A hand being hit by a beam of sunlight. Sometimes the language chooses YOU. Image by Adam Jackson, freeimages.com

Reverse Polyglotology : The Language Chooses YOU

I’ve often heard it said that sometimes the language chooses you, rather than the other way round.

I’ve had my fair share of that in recent months. For a start, Swahili just dropped right into my lap in the Autumn. It was a language I’d never considered learning before, in large part due to my own cultural blind spots. So it was by complete chance that I had the opportunity to join the excellent first-level Swahili for Postgraduates courses at Edinburgh.

Note that I wasn’t the most willing draftee to begin with. Right up until that moment, I might be overheard grumbling, showing a fair amount of self-denial at my dabbler nature, imploring “no more languages, Rich – you have enough on your plate”. That is, before eye-rolling at myself, and plumping straight for a fresh one. But, nine months on, I have no regrets. Swahili chose me, and I am richer for it.

The Polyglot Compass

The whole notion of ‘being chosen’ is one I’ve pondered a fair bit of late. You see, my polyglot compass has settled almost autonomously on Greek and Polish  as projects of the moment. For sure, I have a lot of maintenance projects going on, but at any given point in life, there’s really only time to focus on actively upping one or two of them. And Greek and Polish have somehow clambered to the top of the pile.

I say ‘somehow’, because I’m not sure the decision-making process is always active with these language priorities. A lot has to do with circumstance. For instance, I’ve been working with a couple of tutors I respect and get on well with lately. That makes it more of a pleasure than a chore to book in regular iTalki lessons. That means I’m currently averaging a conversation lesson a week in both those languages, less through personal goals and more through social ease.

Language Lurking Locally

And there’s also the local environment. Luckily for me, Edinburgh has a sizeable Greek and Polish population, so I hear those languages on a regular basis on the street. I see Greek and Polish products on the supermarket shelves. I go to cafés and restaurants run by people from those countries. And I have strange but satisfying chance encounters with the languages from time to time, too.

This week, buying ouzo at a supermarket (I honestly can’t help myself), I was served by a Greek employee who, firstly, was astonished that I spoke Greek. After the surprise wore off, he ended up telling me where to get even better ouzo than they sold at that supermarket. Language skills are useful, eh?!

In short, for one reason or another, life circumstances at this point just happen to have thrown Greek and Polish everywhere in my path. And it’s just the continuation of theme, to be fair; I first encountered Polish through our elderly neighbour as a child, and Greek came to me via the magic of Greek and Cypriot Eurovision entries. I certainly have form here.

So, what to do but embrace the serendipity of it?

Has fate had a hand in choosing your languages, too? Are you wholly the chooser or the chosen? Let us know in the comments!

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