Today’s daily prompt from WordPress was:
If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?
For me, the language would be Mandarin. Why Mandarin? Well, you want to make the most of your wish. After all, you ask the magic fish for a kingdom, not a bigger frying pan. Other languages are also beautiful and inviting, but I hang on to the belief (probably a delusion at my age), that if I wanted to, I could reach out and capture, say Romanian or Farsi. Chinese, on the other hand remains intractable. The more I learn about the language, the more intimidated I feel.
How would I use it? Well I certainly wouldn’t eavesdrop on my students’ conversations. After all, I don’t really need to hear “This is the most boring class evah!” or “The listening/speaking teacher is way cooler” or….I figure the good stuff gets translated into English.
I suppose I could use my knowledge to plan exercises that addressed the differences between Mandarin and English with surgical precision. I could create lesson plans that brought to bear my knowledge of the two languages with such force that the students’ language barriers were obliterated,… but that sounds like an awful lot of work. Besides, it might work the other way: I might be so overwhelmed by my awareness of the chasm between the two languages that I walked away in despair.
No, what I’m looking for is a less tangible benefit — it’s the empathy one gets from having taken at least part of the opposite journey. Being able to exchange a wry smile with a Spanish speaker over conditional forms, or the different b and v sounds, telling a French speaker, “We have the same word, but it means something a little different for us,” — these exchanges create a kind of bond, tilt the playing field a little. For a moment, I’m the student, the traveller; they are the keepers of the knowledge.
So yes, it would be Mandarin, and I would be, well, fluent enough, but not native level. That way, the challenges would still be real; the learning of the language would still be active within me. And I would be able to say, “Yes, I see where you’re coming from, and you’re right: English does look kind of crazy from there.”