*NOT two or more new languages.
1. You now know as many if not more details about the daily personal lives of your classmates as your own siblings.
If you are in an introductory language class, you are going to learn about other people’s siblings, pets and things they do in their free time. While you may be more interested in getting a job with your dazzling new language skills than in creating lasting, intimate relationships with other speakers, the first things you learn will be small talk.
The certain knowledge that, at any moment, any one of you may be called upon to correctly interpret and passably answer your professor (who will, without exception, speak at no fewer than 100 words per minute) forges a delicate, survivalist bond. Same boat and all that – one filled with many holes, a lot of cortisol and a single emergency aid kit with complicated instructions that come in a language you still can’t read.
2. How to provide the smallest possible amount of information to adequately answer any question, and – barring that – quickly growing comfortable with outright lies.
Maybe my sister’s a neurosurgeon. Maybe she’s a balloon saleswoman or a business executive or a legal consultant. We just don’t know, because when my contextual and grammatical knowledge are equal to that of a first-grade native speaker and I have to give a sensible answer as to what my family members do for a living, my mother is a “teacher,” my father is a “teacher” and my sister is a “student.”
3. Your charms and cleverness mean nothing because you can’t bullshit your language teacher.
Whatever comfort you take in knowing that you could probably get your point across to a native speaker in a real-life situation evaporates when you’re speaking to your professor and hear yourself use the informal “you” instead of the polite “you.”
There are not that many situations in which you can’t talk in some wide, philosophical circles for a while and come out with a slightly better grade than you otherwise would have made, but new languages are the antithesis of that situation. The more you talk – which you will, because now you’re nervous that you forgot the right word, and you’re trying to convey the idea through a lot of other monosyllabic words – the worse it gets.
4. Grammar has no tangible grip on the fabric of reality, and it will fuck you up slightly differently in every language.
5. The possible number of things native speakers of those languages are talking about when you eavesdrop is far, far larger than you ever imagined and you Should Be Nervous.
6. A is for effort.
7. F is for phonetic.
8. Your Accent is Not Neutral.
Contact Maximiliana Bogan at ebogan ‘at’ stanford.edu.