I was reading my sister’s post on language and it got me thinking about the effort we put into communicating. In contrast to sister’s skill, I always knew I was bad at language. English may be my mother tongue but I still remember problems with English pronunciation in first grade. Occasionally I still have problems though most peoples will hear what they expect to hear and not notice it. At most a few think I have an accent. Required foreign language course always seemed sadistic to me when they penalized beginners for spelling mistakes, as I was always severely behind in English spelling and to this day rely heavily on spell checkers. And as someone with Aspergers just mastering the mechanics of speech and writing didn’t lead to real communication. I was very lucky to be introduced to genre fiction where communication was stripped down to bare essentials, and it’s causes and effects all put down in black and white were I could study it and start to see patterns.
But for someone with Asperger’s syndrome I’ve been able to close a lot of the communication gap from my side, it could have been harder to deal with. Communication always has an internal cost that we pay to move our interior codes to symbols that are recognized by others. For people with a shared language there is not just the fact that they can communicate with each other but that they made an effort to arrive at a communication destination and that destination was the same. For our first language that effort was made mainly before we can remember and driven by instinct and necessity more than choice. But that effort was still there and consumed much mental power for several years of our life.
I would like to be able to speak a second language, and maybe someday I will manage to put in the time and effort to do that. But for now I'm just glad I can speak English, the language of my family, of the place where I was born. I'm glad that the people who move here from other places do generally make the effort to meet me and people like me at the communication destination we have already managed to achieve. Sometimes cherishing the amount of communication we do have allows us to really see things that never quite made it into and generally shared symbol system.
|Rosettastone - Brtitish Museum|
Photographer: Nina Aldin Thune
To me there seems to be something elitist in an expectation that people should learn a second language just because. Aware as I am of those of us who cling precariously to the edge of a first language. If a second language is just a generic prerequisites of acceptable status, it's a drain of time and effort that falls most heavily on those that are already most marginal. I also think taking a language course in college just to satisfy the language requirement, surrounded by other people that were also just there to satisfy a language requirement yielded a very porridge return as far as comprehension gained for time and effort expended. The circumstances almost guaranteed that most of us would focus on short term memorization to get artificial test answers rather than working on true comprehension.Languages ought to be special valued skills that open up opportunities. And they are best taught in conjunction with the opportunity to explore those new opportunities. A specific language is a specific skill and should have specific goals it can achieve and specific values it brings. Studying a language without being able to envision a use to put it to makes acquiring a language much less motivating. It also makes it less valuable. We ought to value the specialness of knowing two languages rather than wanting make it less meaningful in normality.