Tuesday, September 13, 2005

People Say Stupid Things in Other Languages

In the several years that I have taken Chinese now, I’ve noticed that people are willing to say all kinds of things they would never say in their native languages. This comes about for several reasons. One - if the professor calls on you, you want to have something to say. It’s often the case that you don’t know how to say your true answer to her question, so you just make something up. Two – if you’ve been frustrated for a long time about not being able to communicate, you’re happy to be able to say anything. Three – in a language class, you’re transformed back into a three-year old child. This ends up meaning that you start finding things really humorous that you haven’t laughed at for years (read: really juvenile humor). If you can make people laugh in a Chinese class, it feels great. It makes you feel a little less like a failure.

Today in my listening class, we heard a dialogue between two people who had lost their bicycle lock keys. Our teacher asked us afterwards, “Has anyone else had an experience like this? One where you forget a lot of things?”

The Canadian in my class replied, “Yeah, I’m always misplacing my pants. I just go outside without them.”

Laughter erupted in the room. I promise that if that same exchange had happened in English, everyone would have looked at him like he was the most immature person in the world. Not being able to talk well really changes how you act. I feel like I have a different personality when I’m trying to speak Chinese. I’m this whole new person who is trying to find out very different things than the person who speaks English at other times. I have a whole different set of priorities when I’m speaking Chinese.

Complex ideas aren’t important to me when I’m speaking Chinese. I don’t care about the greater impact of some political issue when I’m speaking Chinese; I’m just happy if I can say the name of one of the countries involved. Taking these classes is returning me to an earlier state, and I think that’s kind of interesting. I actually have a well-functioning memory now, and I’m able to remember being frustrated in not being able to express myself. Perhaps children have tantrums because they just can’t tell you what they’re trying to say. They’ve got it in their heads, but they give up and scream because they can’t form it into language.

I’m a much simpler person speaking Chinese. I’m not intelligent anymore. I’m not creative. I’m trying to survive, and get basic ideas across. I’m so excited when I do it, too. It feels so great to be understood. But I think that’s true no matter what.

And on a completely different note for today, it’s:

sweater weather is here (for now)


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