Language is dialogue. This is a followup to my last letter in which I mostly talked about your own language, your own style, how you express yourself. But in fact, I have to admit that it stopped short – It didn’t get beyond you.
Language is dialogue. You’re not alone. If your language is like the clothes you wear and choosing your own style … well, it’s not enough to just talk to yourself in front of a mirror … Language is dialogue. And your choice of style has as much to do with yourself as it does with the community you live in and the people who make up your world. Yes, people first judge you by the clothes you wear and … even more, by the way you speak, by the way you express yourself.
Dialogue is feedback. Whether you’re talking to an audience of 2000 or whether you’re talking to one individual, adapting your speech to those you’re speaking to is like making the first move in a game of chess. You make a move. Your partner makes a move. You speak to a large audience; they respond. You feel it. You speak to someone you know. You get a response. It doesn’t matter who begins. It’s a dialogue. You’re always picking up where you left off.
Of course, we all know people who speak to themselves even when they’re speaking to others. How can I say that? We hear them every day. In person. In schools. In meeetings. People looking at themselves in a mirror … with polite onlookers. Have you ever seen anyone holding a phone at a distance from their ears?
Dialogue is listening. And reacting. Dialogue is pause. Dialogue is in time. Do you send and receive email? textos? How quick do you answer? What sort of dialogue is going on? Do you pick up on someone’s style and answer with the same tone?
It seems to me that so much misunderstanding between people comes from a failure to listen. In fact, talking back and forth … without a dialogue.
Two monologues. Each party listening to himself, herself.
When you take the time – and yes, I mean the time – to listen… or to read and take the time and make the effort to think about what others are telling you, are saying … then in fact, before saying a word, before asking a question, you’ve opened … a dialogue. A healthy one.
The best dialogues are those that last a long time. Those that never end.
Who are those with? That’s the definition of … friends. Friends listen.
When you practice the art of listening … you open a dialogue. And to do that, you need language. But you also need one thing more: courage. The courage to listen.
Language is such a personal thing. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, we are all individuals with our own very unique styles and personalities. And we have so many facets!
Language is like the clothes we wear: the colors we choose, the styles we select for the occasion, the materials we feel comfortable wearing. Our vocabularies are like our wardrobes. In professional situations, we dress and act one way while when we’re out with friends or family, we might dress and act differently. We don’t dress and act in the same ways at home and in public. And we express ourselves stylistically according to the mood we’re in, the company we’re with … and, of course, according to the weather! The same goes for the language we use.
What sort of a person are you? Are you someone who loves to meet new people and explore new things? Do you have a tendency to be more introverted or extroverted? Are you more of a “talker” or are you more of a “listener?” How old are you? What sort of environments are you at ease in? Which situations do you avoid? Are you a traveller or a stay-at-home?
What sort of background do you come from? Are you more emotional or rational? Are you a reader or a watcher?
Of course, these are not absolutes. Every one of us, like the weather, is in a permanent stage of change. One day we’re smiling and on another … we’re not.
These are all questions which affect the language we use: both spoken and written.
As you develop your language skills, may I make a suggestion? Develop your own personality along with it! One of the keys to learning a language, including your native one, has to do with keeping up-to-date … with yourself!
No matter how young or how old you are … your language is YOUR language! Adopt, integrate into your “wardrobe” the words and expressions you like, the words you need. Think and act as yourself, your own self!
After all, we are all unique individuals! Of this I’m sure: we’re never too young … nor too old to try to say just what we want to try to say …. Unless you have a tendency towards frustration, don’t strive for perfection … excellence is good enough!
Thanks for reading The Paris Savannah Connection!
PS: You’ll never get to your goal without taking a risk!
Where in the world did I leave my keys?? I can’t find my glasses anywhere … Do you remember the title of that movie with Fred Astaire … you know the one with the buried pot of gold?
There are so many things to remember! How do you say “Je me souviens” in English? Oh, right, I remember! And what’s the word for ‘gloves’ in French?
In fact, if you really want to get good in a foreign language, one of the things you need …. is a memory. Fortunately, most of us are born with one that’s pretty incredible. Having a brain is a starting point. Using some of it for storage – quite like the HD of a computer or even the vaporous cloud, is the second step. A little focus, devote some energy to concentration … and then … the key is:
Once, twice, three times … 4 … 5 … 6 …. 7. That’s the magic number. Repeat something a few times, up to 7 even and you’ll likely remember it.
Of course it does take a little effort. But then, what doesn’t? You get what you pay for! That’s the price of the investment!
The curious thing about repeating is that we won’t necessarily learn anything if we just repeat things in the same way. Only smart parrots do that. We need to link them to something. They need to stick. Like glue. Try learning a word, a line like an actor or actress memorizing a text…in a context, with feeling, with emotion. Say it out loud, say it soft, whisper it, shout it! Say it with anger. Make it sincere … or make it sarcastic. Make it ironic …. make it happy. Say it with love. Mobilize your …. emotional memory. You’ll remember better. And longer.
