Music to my Ears

Six years ago I began learning Italian because I had nothing to do. It may sound like a lame excuse, but it was the truth. I had just moved to Mexico and needed to start doing something to settle down. The Italian school of the embassy was just a few blocks from where I lived, and, since I had always wanted to learn more languages, it seemed like an excellent idea. I began classes and the biggest challenge I faced at first was learning a language in a language that was not my native language. Although I had always spoken Spanish, most of my education had been in English and switching to Spanish to learn Italian was a bit complicated. I had to not only learn Italian vocabulary but also how to say verb, noun, pronoun, past, future, etc. in Spanish in order to be able to understand what I was learning. Thanks to my knack for languages, I was speaking, reading and understanding Italian very quickly. I spent a month in Venice polishing my Italian and reading as much as I could. After about 2 years, I was certified to teach and translate Italian.

I must admit that Italian wasn’t a language I had been eager to learn. I had always imagined myself speaking French; I have this strange fascination with France, the French and Paris, of course. Although a good French school was just as close to home as the Italian one, for some reason, I started with Italian. Six years later, I find myself wanting to speak and hear Italian. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that my father-in-law is from Italy so I hear Italian often, I constantly eat Italian food and it is a language I KNOW. Once I warm up, I really enjoy speaking Italian.

Yesterday, while I was on the bus to my evening Dutch class, I overheard what was music to my ears. An Italian couple was seated behind me, the woman was upset about something and she was telling the man. In Italian, things are always told with a lot of emotion. I don’t really know what happened or why the woman was upset; I simply let the sounds and the emotions serenade my ears. It was five minutes of the best language symphony with curse words and anger and emotion and very fast talking. Once they left the bus, I realized what a treat it is for a language lover like me to live in Europe, where the sounds of so many languages can be heard in the train, on the bus, walking down the street and among friends.

I never thought I would say this about the Dutch language…

Over a year ago, I began learning Dutch in order to move to the Netherlands to live with my boyfriend. Having such a strong motivation made learning a bit easier but not free of obstacles. As much as I learned and tried and advanced, I felt the language was rough, aggressive, very different to my personality. However, I remained hopeful that one day I would learn it and speak it fluently. Although I am not there yet, the closer I get, the better I feel about the language itself.

On Wednesday, I was traveling by train from Amsterdam to my home. Due to repairs, I had to detour and the journey took longer than expected. I was tired and didn’t want to read. Luckily for me, three young teenage girls sat next to me. It seemed they had just been shopping in Amsterdam and were going home. The talked about their day, looked over their purchases and made plans for the weekend. At some point, one of them thought it was a great idea to go to the beach. The train was nearing The Hague and the beach is very nearby. Two of the girls lit up with joy at the idea of the beach, but the third girl wasn’t convinced. As they tried to convince her, she explained that she didn’t want to go home late, that her parents expected her, etc. The other two would not budge. Every stop of the train, they would grab the bags and pull her to get up. They promised to be home early, they mentioned the new bathing suit she had purchased, they begged her to please accept. Everything was said to pressure the girl without being rude.

Once we arrived to Rotterdam, I lost sight of them as we switched trains. From what I understood, the two girls that wanted to go to the beach had won. They were joyous and loud the way only teenagers can be. As I waited for my next train, I realized something important had happened. First, I had eavesdropped on these girls and understood their conversation…a big plus for my listening comprehension skills. But most importantly, I enjoyed hearing them speak Dutch. At no point did I feel the language to be rough, rude, or distant. It was warm and inviting because the girls were warm and inviting.

I am proud to say I have crossed the threshold of being distant with Dutch. The language is becoming a part of me, a part of my stories, a part of my life which in no way is cold and aggressive.

A love letter to language

Dear language,

I don’t know if our love affair started when I was in daycare and classes were given in Spanish, English and French. Perhaps moving at such a young age and learning to communicate impulsed our love. It could even be an intellectual disposition that has made sparks fly between you and me. To be honest, I don’t really care why and how it started because our time together is what matters most.

Some of the reasons why I feel romantically involved with you are the way you allow me to truly understand a culture, the endless supply of words and expressions I have to explain what is truly in my heart, and, I will not lie, the fact that I am good at learning about you in all your variations. Thanks to you I can share what I think, I can tell those I love how much I love them, I can read books and be immersed in the stories, and thanks to you I can even write this blog post. You have catapulted me into a better person, someone who speaks what she feels instead of just acting, someone who can explain my frustration without anger, someone who can ask for flowers on a cloudy day.

The truth is that I wish I could learn all your variations, but I know that task is useless. I’d rather perfect the parts of you I know, those I use to speak with my family, my friends, my neighbors and my stories. There are over seven thousand variations of you in the world, and those are just the one still used! But, like I said before, I am content knowing 5 of those seven thousand and using them the best way I can. That is, in my opinion, the best way to show you my love, my admiration, and my need for you.

Yours truly,
Karoly