I Am Not Talented

Too often during the past few days (actually, more like every single day, on average of about three times), did I hear “some people have a talent for languages, I guess you do have it and most people don’t”.

I’m going to be mighty quick about this post.

I am not talented.

There is no such thing as a “talent for languages”, this is merely a cover for people not willing to apply themselves. I know that this sounds harsh, but let me put it this way:

The real reason I mastered the Danish “stød” was not because I had this musical gift that I had from birth.

The real reason was, in mid-2013, I really envied people who could make that guttural stop properly, and so I practiced it in the shower and while crossing the street. I read about it. I watched television in Danish for a significant amount of hours. I read blogs on how to improve my pronunciation.

This wasn’t an issue of talent.

The fact that I had learned Finnish and Greenlandic the way I did doesn’t indicate talent either.

Ask any of my family members.

They will tell you how much TIME I put into the endeavor, until I managed to retrieve results.

And believe me, both of these languages were extraordinarily frustrating for me! (Actually, pretty much all of them were, even the “easier” ones like Norwegian).

But while I did give up some of my languages due to the “chemistry” dying down, I kept on going with those that I really cared about.

Only this morning did I show up for a Hebrew class and was told that I was too high a level to continue being there (I was actually sent out of the class right before a dialogue exercise and told to speak to the department).

I was struck by the Language Class in the fact that the teacher spoke very slowly, as opposed to immersion, even from children’s television, which went on playing regardless of whether or not I understood every word, and certainly didn’t care if it was going “too fast” for me.

Now back on topic.

I’m just going to say this emphatically.

I am may be proud of the fact that I commit my time to this, but I do not believe for a second that this is because I have a talent.

If anything, this is because I’m willing to put an extraordinary amount of time into my projects until I see a return.

You can be a speaker of many languages, just like me.

All you need to do is care.

Care enough, love what you do, and apply yourself.

Isn’t that easy?

“How Do You Get the Time for That?” My Secret: Revealed!

 

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A clock in Napoli that is actually a “weathervane”

The List of my languages  is long enough that I usually forget one or two when listing them from memory. Not only that, I sometimes carry a napkin around me with the list, just in case I get asked that dreaded question again.
So that you know, I get asked it about as often as what my name is. But being as the question usually follows when I mention something about an understudied language (anything from Dutch to Northern Sami in terms of cultural breadth qualifies in this regard as “understudied” in my book).
This is my last post on this blog when I am living in Heidelberg (there will probably be a lot fewer posts for the next few weeks), and so I decided to ask a question that usually follows:
“What? How do you even have the time for all of that? Do you even sleep?”
Or something along those lines…
Well, I answer the question as directly as I can when I receive it, and I’ll answer said question directly right now:
We all require some form of entertainment, some down-time. There has to be some time spent doing something positively silly—not exactly a guilty pleasure (although those certainly exist, too!), but some areas of the time budget that make it clear that no one person can spend all of his or her time working.
I realized this one fine day on my travels, although I cannot remember exactly where or when:
What would happen if I use all of this downtime for the purpose of maintaining my languages? Instead of silly YouTube browsing in English, I could very well do it in any other language that I know, or, even better, one that I am learning to a significant degree.
That way, even my down-time serves a purpose.
Then the response usually comes, “well, that means that you can’t always understand all of the downtime TV time, can you? It just isn’t the same”.
True, but here’s something that I have noticed:
When I tried watching many of the same genres (children’s shows, animated movies, etc.) in English (or, in many cases, the English original), I didn’t feel as though they had the magic completely intact…
I associated the English language with most of my life. I associate it with my college education, and my struggles and gains for the first twenty years of my life or so.
It wasn’t always like that, however.
I remember when I was a child, getting exposed to bright characters and enchanted worlds on a daily basis, usually through some television screen (or home video). I didn’t understand every word of English then, the way that can most certainly be said about my present self.
Likewise, this downtime television enables me not only to maintain languages but also to relive my alternate-universe childhood many times over.
I’ve noticed that sometimes with certain languages that I know very well (mostly those that are on the top of my list), that I don’t particularly enjoy watching the downtime-television in them, unless I can feel my control of these languages slipping away, in which case I can savor it to relive earlier stages of my learning process.
There is so much time spent watching television and leisure activities—and this is true for many, if not all, of us. However, this leisure can also serve a purpose.
And if you’re wondering how I have the time to maintain a lot of these language projects, now you know.
And now you can do the same for your own world with little worlds.