Why foreign languages make you dumb.

An old Facebook note repeated here for better visibility. Here it goes:

Foreign languages make you dumb.

Think about it. Or, think about me, because I’m so self-centered.

So, here I am, using a language which is alien to me. Foreign. Not my birthright. I can use it well enough to be paid for doing it, but still I feel something is lacking. And what I feel is lacking is much bigger than an anonymous “something”, it is a part of me.

My point, apart from fighting my boredom at the moment, is that I think there’s a wide, deep chasm between one’s first language and all subsequent ones. I’m not talking about non-native speakers (even highly fluent ones) always being prone to making the sort of errors the natives never make.

I’m talking about being dumb. Or coming across as dumb, but that doesn’t make any difference. You see, if you can’t recognize if someone is being sarcastic or not, facetious or not, vulgar or not, you’re dumb in my books. Oftentimes I find myself in this position, because of the not my language thing.

In Polish – I run the show. Someone, anyone’s talking to me – I read their lips, I catch their drift, I get their point in an instant. I’m confidant in my judgement as to whether they make sense. If they don’t, they don’t – case’s closed. In other languages I’m never sure. Maybe it’s me who cannot make sense of what they’re saying?

Worse yet, it’s not only about misunderstanding others. It’s also about misbroadcasting yourself. Sounding crustily formal, pretentious or annoyingly hip when you just want to sound “normal”. Being too polite or not polite enough. In best cases this means withdrawing from arguments, feeling humiliated, not because you don’t have a point, but because the way you can express it is not subtle and elegant enough. In worst cases this means being taken for childish or mentally retarded.

For me speaking a foreign language is like constantly being forced to knowingly play dumb. I can only imagine how it would have hurt me, were I really smart.

The point of this exercise in verbosity? Fighting boredom as I said. And also proving my point to myself. In Polish I could’ve written it all beautifully, I swear. In my other foreign languages, even those I use for profit, I can’t even dream of achieving even this level of expressiveness.

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