Friday, 2 September 2016

At The Risk of Becoming Very Boring

It's Polski Piątek, and I must admit that every day has been Polish Day this summer, which is very boring for most non-Poles around, especially poor Benedict Ambrose. It has been helpful for my Polish club, however, for whom I strive by making vocabulary lists and crossword puzzles. It has also been at least mildly diverting for local Poles who have volunteered to listen to us anglophones stammer our way through their beautiful language. Possibly they are reminded of their own, rather more youthful, struggles to learn English.

I hope I am sufficiently diverting and not imposing on my Language Mother down at the café. Her dog has been ill recently, and after she told me that she was going to call the vet on Friday and feared she wouldn't be able to get an appointment until next week, I nodded, said "Yes, yes" and asked how her dog was and if she was going to take it to the vet on Friday.

Hugh sigh. Involuntary eye roll. Patient repetition of everything she had just said.

You know, there aren't a lot of stories like this in the  Fluent Forever -type books. Bestselling polyglots' manuals--always by men, I notice--stress how the polyglot studied for half an hour and then started speaking Polish, Turkish, etc. to a startled Pole or Turk, et al., who thought him truly marvellous.

Well, it is true that people-not-the-French are surprised and pleased when the Mighty Anglophone deigns to speak their Heathen Tongues, but come on. It's a long, long road from "Hello, how are you? What's your name? I would like six pierogies and a beer, please" to  "In my opinion, Poland's PIS party is centre-left, not right-wing, and there's an article in Standpoint you should see." Along this road there are many sighs, involuntary eye rolls and patient repetitions; I don't care how large and efficient the polyglots' electronic Leitner boxes may be.

At the risk of becoming very boring, I cannot but stress again the importance of developing a thick skin or, rather, bearing the pain when your self-love is stabbed to death yet again by a native language speaker, especially your professor, and even feeling grateful for the stabbing. The worst, however, is giggles from classmates. I really hate that, but I have chosen to believe the gigglers can't help it.

Humility, I have just opined in an article freshly sent to one of my editors, is not self-abnegation but facing the truth about yourself and wanting to improve. Therefore humility is absolutely essential to learning. You need to know and assert the truth about your strengths, you need to know and asser the truth about your weaknesses, and you have to base your self-esteem on something other than "I am wonderfully gifted and smart". It's probably a better idea to examine exactly how God put the human mind together and think of yourself as a learner who, like everyone else, has to learn at least some things through bloody hard and intelligently focused work because that is how God made us.

If someone tries to cut you down maliciously, you must not feel ashamed but contemplate the truth about yourself, which may very well be that you have worked very hard and have come very far since you first set off on your intellectual journey. It seems very odd to me now that there was a time in which I could not read or write in English. And yet I recall being five or so, and my mother being cross that I couldn't read, and my working my way through her own frayed orange primer.

To spice up this homily, I will ask for everyone's opinions of this carry-on knapsack. I mean, £88 is a lot of money for us, and yet this has got some stellar reviews and it fits the Ryan Air carry-on limit. I keep thinking I could get a durable wheeled carry-out suitcase for less, but I prefer the ability to carry my stuff wherever I go. I will be in Warsaw for 1-2 weeks in November, so I will have to pack a lot of tights and warm shirts and more than one skirt and, if humanly possible, my favourite Polish dictionary, which weighs 450 g.


  1. That backpack sounds awesome! I've been sporadically looking for one as well, and this may fit the bill. Backpacks are definitely the way to go for any trips that involve a lot of walking or public transportation. I took a backpack when I went to Croatia with a group a few years ago, and felt sorry for my classmates who were trying to roll their luggage over curbs and cobblestones.

  2. Yes, I took just a knapsack when I first travelled in Europe and that was a great idea as we were often on the road. I love the freedom of it and, of course, getting around extra fees for luggage. I suppose the bag would pay for itself eventually as B.A. and I go Ryan Air at least once a year...

  3. I don't know anything about backpacks, but the waist-strap thingy strikes me as very useful. And I like the way it looks!