Every time that people would ask, “How many languages do you speak?” I get quite flustered because I am uncertain of their definition of ‘languages you speak’. I would simply reply by stating, “Four,” and I would secretly wish that they would not inquire further. It’s not that I am not proud of the languages that I speak; believe me when I say I do. I guess it is just more complicated than comparing an apple to an orange. All right, you cannot compare an apple to an orange. But maybe it’s sort of like that. Once the person that I was speaking to discovers my passion for languages, they would either love me or hate me for it. Sometimes they would hold me in high regard because they describe me as ‘very cultured’. This is an extremely rare circumstance, however it does occur, that the person that I am sharing a conversation with would say, “One language is enough. English is all you need.” I do agree with that statement to some extent, however, the passionate linguist in me would always prevail.
Once, my Year 11 Drama teacher asked me the question that I resent the most. I replied with the same one-word answer and inevitably he implored me to enumerate each language. “Filipino, English, French and Spanish.” Then he added, “Canadian English and Australian English!” I flashed a knowing smile and laughed at his remark. Usually I would add, “That’s just four. My German friends know 8 or 10 languages and they actually speak it whenever possible!” At that moment, ashamedly, I enjoyed the spotlight because no one in that room could top my little achievement! So maybe sometimes I take pleasure in knowing that I know something that some people in the room has not even heard of. But most of the time, I am ashamed of the fact that I don’t practise French and Spanish. I have Spanish as one of my subjects in school but I rarely go in depth and really try to learn more. Although if you think about it, I actually get to practise French in a sense because here’s how my system works for my survival in Spanish- my little survival guide. Whenever I need to find un verbo, I have to remember it in French infinitive form because they are very similar- except for the conjugations, of course. For nouns, I think of that particular word in Filipino and I am usually very close to the word in Spanish. I must tell you that the Spaniards came and colonised the Philippines. Since we had been a Spanish colony for more than 333 years, our culture, language, traditions and way of life are mostly based on theirs. Read: religion was the most powerful tool in the colonisation. Filipinos fell into the trap of Catholicism and thus it became their drug- the most addictive drug of all. I digressed. That’s a bit of history 101 for all the people who don’t even know that a country called ‘Philippines’ exists, no offence meant. I probably don’t know that your country exists- wherever it is.
Languages are funny, irritating, adorable little things really. I always believed that learning a language is like getting to know a person. It requires a lifetime or even more. It has many secrets and mysteries waiting to be uncovered. First, there is awkwardness between the two of you. Who’s going to take a leap of faith and be the first to say ‘hola’? Then, there’s the introduction. I’m Penelope and you are? Me llamo Penelope. You ask each other about hobbies, favourites and pet peeves. Suddenly you find something in common and become more than just acquaintances. But right now, I really hate my newfound friend. Hate is a strong word, I know. Yet it is the first word that comes to mind when I try to think of my homework in Spanish. My first homework given on the first day of school. ‘Ciento cincuenta palabras’ or 150 words for Anglophones. I can’t even write a word. I haven’t even picked a topic. My friend is now an enemy once again.
What’s your favourite language? What’s your view on language? Tell me tell me tell me. I want to know!