Tag Archives: Learning A Foreign Language

They Were Brought Together By Effort; They Came Together Spontaneously

I’m in back of a red Volkswagen bus (Westphalia model) that my mother is driving in Phoenix, Arizona.

I spot a sign through the front window.  I just learning how to read, and I make a slow effort to sound out the letters. God knows how many seconds this took.  Not so many, at any rate, that we did not pass the sign before I had gathered together all of the letters.

F*I*R*E*S*T*O*N*E.  Firestone!  The sign is for a Firestone location!

Wonderment at the sounds and letters coming together to mean something, no matter how ordinary.  (And back then even Firestone franchises were still new enough to me to be not quite ordinary.)


I am in the Philippines.  Jamby (a handsome, warm, macho young man in his early twenties) says something in Tagalog to me.  I hear just a continuous stream of unintelligible sounds.  Then, a fraction of a second later, the discrete words ‘doon’, ‘maruming’, and ‘damit’ separate themselves out from the continuous stream of sounds.  Then another fraction of a second later, the words connect themselves in my mind grammatically.  Oh!  he is asking me where my dirty clothes are!

Wonderment at the sounds and words spontaneously separating themselves out from the stream and then, equally spontaneously, gathering themselves together to mean something, no matter how mundane.

I Never Knew You Could Construct A Language This Way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In Chicago, I worked for a time at a tiny company that provided direct mail and letter-shop services.  One day a young, blond man in his late teens or early 20s delivered a package.  “What do you guys do?” he asked.

“We make sure the junk mail gets to your house,” I replied.

“Really!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I didn’t know there were people who did that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” he said with an intonation expressed a naive wonderment the memory of which will abide in me for a long time.  His enthusiasm at discovering heretofore hidden aspects of his world was endearing.

My reaction to Tagalog is much the same, laden with much the same emotional tone of unending wonderment:  I never knew you could construct a language this way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!