The Communication Complication

The Communication Complication
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

Whenever I happen upon somebody that can speak more than one language, I tend to regard it as the most wonderful parlour trick, and cannot quite fathom how they do it. I wish I could do it too, but the extent of my ability only extends as far as useful sentences such as “I am 12 years old”, “My name is Jonathan”, and “I have a black dog” in French.

I was always terrible at languages at school.

I would like to blame being elevated into the advanced French class at school when I was twelve years old for my lack of ability. We all learned French at school – I’m not sure if kids still do – if you were good enough at it, you learned German too. I never learned German. I had no place in the advanced French class. Sure, I could work hard at it and do well in tests, but I couldn’t string a useful sentence together. It didn’t come easily to me.

While working in Germany a couple of years ago I was invited to visit a co-worker and his family for the evening. He and his partner were from Romania. So they were in Germany, already speaking one foreign language, and inviting me over for dinner, and speaking another with me. They invited another co-worker from Holland. I gazed in wonder all night at their linguistic gymnastics.

They described switching languages like changing radio channels in your head. There was no conscious translation as such – you just switch from one to the other.

My brain doesn’t appear to work like that. I think I got the basic model. It’s very good at doing simple tasks, one after another, and that’s about it.

That being said, while working as a software and web developer I have learned all manner of computer languages – everything from Visual Basic, to Pascal, HTML, Javascript, C, C++, C#, Python, SQL, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and probably quite a few I can’t recall right now. Here’s the thing though – if I try to switch languages mid-conversation, I make huge mistakes. Most developers do. Thankfully modern computers catch those mistakes – although they never give a sensible reason for your idiocy not quite working as intended.


There’s my answer for today’s writing prompt – I wish I could speak multiple languages. I have no practical purpose for it, but I admire those that can do it tremendously.