Originally written a few weeks ago when I was sick. Posting now, because… well, you’ll see my next post in a bit.
English is not my native language. Text is. When I think, there’s a silent voice in my head that doesn’t pronounce the “th” and “s” sounds I can’t hear — but those letters pop out crisply in a mental picture, black print embossing character-by-character on thick white paper, serif font.
I usually forget my mind is working overtime to process speech until I’m sick and the massive machinery starts breaking down in ways I can see. It slips and struggles; my ability to listen and converse becomes a frantic clawing, grasping at a cliff I’m slipping from — and then I plummet and thrash alone in freefall, disconnected. My freezing fingers and sore wrists want to type, because writing is my talking; twice yesterday, I caught my hands reaching for ASL because communicating in a language I barely know (to people who don’t know it at all) felt easier than speaking.
Books taught me language, were my shields, were what I could always trust to be there and hold my hand. Ideas and thinkers worth the effort to understand, flat solid pages that wouldn’t accidentally turn away or place their hands over their mouths while speaking. Much has been made of geek kids finding solace from their solitude in books (or now, the internet). It was even more so, I think, for me.
English is not my native language; written English is. So it was with great triumph and joy that I discovered — recently, this spring — that I am at the point with German where I can understand bilingual tapes. The kind that say an English phrase followed by the German translation. I do not understand the English phrase when I hear it — but then I hear the German, and the complete English sentence pops, in print, into my head, immediately followed by the German one (occasionally with fuzzy words that pop into focus a second later when I’ve puzzled through some grammatical point). The first time this happened, I was startled. Then I started laughing. Then my sense of wonder exploded all through the minivan I was driving and I thought oh, hello, big wide world, I’m a Mel! I will see you and hear you and talk with and connect to you and and and…
It’s hard. But the hard is what makes it good.