Principles from a Polyglot

I’ve studied over nine languages, and love the feeling of picking apart grammar, learning new vocab, and communicating with new cultures.

With so much language experience and obsession, today I want to share with you some life lessons I can draw from my studies:

When people ask me what learning Mandarin is like, I usually tell them the hardest aspect is learning how to write characters, and the easiest part is the grammar.

Having taught English grammar formally, I know how technical the English language can get with tenses – to the chagrin of my students!

But tense-light languages feel refreshing by not having to bother so much about getting right the exact time an event occurred. 

I even stop worrying about getting the right tense when I’m talking English with a Hungarian speaker -- it really doesn’t matter so much to get a point across.

Why not take the cue from these languages that have survived history, and not worry so much about the past and future?

We needn’t box our understandings so definitively into what happened in the past, or what could happen in the future.

2) You’re not the center of the world

In English, “Donald Trump” is always at the beginning of the sentence, even if it’s not the most central part of the sentence, semantically-speaking.

The fact that he lied could be the most important detail here, or the fact that it happened again.

In English, we absorb the framework that the subject is the most important part of the sentence, always.

Take a cue from Hungarian that maybe you are not always the center of the world.

3) Let go of the gender binary

The only other language that I know this neutral pronoun exists is Bangla, and it’s also "o".

Mandarin has a gender neutral pronoun, too, "tā" (它), used for inanimate objects.  For describing people, though, you use 他 (he) vs. 她 (she), which are pronounced the same but written differently.

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