Thursday, 5 January 2012
speaking the language
having spent a large part of the day dodging work and getting myself involved in a debate regarding diane abbot's perceived racism (the long story short version - yes she is, all the way back to the finnish nurses thing which i wrote to her about at the time. i've no wish to reiterate any of this but i can forward you onto where i have been on about it should you wish) rather than writing the poetry which is so desperate to get out of my notebooks i find myself mulling over the linguistic interactions that have coloured and informed my work life, just the sort of thing that wouldn't have happened had ms abbot had her way.
for a good part of last year i was working with a finnish-swedish girl (who trained in newcastle - it was a strange, strange accent). when i was attempting finnish it was, she said, obvious 'to anyone who had ears' that i had some sort of swedish thing going on as i was unable to pronounce any of the finnish words without that hurdy hurdy hurdy cadence going on, a description that both hurt and pleased me at the same time.
i looked after a poor wee french woman for a while and tho it's true my french these days is execrable at least she understood me and i, for the most part, her (i have a colleague who is half french for back up for the difficult bits!). this was grand but my moment of the year was going into another poor wee woman who while she did speak english had, in her illness, reverted back to her native italian. now my italian doesn't extend much beyond - hello, how are you. my name is mr swiss and i need a blood sample - but i had that magic moment when her eyes opened and i knew the language had gone in. the nurses were loving it also. ask me i need a blood sample they say. all of the shift. ho ho, how we laughed...
i'm liking the german these days and really must make more of an effort seeing as how there are actually quite a number of germans round these parts i could actually practice with. i had a beautiful afternoon at the end of autumn where i spent a bit of time with friend chrissie and her her dad just listening. i get the odd word but the grammar and such like to hook it all up just isn't there. this almost inevitably leads to that moment when the german speaker will ask me why it is i know these fragments from the tongue of goethe and schiller and, esp if they're from the east, there's that impossibly weary sigh as i admit i know most of my german form listening to rammstein
this week, in a set of circumstances that would've made diane abbot's blood run cold, i was working with a girl fresh of the plane from romania, never been in the uk, never spoken to a scottish person before. i did try to check google translate to check if i could remember any romanian greetings but for some reason it doesn't work at work. nevertheless my mangled romanian was understood and off we went, me with a new friend for the night. it's amazing just how quickly you can break the ice if you can just say your name and hello in the other person's language, something i've tried and broadly failed to get others to do in hospital for years but has seen me getting stuck into everything from cantonese to farsi.
my favourite last year was after getting my haircut (and the big fiery cotton bud in the ear) by a man whose accent i couldn't place, who turned out to be turkish, turkish hairdressers being the latest immigrants around these parts. i was straight round to waterstones and back again - er, i said, tessukur edirim? my first ever turkish!
speaking languages badly is great fun. true, there can sometimes be misunderstandings but the one thing it's necessity to do is listen. and then having listened shape someone else's words in your mouth. it's an adventure!
as an aside, one of my friends is a fluent russian speaker and fan of putin - we exchange many things russian. my favourite advert this year is this one. burger king in moscow - who knew?