This Is Your Brain on Second Language

The wall

Pictured above: not the actual language I'm talking about. But I do love this picture.

As I brave the strange, navel-gazing midlands between “I speak Korean” and “Korean is a language that I know exists,” I have a great deal of time to reflect on the status of my own brain. The trials and tribulations, the ups and downs, the dizzying, self-satisfied highs of language successes and the mortifying, protruding-lower-lip lows of language failures. Being in the spooky land of intermediate capability in a language means my skills and capabilities are only so trustworthy. That, at any given time when I am expected to engage in my second language, the odds are about at even that I will manage to stun all listeners with my thrilling turns of phrase as are the odds that my tongue and teeth will fuse together into a tumorous fistula of flesh and manage to produce only the most mewling and pathetic of brays. Operating in a second language means being at the whim of your mood, your energy, the nimbleness of your articulators. It means seeming all over the place: at one point ragingly fluent, at others stunningly mute.

There are, of course, patterns I have come to notice in my own journey towards mild competence. Over time and experiencing both the greatest of shame and pride, my Korean has given rise to some easily-recognizable quirks.

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