I was once told that the moment you could express anger in a foreign tounge, then you can be considered highly-skilled in speaking that language. It was only two weeks ago when I realized that albeit the truth behind this principle, HUMOR has proven to me the best way to improve my communication skills.
A quick background
I hail from a nation of story-tellers, so the desire to understand different languages comes from my fascination with recited tales of adventures, droll anecdotes and parables offering moral lessons. All the better if these stories are based on true to life experiences!
Suddenly, there came a time when I also yearned to share stories of my own (remember when I said I talked too much?). I noticed then, that the more I got to know a language the more I felt attracted towards it. This attraction is currently making me want to better my abilities. And in principle, the best way to do this is to spend time in a place where the said language is widely spoken or a place where that language is native to.
But in real life…
… the manner of speaking and being understood vary according to culture*.
Communicating is really not as easy as textbooks describe, even if one is lucky enough to be able to practice in the language’s native land. As a result, foreigners who are trying to succesfully communicate in a new tounge must exert an effort to establish a connection with the native speakers.
In the Philippines, this is achieved through a smile preceding any question or comment. In France, one connects through la politesse (politeness)**. In Colombia, the tone and melody of the voice set the scene***. In Spain, people also make it a point to be polite but it seems to me they talk more directly to the point.
No matter what kind of connection sets the stage for communication, it cannot be argued that life generally presents us with more opportunities to use humor (unless you live in a conflictive or famined area). It may be in the form of wit, light banter or joke.
Continuing with the examples: French people seem very serious but they are also susceptible to good-natured teasing (especially when the weather is “not bad”). The Colombians and Filipinos share a very similar sense of humor (we all love jokes with double meanings), while the Spanish style could range from being witty to total absurdity (look for Miguel Gila and Martes y Trece, respectively).
So wouldn’t it be easier to make our way into a labyrinth of vocabulary and grammar through amusement?
(And perhaps a bottle of beer or a glass of wine…?)
I don’t doubt that verbalizing anger helps master a language. After all, it taps into our most primordial feelings and connects them to that new system of words. But practicality-wise, to whom would we vent our anger out for language skills improvement? Our partners or housemates? A public servant? The butcher? The baker? The candlestick maker? And even if we are able to find someone to “practice with”, would they really give an assessment on how we might have constructed the sentence? Because, digo yo, self-evaluation doesn’t count…
Isn’t humor a much better connector than anger?
A differing opinion
According to my husband, I may have a point. However, he also stressed that the words spoken in the heat of the moment “arise from the soul” and break out automatically. So if a person naturally blurts words of anger in a foreign language, this means that the language has taken such roots into the subconscious that it could be easily accessed to voice out strong emotions.
I agree. Anger might be more effective. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, it may not necessarily be more efficient. At the end of the day, it depends on what objective a person has in learning a new language: does he simply want to speak it, or does he want to use it to communicate with others?
In my opinion when someone is angry, oftentimes he just wants to send everyone to “where the devil lost his poncho” and leave- perhaps without even waiting for the other person to respond. This describes a situation where the speaker utters whatever is needed and doesn’t necessarily need a reply; this is not communication. Whereas, within a fun atmosphere there is a lively exchange of stories, reactions and impressions among people. Besides, feedback is more accessible. This is communication.
In my own words
I don’t consider myself a “master” of any language. I am honestly nowhere near that. Even with regards to my mother tounge (Tagalog), I have to admit I still have a lot to learn.
I do, however celebrate my mini-victories during the times when I am able to grasp French humor or on occasions when I make my Spanish parents in-law laugh.
* For example, I learned how to speak Spanish in Spain, but when I went to Colombia… TENAZ! Whatta difference the Atlantic makes!
** It is compulsory to greet “Bonjour” before starting any kind of conversation with anyone. It is also important that you wish the other “Bonne journée”- or whatever is applicable- after bidding goodbye.
** If you are speaking to someone with who you regularly see like a co-worker or a client, it would be highly appreciated if you asked them first how they are doing, how their family is doing, etc…