Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Language (3)

So I can now say I did something. Theoretically I can say this in two different ways[1] though I am still baffled as to how people alternate and apply these two tenses without pausing for an inordinately long time before commiting themselves – and Argentineans don’t pause much. It’s theory because it is not practice. I’ve had a quiet time – an interior time after the relative excesses of my first month. Great for writing music, not helpful to the acquisition of Spanish at all. I’ve hit a wall. There are another ten tenses to learn.

My ego is taking a battering. I am somewhere in here kind of passively observing my social confidence fluctuate more dramatically than it has for years. Depending on my mood, the person or quantity of people speaking - I am a different person. I feel like a teenager.

If I am lucky I have one way to express something, one half cut option. I’m largely bereft of tone, inflection, subtlety, wit – ostensibly an arsenal of self defence mechanisms that have been involuntarily, lovingly and necessarily grafted into what becomes my way for over thirty years (and thirty years is a problem here, it is not ten or twenty. I learn slower now; it is terrifying in some ways).

On a good day I talk nonesense, anything just to let it out.  I talk and I mock myself, past errors and current. In Spain I received some strange looks asking for seats in bars and such. It was some time before I realised that instead of Puedo sentarme? - Can I sit (me) down? I had being saying to Puedo sentirme? - Can I feel (me)? - which, despite the obvious similarities, is really quite different.  The rest is physical, silent comedy spliced with random words and half syntax. I feel like Chaplin’s waiter at the end of Modern Times singing Italian nonsense. Here I'm in the Locutorio doing my best impression of a computer printer for a shop assistant and eight bewildered people in a queue; there I am frantically waving my arms around in an attempt to describe a tumble dryer.

Often I am fighting the fourteen year old that quit French, that felt the language, and as the only other language I took, subsequently all languages, as an impossible horrifying abstract mud. The fourteen year old who eventually let it all go over his head in petulant resignation. Occasionally I crawl into a silence so complete I’m sure it prevents others approaching me at all.

Perhaps people are not bestowed with a special facility for the acquisition of a language at all, they are simply people that always have something to say in their first language and, transferring those same character traits accordingly, immerse themselves with far greater speed. I am simply not one of these people. I can surely talk in my moment, but I can also go for days without saying very much at all. I'm learning that to learn, you have to talk.

Perversely there is some sense of liberation here too. I know that is why I am here - to shake things up. I find my purpose in a way by being lost, purposefully lost. Unmoored twice over – geographically and personally. (I guess I've always made life difficult for myself).

[1] The Preterito and the Imperfect. Technically it is ‘It was’ or ‘It was going on’ etc. – I think….

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