So, I've been thinking about languages recently. Nothing new, really, except that instead of the mechanics of language, I've been thinking about how we acquire languages.
Many of my circle of friends are in mixed-nationality marriages and speak two languages as primaries in the house. This is great for their children, who are growing up bilingual, but it is also somewhat confusing for the kids as they don't always know how to express themselves to the people around them. Something that will change as they grow older and more fluent, but can be problematic in the beginning.
And it is no secret that kids learn languages from their parents and the other adults around them. What I think most of us forget is that that is how we adults learn best too. I actively study two very different languages – Spanish and Japanese and while Spanish is the easier language (for native English speakers), my Japanese far surpasses my Spanish.
Let me put that in a bit of perspective: I grew up in Arizona, not 20 miles from the Mexican border. I took Spanish all through high school and have spent quite a bit of time in Mexico, as well as having several friends whose first language is Spanish. Some of my friends had parents who spoke only Spanish, necessitating that we kids speak Spanish in their homes.
By contrast, I have lived in Japan for just over seven years and my wife is Japanese.
And my Japanese is much better than my Spanish. The only reason I can really give for this is that I hear Japanese being spoken on a constant basis, where as I hear Spanish only when I pop in a DVD (Seriously, Shrek? Much funnier in Spanish.) I can attribute much of my Japanese to what I have heard when I watch t.v. or listen to J-Pop, or just talk to our friends. Because I have spent equal amounts of time studying both languages and yet my Japanese is so much better than my Spanish.
The other day, as my wife and I were driving around somewhere, I was being a fairly typical husband. In other words, I was not really listening to what she was saying, instead concentrating on my driving. My wife smacked me on the arm and said, "Pay attention, bitch!"
I almost drove off the road from laughing so hard.
But the point is, we acquire languages from those around us much more than we give credit for. All studying, reading, writing aside (and don't get me wrong, those things are necessary for learning another language), the most natural, most fluent pieces of language we have do not come from a textbook.
There is a similar point to be made in that all of us use the same expressions and phrases as our friends and media heroes. However, I have to get back to studying now.