“French is easy. It’s convenient. And if you think it’s difficult, it’s just that you haven’t tried the right way.”
That’s what I believed for years. After all, if I can speak it, it must be easy! Oh, having genders for each noun is messing you up? Conjugation is too weird? Well, you’re just wrong. Those are easy to handle and make total sense.
German, however? Oh no, this language is chaos. I mean, have you seen the length of some of the words? It seems “Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften” means “legal protection insurance companies”. Why won’t Germans put some space in there!? And don’t get me started on all the declensions the language has.
Japanese? Not having a proper future tense nor spaces at all in the sentence is makes no sense either! And, come on, 3 scrips for one single language? Now, that’s just playing plain wrong.
Burmese? It’s just a bunch of rounds one after another! မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ means “Myanmar” (in the sense of “The country of Myanmar”). And they put verbs at the end of the sentence. How are you supposed to interrupt someone if you don’t know the verb!?
I could go on forever citing something strange in every language I have encountered in my life. And yet, it’s just a matter of getting used to it.
I fell upon this anonymous quote recently and it sums it up perfectly:
“Any time you think some other language is strange, remember that yours is just as strange, you’re just used to it.” — Anonymous
Does the Japanese language feel strange to me now? Not at all. Burmese? Each round makes a lot of sense to me now. German? It still feels weird.
The difference there? I have learned the first two and I haven’t studied German once. The lack of understanding causes me to find it strange. And this is why some people find French strange too. Because they don’t understand it.
Your language is strange for the vast majority of the world. English is weird for most of the world! You just grew accustomed to it through years and decades of exposure to it. Who wouldn’t get used to anything after so much time?
“With languages, you are at home anywhere.“— Edward De Waal
As you learn more languages, there are fewer and fewer ones that feel strange to you. You get used to them. You don’t even think about the language itself. You think in the language. And you start thinking, like a native, “Why do people consider it strange?”
But remember most people haven’t done that effort. Yet. In 2017, there were 120 million learners of French. That’s 120 million people who are discovering how French isn’t strange. In 2019, there were 1.5 billion people learning English. All those will discover soon enough its simplicity and how it isn’t weird.
Don’t judge other languages. Yours is just as messed up, weird, and complicated. And it’s also just as magnificent, well-organized, and easy. Start learning a new language and you’ll soon understand this, too.
Still curious about languages and learning? Consider signing up for my weekly newsletter!
Mathias Barra is a French polyglot living in Japan and who has learned 6 languages and dabbled in numerous others. Being a curious child full of wonders is how he keeps on learning and can’t stop sharing about every tiny idea, even non-language-related