You can learn – that’s to say – acquire, and that’s to say, remember just about anything you want for the price of … taking the time to … think it, feel it and repeat it. Do it over and over again. In time. Once or twice today, once or twice tomorrow, once or twice in a few days … and the miracle is … that later on, in a week or two or in a month, a year from you’ll recall it… and quickly.
True for words, true for images if you look; true for sounds if you listen; True for facts … and true for fiction. Propaganda works that way.
Repetition. A two-edged sword. Because our memories are not only voluntary: learning as we want through repetition. We have extraordinary capacities and … we can unconsiously and involuntarily remember even what we don’t intend to …
Just for fun … let your memory work for you today!
My mother has always had a good way of summing up situations. When something didn’t turn out as expected … and this was the case more often than not in our family, she’d come out with this one:
“It’s a blessing in disguise.”
I think she must have used it after we had a fire in our house in Gary, Indiana when I was a child. She probably didn’t telephone my father and announce the blessing as the firemen were putting out the blaze but after the disaster … there was no choice but to have a brand new kitchen rebuilt and installed. The fire? A blessing in disguise.
About a month ago, I looked out my window … and what did I see? Rather, what didn’t I see? It took me a minute to look twice, and then a third time. My bicycle had disappeared … Oh dear! I couldn’t believe it. Stolen. I loved my bicycle. It wasn’t a fancy one but it had taken me many a mile and I took good care of it, too. Catastrophic? No…but I have to say that I really love the new bike I’m riding.
Life’s like that. If you let it be. And that was the name of one of the Beatle’s greatest hits, wasn’t it?
A number of years ago, I was traveling with my two daughters from Savannah back to Paris and, due to stormy summer weather in Savannah, our plane was delayed. By the time we reached Atlanta, the connecting flight to Paris has already left the ground … and … as the luggage had flown without us … we were put up in a very nice hotel and provided with an indemnity for new bathing suits so that we could enjoy the pool …
I just heard on the radio that the annual summer strike planned at Air France is for July 31st and August 1st – among the busiest days of the year as people go on summer vacation.
Surely, for the other airlines … and some of us … in one way or another,
this, too, can only be seen as another …
“Blessing in d’skies.”
One of the more curious aspects of the human being is a taste for zeal. I haven’t looked this up in the dictionary but it seems to me to be expressed by a prefix we often use denoting excess: over. Which has to do with the idea of “too much” “too many,” “too far,” in short … “too …”
“Overdoing it” could mean going too far, too fast. Providing too much. Too much, too fast. Answering an unasked question with outrageous action. With an outrageous abuse of power.
Where’s the benchmark? the standard? the reference?
Apparently when the ego feels it’s safe to venture (hence, adventure) out with unhindered, non-defensive aggressivity and in the name of some pretext (read: reason, justification) be it security, law and order, policy, religion, country or tribe or heaven forbid, “justice” … we’re headed for trouble. Common sense has been subjected to some other “idea, some other pulsion.”
Speaking of ideas, years ago, Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of our time wrote two essays. One was entitled: “Ideas which have helped mankind,” and the other, “Ideas which have harmed mankind.” Probably went out of print … with vinyl 33s. My father used to say “A word to the wise is sufficient.”
“I’m right …. You’re wrong.” It seems to me that this is comparable to the law of the wild west: “Shoot first, ask later…” And I’m not denying that this may be a means to survival, even a justified one in some case – albeit a potentially dangerous one!
How often do we say: “You’re right….I’m wrong.” Same words. Different order. This could be like … asking first.
Acting with enthusiasm is like a fresh morning. Zeal? More like the militia sneaking out in the dark.
Moral of the story: Look before you leap!
Enjoy the 4th – even if you’re in Minnesota – and thanks for reading The Paris Savannah Connection.
I don’t know if it’s fair to say that native English speakers are lazier than anyone else … but in general, if we’re given the opportunity to take a short-cut, find an easier way of doing something or choosing between a short word and a long one, we opt for the route of least resistance, the most effort-free (effortless?) path … and that even when it doesn’t take us to our intended destination.
We love the idea of freedom and the ease and brevity of the word
Free in the sense that you get something for nothing – a situation which I, personally, haven’t yet encountered – but which is promised day in and day out.
dash(-)free = without = ((sans)) and that’s easy enough, isn’t it?
By dash-free, I mean without … whatever comes before the dash.
A handier suffix would be hard to find. Advertisers love it: Because we are warned that sugar will shorten our natural lives, “sugar-free” is the obvious weapon for the account exec.
