Recently I have started to pick up a few words in another language. Except for a disaster called “Latin I” in high school, and a smattering of dojo Japanese, I don’t speak any language except my cradle language. Perhaps it’s a failing of being an American, but I haven’t ever had the need to speak a second language.
What I have come to realize is that learning another language isn’t about the words per se, but rather about the concepts and constructs they describe. My language, American English, allows me to describe the concepts of my life and my world in a manner that makes sense to me. Learning German or French or Swahili isn’t just about the words, it is about learning to describe those concepts using new thought patterns. Speaking a second language isn’t about just saying the words; it isn’t about translating them in your head, word for word, as you go along. It is about actually thinking in that other language.