Across Continents

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Linguists

Funny bunch linguists. Masters of the understated. I mean try and get one to admit they’re actually quite good at a language. Even a passable understanding. I wish you luck. Believe me I’ve tried. You might be fortunate, get a begrudging acknowledgement that they might have at least grasped the rudiments. Just enough to get by you understand. What the rest of us would call fluent.

To be fair, you’d have to be fairly conceited to claim you could pass yourself off as a native speaker, without chance of being rumbled. I’d met a young English chap back in France, quickly sensed something wasn’t quite right. Simply that he’d been brought up in Brittany, rarely visited his mother country, and as result had missed out on some of the subtle changes to everyday speech. He sounded dated.

You’d be forgiven for thinking linguists are a pretty passive bunch. Ensconced in their dictionaries, of which they usually have quite a few. No such thing as enough. But you’d be wrong. I can think of at least one who builds rockets in her spare time. Her day job equally fast paced. No, the way to draw out those who pursue language as a profession is simply to enquire whether they’re an interpreter or a translator. Bit like inadvertently asking a French Canadian if he or she is an American.

For all my assertions above of the understated, you may assured that my own claims as to the staggeringly feeble nature of my own language skills are, if anything, an overstatement. I aspire to double figures in Mandarin. Embarrassing? At times, yes. Makes me feel very humbled when I encounter others with such a good grasp of my mother tongue. For which they invariably apologize profusely. Just makes me feel worse. Question of aptitude. I don’t have any. Have to rely on enthusiasm over ability. Which can be quite fun.

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