Airports, especially the one in Dubai, I’m told base their economies on it: “duty free.” In that one, the dash vanished! dutyfree has become, in fact, dashfree… how about trouble-free? worry-free? oil-free? phone-free? These all carry the notion of not having a weight to carry … so of course, being problem-free. Yes, you can actually feel the freedom.
But not everything can be dash(-)freed. But no need to fear, the solution is near. How? … what’s more? the other suffix: dash(-)less. This is the other way to say “without” without saying it. Yes, -less, is often in fact, really dashless: … as in weightless; homeless; or … blameless … even spotless …. or when something is worth so much that it cannot be given a monetary value … why, it’s priceless!
Like today. Can’t put a value on a day or night! If only we could always be … as careless … no, not so careless …. as … just simply … carefree!
Who values life more than the French? Who else has an expression ingrained in the language which says: “Il n’y a pas mort d’homme.”
Literally, this could be translated as ‘No one died from it.” but it is most usually applied to put a situation in perspective and show that whatever happened, though not the positive, desired result, isn’t catastrophic.
In a world where there seems to be an immature tendency towards sensationalism, where the minor masquerades as the major and in which we are shocked numb by the repetition of history, this little expression which says “OK, we’ll get over it – It could have been worse” puts everything in its right perspective.
“Yes, it could have been worse.”
“Could have been better… Could have been worse.”
In any case, it wasn’t so serious that someone lost what was most precious; his or her life; the life of a loved, cherished one.
We tried … We didn’t succeed … but … so what? You’re still here and kicking, aren’t you? And so am I!
“Ce n’est pas grave.” It’s just not so serious. No need to get upset over it. No need to fret, to worry, to pout, to complain, to cry, to weep. It’s not the end of the the world.
And certainly no cause for mourning.
In French, there’s another saying that says:
“Il faut appeler un chat un chat.”
As some of you know, I’ve developed a vey specific method to deal with a fundamental language issue: forgetfulness.
The method is simple enough. We start with a word or a concept that’s used in everyday speech. It can be an adjective like “hot,” a verb like “to sit down” or even an adverb like “forward” or a preposition like “on.” It could also be a noun like “ceiling” or “night” or a pronoun like “us” or “here.”
What we then do is explore our memories for the opposites of these words. Sometimes the contrary comes instantaneously while for others, it takes a moment or two and for some, we just can’t find them even though we … “know” them.
Where are these words we can’t find?
Assuming they’re not new, never-encountered words but merely inactive or latent, are they just lost in our memories – covered in dust, or rusty … like an old bicycle in the back of the garage or is there some other psycho-linguistic reason we can’t recall them? Do we know them … but ignore them?
It seems that most of the time, these words we “know” but can’t remember – or seem to have forgotten – have fallen asleep … and like Sleeping Beauty who wakes up with a kiss from her Prince Charming, only need their complementary partners, their “other halves” to wake them up and come back to life!
And when this waking up happens, we’re bringing something up from our unconscious to our consciousness. And what do you know? Recognition happens.
I loved algebra. It was a lot of fun. Figuring out angles and working through theorems. Finding the logic which would take us from one hyothesis to a proven conclusion. And on top of that, we had a very pretty teacher who must have spent a good part of her salary on her wardrobe.
Fascinated I was by Venn diagrams. Those overlapping circles which showed an area in which two or three or more ideas intersected. And as she explained it all so well, we really paid attention!
Words are like that: first, in just one language and even moreso in two or more languages. They have common areas where they can be used synonomously or are in the same semantic field. The words I’m thinking about right now are passionate ones, too: jealousy, envy, desire. These three overlap but each has its own identity, its own uses, its own connotations – often sharing some of those with other words.
- Jealousy has to do with a feeling that you’re missing out on a privilege, an advantage, a favor that’s being enjoyed by someone else … and you deeply resent it. A fear of potential loss, perhaps.
- Envy – a hungry feeling to possess something you don’t have … but something someone else does. Could lead to craving.
- And then, desire, coming from within, a wanting, feeling, sensation. Primitive. Sensual. Animal. These are the English words.
Now if you open up an English-French bilingual dictionary, you just might see that jealousy is translated as jalousie … that envy is translated as envie … and that desire is translated as désir … Don’t be fooled! That’s just one part, maybe even one VERY SMALL part of the story … Beware of imitations. Misunderstanding comes lightning fast.
Because while the origins of these words might be the same … that started a few thousand years ago … over time our civilisations and our literature has enriched these with more precise meanings, uses and connotations. Today’s words are built on yesterday’s foundations. They may come from the same roots, the same concepts but they’ve evolved into different species.
What is a little curious is that like with fractions in math, these words also have common denominators. And to find out just what those might be, you need only to open the newspaper. Because, from their ancient origins to their current contexts, they’re as alive as ever. Living history, so to speak.