clearskies, bluewater

Insights, reflections and creative imaginings for our awakening world

Babel, revisited


 “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.” So God said, “Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel “because God there confounded the language of all the Earth.”(Genesis 11:5-8).

 Today I got the results of my Danish test. The way it works is, you are assigned to a specific level of Danish classes when you first begin at the language school, according to several factors, including your educational level in your homeland, how proficient you are at understanding the latin alphabet, and a few other vague qualifications. Being a native English speaker with a college education, I came in at level 3, the highest beginning level. Then they break up the classes into modules, beginning at number 1 and ending when you finish number 5. About every 4 months or so, we have a module test, and if you pass, then you continue on to the next module along with your classmates and teacher. At this point, I have now been at the language school since I began in August of 2010. Last week our class took the test for module 4. There were various sections to the test, including oral, reading and comprehension, writing, and listening. We were in school from 9:30 am until 3:30 pm, with a couple of breaks in-between. There were about 8 of us who took the 3.4 Danish test together.

 Even though I did not feel ready, even though my Danish leaves a lot to be desired, even though my listening skills need a whole lot more practice with native speakers, and even though I cannot remember Danish prepositions to save my life, I still somehow managed to pass all of the test, along with the vast majority of my classmates. Amazing!

 The main critique from the kind, patient teachers who gave us the test (called Censors in Danish,) was that I am not fluent yet in my speaking, I use English expressions instead of actual Danish ones (which are sometimes similar enough for it to be quite difficult to remember, such as ‘generalt’ is used in Danish, whereas in English we say ‘in general’), and of course it goes without saying that I have rather horrid pronunciation of their language, ‘generalt.’ Ha!! The other criticism was, I translate from English when writing in Danish, and that doesn’t really work because it isn’t Danish, so even though they can understand what I mean, it isn’t correct usage. Ha again!! Well, yes, of course I translate what I want to say from English, what else am I really supposed to do, since I cannot very well memorize the entire Danish dictionary, now can I? Or the thousand and one colloquialisms the Danes use on a daily basis, although that would be a huge help if I could. Face it, I say to myself for the thousandth time, you are just not that quick on the uptake, being the nearly 50-year-old that you are, and not too clever about second languages in the first place. Oh but I envy people (like my husband, for example) who understand 4 or 6 languages! I only made it through 10th grade level Spanish way back in high school, and then never used it again. I have no other point of reference for Danish, which in some ways is an olden days cousin to English, from back in the days when the Vikings took over the eastern part of England roundabout a thousand years ago or so. In our times, however, the similarity can be seen mostly from the written word, because if you have ever heard Danish people speaking together, you would, like me, really have to shake your head and admit that you have got no idea what they are saying!

 I know this sounds like a whole lot of complaining, which of course it is. This learning of Danish has been a unique challenge in my life. I really am quite amazed that I have gotten this far and can’t help but wonder if they haven’t been a little too lax in their evaluation. But, even with my terrible American accent, when I look around and listen to my classmates, I have to admit, No, I am certainly not the best at Danish, but then again, I am far from the worst. We have students speaking Danish with Russian, Persian, Arabic, Polish, German, Thai, Dutch-French, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Spanish, Turkish-with-a-speech-impediment, Japanese and Swedish accents. That is in my class alone. Not to mention all those from various African countries, all the Middle Eastern countries, and of course all those Asiatic lands. I can only try to imagine what it must be like for the Danish teachers when they are listening to all these foreigners attempting to speak their beloved, and to their ears simple, language. I wonder if they go out for beers afterwards and talk about us all, laughing their heads off, or if they really are just as kindhearted and patient away from school as they are when standing before us in class each day.

 For the moment, on this lovely, windy March day, I feel happy that I actually am improving my Danish.. I know that it will still be an impossibly long time from now when I start feeling more or less fluent, and that it’s possible that day may never come. B ut I can’t help but think that there is a kind of special key to unlocking a foreign language, something that happens one day inside a person’s brain that suddenly, magically, allows them to understand what the others are saying. It would simply be so lovely to be walking down the walking streets one day, overhear some Danes having an ordinary conversation, and suddenly realize, ‘hey, I actually understand what these people are saying!’ Not that it is interesting or worth knowing, but the fact that I could understand it would be so wonderful for its own sake. In the meantime, I say to myself, ‘Til lykke med din beståelse af testen’ which means, Congratulations on passing your test!



Author: SingingBones

When we sing over the bones, we are calling the wild nature, the instinctive soul back, singing it alive again. To live with our wildness intact, is the greatest gift a woman can give herself. "It is the holy poetry and singing we are after." C.P. Estes

2 thoughts on “Babel, revisited

  1. As a 50-ish person who has never been good at learning second languages, I say: Congratulations!

    Like you, “I can’t help but think that there is a kind of special key to unlocking a foreign language, something that happens one day inside a person’s brain that suddenly, magically, allows them to understand what the others are saying.” I would love to read poetry in the poets’ original languages, for one thing.

    Your hard work and sense of balance (and sense of humor) are laudable. Kudos!


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