Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Multilingual Thing - Why Does It Even Matter?

Who hasn’t been shaking their head, on occasions, over people waxing lyrical about the most pointless of pastimes? But then, who's to decide whether something is worth getting excited about or whether it's a total waste of time? 

In the end, I would argue, it's all down to your chosen perspective.

You could look at it like this: In another four billion years or so, the sun will run out of fuel, it will explode and wipe out our solar system. And since we can barely get off this rock - and certainly not far enough away from it to reach and wreck some other beautiful planet - we’ll be done for. In the face of this inevitable event, what does anything matter? Football, saving humpback whales, getting junior to eat his broccoli, fashion, music, gardening, knitting sock puppets, building a log cabin in the woods with your bare hands – it's all equally pointless in the (very) long run, why invest effort and energy in anything if it will all end up burnt to a crisp?

Actually, I find the thought that we're all just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic strangely comforting. Even at the risk of fucking up royally, you might as well try to cultivate yourself a nice little obsession, since, ultimately, you’ve got no more and no less to lose than anyone else. 

My personal take is that what matters most, while we’re all hurtling towards our chargrilled finale, is what gets us fired up as individuals. The scope ranges from pleasing solely oneself to enriching the lives of others. Maybe we should aim for a bit of both?

We all find different things rewarding, it’s as simple as that, and it’s more about how we cultivate our interests, rather than what they are. If what's keeping us back is the fear that the choices and sacrifices we make in pursuit of our foibles will seem ridiculous to others, then we wind up in a lose-lose situation: we won't be able to pull off the causes others deem "worthy" for lack of emotional impetus and commitment, and neither will we succeed at what we actually do care about if we keep our hooves glued to the starting blocks.

When, about three years ago, I mentioned to a group of acquaintances that I was going to start learning Portuguese, one of them said, "Oh, yet another language you won't ever need." ¡Caramba! What the hell does this person know about what I need or what may or may not be useful to me? 

We don’t choose our passions. We find them – or, as some airy fairy tree-hugging folk would argue, they find us – and they ignite us, often for unfathomable reasons. They can crack open doors that would otherwise have remained firmly closed to us. If we are passionate about something, it makes us feel connected  to our own selves, to other people, to the world around us  and without that connectedness, we cannot function effectively as human beings. 

So, I thought, what could be a better place for doing verbal cartwheels around one of my most enduring passions than a brand new blog? 

I want this blog to help me reflect on my (at times a bit chaotic and unstructured) multilingual life, turning it into a more conscious and productive experience. I want to go on improving my skills and better integrate my thus far rather poorly developed, peripheral languages, Portuguese and French, more tightly into my everyday life. I also want to record some of those curious language-related daily incidents and insights before they evaporate into thin air. Maybe, I'm hoping, these will resonate with someone else out there…?

That brings me to the other main point of this blog: connecting with people for whom language is not a mere technical tool located in the arid, strategising parts of their brains, deployed on a strict communicate-or-starve basis. For some people, and I count myself among them, languages go so much deeper, they are an integral part of who we are and by merging with new ones, our consciousness expands, we encounter parts of ourselves we never knew existed, and this makes us grow, evolve and change. It is this emotionally-centred, experiential dimension of multilingualism that is to be the heart of this blog.


  1. I can't join you in your passion for languages but I can certainly relate to wanting / needing / enjoying a new passion that came to me late in life and now shapes the rest of the time I have left on this mortal coil. And I'm very happy to have found that new stimulus to keep me engaged, as I head towards my own 'chargrilled finale'!

    1. Yup, it's all about bringing your favourite stuff to the barbecue :)

    2. And if you don't, you only have yourself to blame ;)

  2. You make me laugh. But if certain sci fi writers are correct, we will have transported some of our progeny to other solar systems before our solar kaboom. I read you to try to get some inspiration to learn more of the languages floating around me here.

    1. I would like to believe it... but the distances are just too large, I fear. Also, our galaxy is on collision course with a neighbouring one and it's doubtful that life on earth is going to survive that event. In any case, living species seem to have expiry dates that lies well below the billion-year-mark. So, we are never going to see these things happen, anyway...