January 24, 2015 by lucieromarin
It’s hardly a revelation to say that focusing on an interesting project or work can be a great help when moving through grief or shock. What this doesn’t mean, however, is that signing up for the first pottery class that someone mentions is going to save you. A hobby is meant to be an enrichment of leisure, not the meaning of life. So, an activity which you know was never meant to be more than a hobby will only exacerbate a crisis of meaning, if you try to use it as a source of meaning, rather than as an enrichment of leisure. The same goes for travel. Who doesn’t know of at least one place in the world she’d love to see outside her home? But who wants to feel that she’s travelling because she’s filling in time because she has nothing else in life?
What helps (well, it helps cholerics, anyway; it’s probably different for melancholics), is to find, not a hobby, but a project. You’re looking for something that engages you personally, irrespective of other opinions; you want to be able to enjoy the process of whatever that thing is, but also feel that it has a point, either that it’s leading to another good, or that its completion will represent a good.
Well, in December last year, I realised that I needed such a project; I declared 2015 the Year of Healing, and let God know that I had no idea what that project was meant to be. We had just passed the first anniversary of the death of one of my most beloved friends, so I asked her intercession, and, not long thereafter, found my project! So, 2015 is now also the Year of the Polyglot, because, for me, languages are captivating, valuable, and guarantee you a return on your investment. The study of language is the necessary and distracting hard work that healing needs, but, in return for your work, you receive a universe. (And who knew there was such a thing as a Polyglot Conference to aspire to? And why are so many male polyglots so nice-looking?)
You can’t choose what’s done to you, but you can, to some extent, choose what you think about, so the choice of a personally-meaningful project gives you an immediate alternative when painful thoughts are pressed upon you. I’m sure most of us know what it’s like to have grief triggered at an unexpected moment, so that you find yourself shaky-and-collapsy when you’d rather be neither; this happened to me recently, and, as it came over me, I stopped, turned my mind to the rules of Hungarian grammar I’d written out the day before, and thought, “The indefinite object is used for first person and second person objects. The indefinite object is used for…” It wasn’t simply a trick of distraction – the interestingness (yes, this is sort of a word) cast its customary spell over my mind, so that no heroic virtue was needed – I could let the fascinating thought of word endings lead me away from the other thoughts. (FYI, ‘latok’ is ‘I see a’ and ‘latom’ is ‘I see the’ – unless the stem’s vowel is made in the front of the mouth, in which case the endings are ‘ek’ and ‘em’ or they are round front vowels, in which case they are ‘ok’ and ‘om’ with umlauts on top.)
Well, since I know that the entire world must be equally utterly fascinated by this information about word endings, let me share some of my discoveries about language so far:
1) They have too many words. Sure, the thought of learning new vocab is fine, until you realise how many words you know; just listen in to any ordinary, basic conversation in English, and count how many words you’ll have to master just to be able to say, “Well, I phoned him yesterday but he never called back. He might have been kept back at work, but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s actually just a slacker.” And what about all the fancy words? What about ‘indefatigable’? What about ‘saurian’? What about ‘irksome’? And so on.
2) They have too much grammar. Way, way, too much grammar. We should all just say ‘He too big,’ and ‘You nasty face,’ and never mind about Shakespeare!
3) There are too many names for grammatical parts that don’t tell you what those parts are. This is a waste of learning-time. If the subjunctive mood was called the ‘would-if mood’, you’d know what it was talking about the instant you opened your grammar book. Instead, the time that could be spent learning waste time remembering what ‘subjunctive’ means, because there’s nothing in the word to tell you. Never mind ‘nominative’ and ‘accusative’ – Hungarian also has an illative case, an inessive case, and a formalis case, not to mention also the adessive, superessive, and allative cases. It’s fascinating to read about, but I need to remember it! For pity’s sake, just call it the ‘on-top-of case’, since that’s what it is!
4) The sounds of other languages are endlessly absorbing. If you don’t believe me, hop over to the SBS website, and listen to Polish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, French and Hungarian news. Just think – all these mouths are more or less the same shape, but what a contrast in sounds, in the placing of the tongue, in the breathing! (Also note that, despite the fact that all newsreaders round the world are reading off an autocue, they all need pieces of paper in front of them to shuffle every now and then. Two of them also have a pen. Why do they have a pen?)
5) No one can tell you how to learn a language. I watched a video in which a speaker of 35 languages said he learned by reading a book of grammar first, then worrying about pronunciation second (the exact opposite of how most language-books are written.) However, another polyglot said that grammar books get in the way – keep some basic grammar notes by your side then listen to native speakers, and you’ll work it out, the same way you can work out the code behind a Fibonacci sequence without being told what it is. Er… I don’t know about you, but I didn’t work out the Fibonacci code when he recited ‘0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…’ His advice might only be good for people who can do maths!