A foreign language is similar to an acquaintance. You don’t really know it all that well but have some general ideas about it. You guesstimate the complexity and quality of character, the level of depth and logic, the transparency of personality, and overall friendliness.
Sometimes, the opportunity arises to gain additional knowledge, to go from being acquaintances to something deeper. And, sometimes, when you have delved deeper, you shake your head, chuckling a bit, at your previous, limited assumptions and are thankful that you had the chance to get closer and experience the richness of a more intimate relationship.
And, other times?
You feel cheated! Ripped off! Gypped!
As is the case with Swedish for me, a language that I have committed to moving past acquaintanceship to – I had hoped – a more intimate relationship.
This love (?) affair may be ended before ever being allowed to flourish.
Why, you ask?
In a word (or two): False Advertising.
Sure, Swedish seemed so nice and friendly from an ignorant English-speaker’s distant perspective. Uncomplicated and easy-going. Chipper even and without airs.
(Minus the swift, upward inhalation sound that Swedes often make at the end of a sentence, something I find quite charming and am sure they are completely unaware of. I had looked forward to trying to imitate that sound. Now, it’s just a fading dream. Sigh.)
Yes, I got lured in by the similar S-V sentence structure. By the plethora of words so similar to English. By the (I thought) easy pronunciation (to this day, I still can’t roll my R’s in Spanish, my tongue being adamantly against such linguistic acrobatics). I was taken in by the simplified treatment of the past tense, the minimal gender complexities, and the simple verb conjugations.
(A breath of fresh air after Russian, where every word had absolutely no similarity at all to the English word PLUS was 30-40% longer AND a maze of vowel and consonant combinations. And the grammar? Riddle me this: 7 Cases. Count them: SEVEN. And don’t even get me started on verbs of motion.)
I even thought (sniff) that after twenty years of being married to a Swede, I had, by osmosis, developed a certain rapport and knowledge with Swedish, an inner track if you will, a spark that would ignite into a blaze of fluency with little huffing and puffing (and few migraine headaches) required.
Yes, Swedish seemed so simple, straightforward, sweet, and uncomplicated. “Here’s my group 1 verbs. Don’t be afraid. Just add x, y and z and you have all tenses taken care of…” And group 2, and so on.
And then, it did what languages do so well. Just when you are envisioning impressing your oh-so-patient and forbearing sister-in-law with your Swedish acumen, along comes the last group of verbs, Group 4. Of course these are the IRREGULAR verbs. And, of course, as is the case with irregular verbs, you just need to memorize them and all their forms because there isn’t a system in hell to guide you. And, as is also the case with irregular verbs, they are abundant enough to comprise a Shakespearean sonnet.
And then, Swedish, I ask you, the nouns and articles and singular and plural combinations…must you? I am so disappointed in you. I had thought better of you…
Then, there is the little matter of pronunciation. Unlocking the secret to the long and short vowels puzzle is akin to some World of Warcraft challenge. Instead of introducing my “neighbor,” I introduce my “fir tree.” And, it’s no wonder I get puzzled expressions when I express my gratitude by saying “roof” instead of “thank you.”
Even worse, I would swear on my next Krispy Kreme doughnut that I had repeated “sköta” exactly as my teacher said it. (Jokes on you if you think that sk is pronounced like the sk in skate…it’s not…and that’s a whole other realm of rules to unravel). Unfortunately, given her response (i.e. cringing and half-raised hand as if to ward off some evil), it appears that not only is the functioning of my brain in question, so is that of my hearing.
Whoever said that learning a language can help ward off senility must be joking.
Or a glutton for punishment.
I prefer ‘gourmand.’