Language learning is not a linear process. There are good days and there are bad days. Sometimes we leave our language classes feeling like we’ve mastered a new grammatical concept and other times it feels like that concept kicked us in the face and then muttered something in Polish we didn’t fully catch. We dislike those days.
There is so much more to language than speaking, reading and writing. There are grammatical rules and structures – the valency of a verb, the irregular gender of certain nouns, the ongoing influence of the Latin case system….seriously Latin, we get why you died off. There are manners and cultural practices to be considered – in French and Slovak we use “you” in the plural to show respect, but in Polish this is rude and you must use the third-person and the Vocative case (“how is the lady today?” while speaking to a woman you respect or do not know well). History plays a role as certain idioms and nuances have been shaped by the past. Even vocabulary is influenced by intercultural interactions – there are a large number of Turkish and German words in Polish. For those wondering, Poland used to border Turkey back in the day. In short, every language comes with its own unique thinking.
Acquiring a new language is an emotional experience. Joy. Frustration. Excitement. Exhaustion. Confusion. Acceptance. It leaves you vulnerable as you step beyond something so comfortable you don’t even realize it’s a security blanket: your mother tongue. You might have taken for granted the ability to express yourself clearly at any given moment and suddenly vocabulary, with whom you’re speaking, grammar, syntax, melody, emphasis and accent all become factors. The early stages of language learning have a direct line to self-esteem and can leave you feeling a little childish at times. Language learning will also teach you to shake that off, be creative, talk around something and if all else fails – mime!
We’ve learned to keep a sense of humour about it all. There’s comedy in the awkward, lest we forget The Great Slovene Camp Disaster of 2008. We’ve often wondered what the expression on our faces looks like in those moments when our actions stall as our brains process what they just heard (the small delay between hearing and comprehension that comes as you encounter a word that resides on the edge of your vocabulary). It’s funny, except when it isn’t and on those days you take a calming breath, return home and watch Jack Bauer do his thing and switch your weary mind into the off position.
Linguistically we’ve covered a lot of ground since our language course began in October. We sometimes forget that we spoke zero Polish 6 months ago and it’s easy to focus on how much more there is to learn rather than what we’ve accomplished. Admittedly, we’re not naturally gifted towards language learning but that’s not going to stop us. There are things to do, relationships to build and menus to order from – all of which are in Polish.