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Yesterday, after the Hannover trip, I was waiting for my tram with a Czech boy and girl (obviously), and we were talking about talking. We were switching back in forward between broken English (their English, not mine) and broken German (my German and theirs) and Czech (theirs, not mine, SADLY), and we were talking about how frustrating it is that we can’t speak fluently with everyone.
The girl gave the most accurate assessment I have yet heard of the English language in Europe, which was this: People say that learning English is easy, but what they mean is that learning “bad English” is easy. So they all learn this basic level of English and speak that with one another, but it’s not that they’re all having a really easy time learning my mother tongue. (I assured her that she does not, in fact, speak English poorly, but that I think she made an excellent point.) And then she went on.
When you speak in English, she told me, it flows. When I speak, it’s word by word.
Yes, I said, but this is because English is my mother tongue. Because I’ve been speaking it for 22 years. I speak English like she speaks Czech. She shouldn’t expect herself to be able to speak English like I do.
But I want to, she said. Right now I can tell you about the weather, and basic things, but I want to be able to talk all day, and tell you if I’m having a problem with my boyfriend, and what I’m feeling.
And the tram came and the conversation moved onto something else. But I don’t think that I’ve ever heard someone describe learning a language so honestly and accurately. Because it is so hard and so frustrating to speak the way in which you—I—want to speak. But you do it, and you do it in large part so that you can speak all day about more than the weather while waiting by a tram with a pseudo-stranger after a day in Hannover.