Ninja-English and other stories…

I took German at GCSE (secondary school) level, by which I mean I studied it for three years alongside French, and then ‘specialised’ in it for my final two years. I use that term loosely, as the reality was that I had to choose one or the other, and I preferred my German teachers to my French. One was a true German with a passion for ice hockey, and the other was a middle-aged, slightly eccentric Englishwoman who had a reputation for getting overly stressed by her overly infuriating classes. I think the prevalent rumour was that she once got locked in a cupboard by a particularly ruthless class. In hindsight she was in some ways like the late Mrs Krabappel from the Simpsons. But I digress.

I took German, and got an A grade in it in fact, and thought I had a fair understanding of at least the basics. Approximately six months into my ‘specialisation’ an exchange trip was organised, as every year, between us and a German class taking English. It was not long after I stepped off the coach in a generic German town that I realised, despite my prowess in the classroom, there are only so many times you can tell someone your name, age, and where you are from before you start coming across as crazy.

When I finished my studies in school was the last time I considered learning a foreign language before coming abroad became a realistic possibility. However that experience had ignited my curiosity of a second language, which working on the campus of an extremely multicultural university only stoked; coming into contact with people from all over the world who had English under their belt as a second or even third language can be quite a catalyst for not sitting on your ass as a speaker of the most widely spoken language.

As I mentioned last time, I have been with this second host family almost exactly two months, making a total of eight overall. In this time I have mastered as little as I can get away knowing and have come to realise something, as have my new host family over recent weeks; that it is not the language taught in school, adult colleges, or textbooks that is what you need to know but, as they term it, the ‘ninja-language’, what you pick up from hearing people in conversation, things that make little or no sense through literal translation, and things that nobody would ever think to teach to a class of students.

We were having a conversation at dinner the other day about how confusing ‘text’ language was in Italian, how the number six can have a face value of ‘the number six’ and it is pronounced in the same way as ‘you are’ it can mean this too. A quick Google on my part brought up a list of ninety-two similar abbreviations or initialisms in English text messaging, some of which my host mum found hilarious, confusing, and non-sensical almost simultaneously.

Apparently, ‘ninja-Italian’ also exists, though I almost don’t dare enquire further about it. I suppose I will have to eventually, but I tell myself it can wait until I’ve mastered all the verb tenses. All seventeen of them.

Jack out.


About Jack
A small-time traveller in a big-time world

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