Thursday, August 26, 2010

Non entiendo. Jeg forstår ikke.

I've always regarded myself as fairly trained in the art of foreign languages - indeed, as an Australian speaking 5 languages, I probably place myself into a tiny faction of the nation with a more-than-bilingual status. Now that I'm living in Oslo as an exchange student, the importance of foreign languages has never been more paramount.

Of course, everyone here speaks near-fluent English. Scandinavians are renowned (and rightly so) for being ridiculously fluent in English, and the Germans, well, they're certainly not far behind. And the strangest thing has happened to me here in Oslo. Coming to Norway, one would expect to befriend many Norwegians. And whilst I have gotten to know several locals, it's nevertheless natural that most of my friends here are other foreign students. The fact that the Germans/Austrians/Swiss and Spanish compose the majority of exchange students, I now find myself in the peculiar situation of being surrounded by practically-fluent English speakers, but who possess a native German/Spanish tongue.

I think if I were to draw a friendship wheel, 60% of my friends here are German/Austrian/German-speaking-Swiss, 15% Spanish, 10% native English speakers, 10% Norwegian and 5% other. Which is great. I came on exchange to broaden my horizons, to meet new people, exchange cultures, beliefs, attitudes. Sounds clichéd but it's also kind of true. And everyone is super-polite! Almost all the Germans will invariably switch to English when I join the group, and similarly with the Spanish (although the Spanish have a strange predilection to lapse into their mother tongue every 5 sentences or so. And touching people). They reassure me that it's fine, that they actually want to practice speaking more English. It's no big hassle. See - everyone's super polite.

But here's the thing. No matter what, you will always feel most comfortable conversing in your mother tongue. That's given. That's expected. And despite the fact that everyone speaks English here, there's always the nagging fact that whenever my friends choose to do so, they can switch back into their native language and I'll be completely shut out. Not that they ever do that on purpose or maliciously. It just is. I don't speak German. Neither do I speak Spanish. Great deal of help 6 years of French has done for me...

At the end of the day, we're all simply human beings who find comfort and solace through familiarity and common ground. What could be more unifying than a language through which we communicate our thoughts and feelings, opinions, plans for the future, incidences of the past? Lately, I'm finding myself jealous of the fact that my friends have a common language, like a secret code that they can just pull out on a whim, share a joke, make a comment, explain complex thoughts that seemed unfulfilled when they attempted to do so in English. I can only liken the feeling to being on the outside of an inside joke. Not that they purposely do that - indeed, they go out of their way to speak English when I'm there. But the moment I return to my room or momentarily leave the conversation, foreign sounds such as Ich, Auch, Tengo, Por que flood the floor. It's hardly unfair - if I spent 16 hours speaking French to everyone, I would certainly appreciate at least 60 minutes in the day where I just speak English - no thinking, no conjugation in my head, no searching for words - everything just slips out and falls into place.

Obviously, there is one solution - I should just learn Norwegian, German and Spanish. I think I might just do that. In the meantime, Pelvis? Pffffttt, what pelvis...?

1 comment:

  1. Schöner Text Kevin!

    Grüsse, Livio