Why We Talk

You are more human in your second language

The fear feels like a lightness behind your eyes, as if your head wants to float up like a lost balloon and leave your fumbly, stumbly body for good.

You spent three years learning French out of a textbook, five years ago. The woman behind the bar asks you a question and you stand there terrified, mentally swiping left on every garbled response that enters your brain.

When you speak a new language out in the wild, you’re terrified of being misunderstood.

In fact, you will be understood better than ever.

In your second language, you will speak with more emotional clarity and honesty. There are two reasons for this:

1. Words are more than their definitions. Words are collective memories. Without the weight of history behind them, we toss heavy words lightly. We’ll use horrific curse words like monopoly money. We will call our taxi driver our dear friend and tell him it was a pleasure to meet him.

2.  Precision is the enemy of clarity. Large vocabularies obscure meaning. Which of these reviews of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic is more precise? Which is more clear about the author’s feelings?

“What The Epic does come to sound like, over the course of its significant running time, is a generational intervention—an educational tool that widens the definition of styles that fall under “jazz classicism.” With his writing for string sections and chorus, Washington even flirts with that most dreaded of appellations:smooth. But these specific choices also wind up paying dividends: The calmly spiritual voices and Washington’s wailing playing during the back half of “Askim” feels novel.”
Pitchfork review of The Epic

“The Epic sounds beautiful. I love it. I love listening to it. You should listen to it too.”
-My review of The Epic, as translated from my Spanish vocabulary.

The average native speaker knows twenty to forty-thousand words depending on their level of education. The average foreign language speaker knows around five thousand words. Who will be more more clear about how they feel? Who will be more direct about what they love? Who will sound more human?