Feliz Ano Novo, fellow slaves to the grammar. May 2023 bring us all the linguistic wins we so richly deserve!
We were in France for the new year. France is a country to the south of us where they speak a language that’s a bit like portuguese but not as good. We’ve only been here a couple of days to see in the new year and it has been lovely, but we’re waiting for the Eurostar to take us home. The announcer has just told us that owing to the bad weather, the platform is slippery and “please take special care of it”, which I just find delightful, imagining myself tucking the platform into bed, giving it some camomile tea and a foot massage and tiptoeing out of the room. Aww, so cute!
As usual, it’s hard work, communicating in French. I used to be reasonably fluent so long as the conversation didn’t get too heavy. Now, every time I open my mouth, portuguese verbs elbow their way to the front of my tongue, shoving French conjugations out of the way. Sometimes I can get pretty far into crazy mishmashes of the two and it leaves me feeling a bit awkward. My daughter is better but she is a bit self-conscious too. She does a great job in what she plans to say but doesn’t like to speak spontaneously. We have a competition of who can go longest without “getting Englished” – in other words, making the person we’re speaking to just start speaking to us in our own language because it’s easier.
There’s no reason to be self-conscious though. Speaking someone else’s language is absolutely a compliment to them. It shows you’ve made an effort, and it’s basically always appreciated, whereas just launching into English is arrogant and douchey, so just go for it, and if it doesn’t work out, well, no worries, try again. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, short of picking the wrong words and accidentally buying twitter or divulging your location to the Romanian police, the worst most people can imagine is being laughed at. Is that really likely though? Would you ever laugh at someone from overseas speaking your language? And even if someone laughs, is it going to be malicious laughter? Again, it seems unlikely. Sometimes you might just trigger someone’s delighted reaction at an odd combination of words, like the French train announcer who’s concerned about the wellbeing of the platform, but that’s ok. Keep a sense of humour about it, and you’re all good.