Language Lessons

Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq

I’ve been learning Arabic, the last couple of months in Iraq. It’s doing some funny things to my brain, which became apparent during the latest trip to Copenhagen (I was there a couple of weeks ago, for 6 precious days).

My progress in Arabic itself is slow, but spoken Danish is way more accessible than before…this, after not hearing any for 5 solid months.

I’ve never formally learned Danish. Only reason I can read any at all is because of Flemming’s late father. He had all this Viking history—which I am mad for, and he was a veritable encyclopedia on—in Danish history magazines. On long visits to Jutland in years gone by, I’d park myself on his couch for hours, Google Translate on the phone, and work my way through articles. I learned to write that way—imperfectly, with mangled conjugations— too.

But spoken Danish has always been impossible. The colloquial verbal syntax (and pronunciation, ermahgerd!) seems completely different from its written counterpart.

Then, I started learning al-Arabi.

My poor little brain, in trying valiantly to parse the unfamiliar sounds and characters of Arabic, is suddenly far more attuned to the subtleties in spoken Danish.

It’s connecting them to written words.

It’s remembering stuff.

It’s listening to people talk about cameras with a healthier appreciation of tone and cadence.

It’s probably grasping at its next available foreign language for respite, given that one has a similar alphabet. Haha.

I’m writing poor Ib—Fuji Nordic’s main man in Denmark—many more emails in broken Dansk. Tak for din tålmodighed, kære Ib. Også, jeg kan skrive din navn på arabisk nu! And Flemming is getting more Dansklish vrøvl (Danish-English nonsense) than ever.

I’ve always been the lousy-at-language person in my family. Everyone I’m directly related to speaks 3 or 4, plus a bunch of Chinese dialects, and I struggled with learning standard Mandarin in school.

It’s clear now, that what I needed back then, was to learn 2 or more at at a time. That way I’d still suck at one, but I’d have a decent chance with the other!