sheet...” (say it out loud).
-Another mistake I made more than once when learning Swahili a few years back was leaving out a syllable of “see you tomorrow” and saying instead “we will get married tomorrow”.
Today I visited our local school and talked to the directrice. Before I left she complimented me on my French. She then said that hearing my accent made her want to travel more (after deliberation I decided to take that as a compliment). Either way I walked away feeling good about my language abilities. When I went home later, I began the conversation by telling my wife, “so the school directrice is really nice.” Then it hit me that my first impressions of people in France as nice or not are wholly based on whether or not they compliment my French! Even better if they laugh at my jokes...