Learning a Foreign Language

JOHN  peace

Learning a Foreign Language

A Work in Progress started off by John Graham

to be joined & added to by other Hitch-hikers

in the Language Galaxy

September 2002


Not knowing what’s been said

Can feel like being dead

In the company of people who are living

In the knowing of the language that’s foreign to me

Taking and giving words in talk and writing

 to one another

In a code they understand

And I do not.

From their speaking

I do hear sounds I seem to know


This much is true

But these sounds get drowned out by sounds I do not know

Radio ‘gah gah’  incomprehensibility.

From their writing

I do see words I seem to know


This much is true

But the words I do know are surrounded by other words I do not know

Looking like ants running maddeningly.

Feeling outside looking in

Resenting this as an exclusion of my own self

There’s anger, too,

Fluorescent envy flashes green into blasts of blazing red


Well, almost,

Of those who can do with apparent ease

What I get to feel I can never do

Made worse when the teacher is kind

And never says

“But this is easy!”

Shit! Do I hate it when they say that!!

And so inside I get to feel I’m burning

With shame at doing this English language learning

With feeling an alien in my own land

Forced to learn a foreign language I do not understand

This because of global market forces coming from another land

Where English is spoken.

So, what am I going to do?

Where’s the reason to take me through

My fear of sounding stupid

My shame of being wrong?

The reason is that I’m choosing

To do this foreign language

For reasons of my own

Noone is forcing me to do this foreign language

There’s no point then to moan and groan

And I’m doing it with friends

So I am not alone.

Knowing this somehow makes it easier

We can work on it together

I don’t have to feel in competition with the rest,

We can help each other to do our best

And in co-operation with the teacher

Make language learning fun

For myself and everyone.

We can have a love affair with the verb “to be”

Make pronouns dance

   The ‘her’ with the ‘him’

 The ‘he’ with the ‘she’

Salsa, Rock, the Waltz

Any beat at all.

Make sonic syncopation out of lessons on pronunciation


Whenever puzzling over the past, present & future tenses

We can see ourselves as galloping horses jumping fences

Riding over hill and dale

Or as building a boat that we can sail

Across the English language oceans of the world

We could start an English Language Club here at UCM

Make plays, songs and video clips

Organize to set up a radio station

Liberation through Education for the pueblo of the Mexican nation

Keep a diary, write poetry

Get it printed for other incoming students to see

The range of ways English language learning is done at this university

We could get better jobs with English

Use English to advance our own careers

Train our eyes and mouths and tongues and ears

To see and speak and hear this language

And find that it’s got many patterns like our own

We might want to compose some songs in English

Make video clips

Start up our own tourist company

For English speaking visitors who come to Mexico

About what to see and where to go on their trips

And provide information about how this place used to be

Before the Europeans came for land and gold

Before Spanish was made the official langage

When, so we’re told,

More than fifty languages were spoken here

A time, that is, when it was clear

Well, clearer than it might seem to be today,

That the limits of our language are not the limits of our world

That there is such a thing as nature’s language

And that it is common to us all

Whatever the color of our skin

Whether we be short or fat or tall or thin

Or female, male

Protestant, Muslim, Catholic, Budhist, Atheist or Hindu

It is this natural language that makes all living things

And so made me and you.


This language is not made of words like the others human beings have made

This language is made of energy and takes the form of DNA and RNA

And it is their work in combination that made the bodies in which we live today.

Whatever else those bodies hold

Like concepts and beliefs,

like prejudice, intolerance, fear of failure,

and the grief that can come from learning languages

All come from places other than the natural language of our making.

This is natural language

Is less like how we know a thought

And more as we experience an intelligencing feeling

Expressing itself from the inside out

As when we get moved to shout

By the rocking and the reeling

Of Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry

Or sense the seasons pass through us when listening to Vivaldi

 The Harmonics of the Universe

is one of the ways this natural language has been described

That we are ALL really part of it

Why put yourself through so much pain

Of being excluded from the game

When you can learn to play it too

Some rules

Some practice

And someone kind

With the experience of knowing

A lot more about this pain than you might think?

Someone who is prepared to share his/her pain with you

And make this the link in the connection

Between you and the personal satisfaction

Of being able to know enough about the game

To join in

Without being ignored

Getting full attention

From the one you’re talking to

Who’ll be doing their very best to understand what you are trying to say

Suggest a less fractured way

Of getting your message across

In another language

Your own way.

Having this experience will change the way you feel

About the Second Language Acquisition Game

The link in the connection will change from pain to pleasure

The Second Language you’re acquiring will no longer appear as an impenetrable forest

Where the feeling might be that you’re completely lost.

In such kindly company

That experience of panic every time you’re asked to speak or write will pass

You won’t have to quake with the fear of knowing you won’t get it right

Even before you open your mouth

And before you use the pen

The Second Language you’re acquiring will then no longer look like a Bench of Judges

About to Condemn you to Death

Pointing with their fingers to the Gallows of Stupidity

That stand waiting for you outside the room you’ve come into

Where the little that you do know about the Second Language

Will be quickly pointed out to you

And once more you will have the choice of feeling many things

Some of them belonging with fear and pain

The effort of trying to understand

And so the strain, the strain, the strain

Of taking in the meanings being made with that Second Language

By someone, often several people, talking at what seems like supersonic speed

Or by words on pages you are asked to read aloud

Without knowing what half of them are about

And mispronouncing the rest

The frustration of having feelings and thoughts to express

But not the words

Nor an understanding of the code that best gets your message to the other one.

There is the feeling, too,

That when learning a Second Language

You are being asked to become another person

That you are no longer your true self

This can be a reason for not doing what you need to do

If ever you can feel the pleasure

Of viewing the Second Language as a treasure

Another string to your bow

Another way to go

Through the Galaxy of Language.

At the beginning and for a lot longer than you might like

You’ll be a Hitchhiker in that Galaxy

Traveling in what will seem to be

And could be made to seem

By the persons you thumb down for a lift

The Property of that other Person

Their Native Language being given as a gift

For which you must be truly grateful

Or else pay them for the ride

Suffer the indignity of not knowing as much as them

Wrestle with the feeling of competition

Or get to feel you’re being rejected by the group

As you can whenever in a minority of one

The one who can choose silence

Rather than take the chance to speak

Something you’re more inclined to do when never asked a question

Never actually ever seen

The one the eyes of the other speakers look over

Once you’ve shown your Second Language inadequacy

Or, what can be worse,

Have the fact that you do not understand

Become the subject of a chat

About your need to learn the Second Language

And the problems you might be having at doing that

A discussion never involving you

And which does not take consideration

Of the attempts you did make to start or join a conversation.

The sort of experience many pregnant women and cancer patients

Get to feel with doctors in hospitals.

It’s you they’re talking about

You know enough of this Second Language

To be aware of that

But not enough

They’ve made clear

To be invited to join a talk about you

Without you being asked to participate

As if you are invisible

Not even there!

You could participate with your own language

And with borrowings from their’s

But you know that your own language

Is about as strange to them as their’s is to you

And they are in the majority

So, to use your own

Would not be the “proper” thing to do

Afterall, there is a rule:

“When in Rome do what the Romans do”.

So, you can suffer the indignity

And could even see an intentional slight

In being told to learn their language

So that the next time that you met

As at the party the other night

You can have a conversation

Even though you’d tried to do just that

But obviously wasn’t good enough

For them to keep it going

And anyway there were the other guests

And with them the talk was much more interesting.

All this is true

So, what do you do?

Come with me into the Mist

Come with me into the Night

Talk to the Spirit

 Talk to the Wind.


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