Saturday, 26 June 2010

Everybody Should Learn A Second Language

I don't care if you live in the most land-locked, single-language culture ever evolved by war, politics, economy and commodity, you should learn at least one foreign language.

Here's why.

It helps you with your own language.

It can make you more sympathetic to your fellow human beings.

It opens up experiences and encounters that you may not have had otherwise.

Let me explain further.

I had a decent education but the truth is that schools now spend far less time hammering the building blocks of grammar and language into the impressionable young minds of their students than they did previously*.
When you learn another language you become VERY aware what the different components of language are called, especially verbs, putting names and explanations to things you've only known instinctively before.
You have a better appreciation of how these components work together, especially when you're comparing how they work in your native tongue to how they work in your newly embraced language.
If you're a bit of a word nerd it affects how you see language in general and improves your use of it no matter which language you're speaking.

If you have the opportunity to travel to a country where your new language is spoken exclusively, take it.
You will never understand the immigrant experience better than you will the day you immerse yourself in a community where you can hopefully make yourself understood but cannot understand effortlessly.
It is impossible to overestimate just how alienated and claustrophobic you can feel when you can't understand the chatter of people on the train or when shopkeepers look at you patiently (or impatiently), waiting for you to make sense or to answer simple questions.
If you hear someone speaking in your first language you are overwhelmed with homesickness and you will approach strangers in a way you might never do at home just for the joy of unhindered, eloquent speech, no matter how banal the conversation topics.
But you pick up new words and tenses much more quickly and the simple pleasure of managing an everyday exchange is intoxicating, even if you know you sound like the instructions in a manual that has been translated from one language into another via a third, just making enough sense to get an answer or give one fills you with a sense of accomplishment.

Speaking a second language can allow you to meet people you might never have met, go places you might never have gone, form connections with people who you might not have bonded with without a key event or shared incident, offer help to people who feel as lost as you now know it is possible to feel, ask for help from people who (well-intentioned as they might be would have been unable to understand the tearful pleas).

It will make you re-evaluate the way you see other people and yourself.

It will make you a better person if you take full advantage of it.

Y'know, unless you just use it to pick up people of your preferred gender(s) and swear at people without them knowing it.
It can be used for that too, I guess.

*Also don't ask me about geography, I don't know anything about it worth a damn.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Stay Away From Self-Help

*Click click click*

"Welcome to your first lesson on how to actualise your full youness! By taking this first step you have already put yourself on the road to realising your true destiny!"

"If you say so, buddy."

"Now we're going to start out with some affirmations just to get you in the right headspace to visualise your unique core of personhood."

"I... would rather not visualise that..."

"Repeat after me: I am an important and special person with unfulfilled potential and opportunities!"

"I am sitting alone in a dark room talking to myself!"

"Very good. Now repeat after me: I can achieve anything I want if only I believe in myself!"

"If I really believed in myself I wouldn't be taking advice from a talking disc!"

"Excellent! You're doing so well!"

"Thanks disembodied validation man!"

"Now that you're warmed up and receptive it's time to massage those under-appreciated actualisation muscles-"

"Noooo thank you, I know code for 'But I didn't even order a pizza' when I hear it, see you later,"


"Today we're going to work on subverting the dominant paradigm and recreating the surviving structures and inhabitants in your own image because really, it's no more than you deserve..."

Sunday, 13 June 2010

And Nothing Else Matters...

This weekend I was a bridesmaid.

It's not something I've ever really cared about doing one way or another.

But for my mate Awesome, I was in.

The wedding party all wore black, including the bride.

The groom wore a top hat and a long coat with tails that looked more likely to have a rifle tucked inside it than anything else.

There were Halloween skeleton confetti and black stars scattered on the tables.

They had their bridal waltz to Metallica's 'Nothing Else Matters'.

And it was one of the most genuine weddings I've ever been to.

They didn't write their own vows because they both think that's soppy bullshit but they did have a handfasting ceremony instead of a traditional service.

They made silly noises and funny faces and cried and laughed and told people to shut up and jittered around during the ceremony and when it came time for the kiss all the guests were yelling suggestions and wolf-whistling and stamping their feet.

And that's how it should be.

They love each other and they wanted to show it in a way that was true to who they are and how they want to be.

And it was beautiful and I've never been prouder to be part of something.

Good luck and \m/

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Wheels Start Turning

It's the little things really.

This video is a memory for a lot of people - either as a part of their own childhood or that of their children - but for me it was the moment when I realised something.

America isn't just a big city.

Yes, I know it sounds stupid now but as a kid watching TV or movies or being read different books you learn to equate America with New York City or various similar scenes.

Until I saw this video on Sesame Street I had no idea that America had farms, forests, suburbs, small towns...

I had just assumed it was high-rise apartment blocks from one end to the other.

No, don't ask me where I thought their food came from. I was 4! I hadn't gotten to consumerism and production cycles yet.

Once I realised that I started finding out all sorts of things.

Egypt isn't just pyramids and camels!

Africa is a continent and not a country!

Likewise Europe and Asia!

And all three are so full of different traditions and languages I'll probably never hear of all of them let alone learn them!

Some things stick in your memory, like the moment it occurs to you that everyone else has a little universe behind their eyes as well, that they aren't just props moving around in yours.

This wasn't my only childhood epiphany but it's one of the ones that has stayed with me.

When I realised the world was out there and that I wanted to see more of it.