Living all the Languages

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#110 Unexamined feelings

I may say I am bored – but what do I feel?

I may say I am angry – but what do I feel?

I may say I am in love – but what do I feel?

What does my body say?

Can I examine my feelings a different way?

Can I escape the tragedy of the spoken word?

Can I resist unconscious categorization and re-learn to listen to what’s behind the language?

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#85 Habit Containers

If I start learning a new language, I don’t aim to be good.

My only goal: integrate a daily language learning habit into my day, as a habit container, without much regard for progress.

Only when the habit container is in place, and I have built trust of completion (“Now I am the person who spends some time learning a language every single day”), the question becomes: which activities will build my skills most quickly?

I could use my language learning habit container to learn a word a day – but that won’t help me much when speaking.

Within the exact same habit container, I could also learn a chunk a day (a phrase), which I can use in conversations right away. Same habit container, same time investment, but better results.

Within my “writing habit container”, I can write something in a private notebook every day – which is an excellent habit.

But within that same container, I could also start publishing a short article every day. That changes the game.

Don’t try to be good when building the habit. First build the habit container. Once it’s in place, you can start optimizing the actions you take within that container.

First build trust in completion. Then build trust in skill.

In other words: first I become good at learning a language every day. Then I become good at learning a language.


#80 Replacing sensations with words

First I feel.

Then I learn to categorize those feelings with words – until at some point, I don’t feel sensations anymore. I feel words.

I say I’m angry – but what does being angry feel like again?

I say I’m happy – but which sensations rush through my body?

I say I’m sad – but does sadness always feel the same?

With sensations comes nuance.


#78 Unconscious categorization

Within a split second, I’ve categorized an object as an apple. Now I don’t pay attention to the dimensions, color, smell, and texture anymore.

Within a split second, I’ve categorized an emotion as anger, fear, frustration, love. So I don’t pay attention to the physiological changes in my body anymore.

I’m always categorizing – but I didn’t consciously create the categories.

But what if I’m categorizing inaccurately?

Can I interrupt instant categorization, governed by language, habits, patterns, past experience?

Can I re-open my senses and see, smell, touch, hear, feel again?

Can I start sensing nuances between the objects I behold?

Can I discern nuances between the feelings I feel?

Mindfulness, journaling, meditation, and learning languages can help with more conscious categorization.

Because what if the anger I feel is nothing but fear?

What if the fear I feel is nothing but frustration?

What if the frustration I feel is nothing but unrequited love?

And what if the love I feel is nothing but infatuation?

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#73 Why am I rushing?

Journaling question of the day: Why am I rushing?

Out of habit and automaticity – mindlessness caused by endless repetition?

Out of discomfort – I want to get out of this situation as soon as possible?

Out of impatience – I expect whatever comes next to be more interesting or riveting?

What would happen if I don’t rush this?

By interrupting the automaticity and slowing down, will I reopen my senses and discover new nuances?

By not rushing away from discomfort, will I discover everything is not as bad as I feared it would be?

By resisting impatience, can I become fascinated with whatever is happening right here, right now?


#71 Muffled feet

The ankle and foot complex contains 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Considering both feet, that makes a total of 52 bones, making up about a quarter of all bones found in the mature adult body.

There are more nerve endings per square centimetre in the foot than any other part of the body.

A wealth of sensory information – suppressed by the padding in our shoes, orthotics – until we don’t sense anything anymore.

It’s like wearing safety ear muffs all day.

What was walking on this earth like, before we learned not to listen?

Muffled feet.


#60 Memory is context

Memory is context – in language and in general.

Context of words surrounded by other words and sounds within a sentence.

  • apple orchard

Context of words surrounded by actions – actor, action, object affected (in whatever way or order your mother tongue expresses it).

  • I pick an apple from the tree.

Context of words and the images they spur.

  • An apple falls on Newton’ head.
  • An apple falls off a tree in my grandparents’ garden.
  • I bite into a green apple – a bit sour. I don’t like it.
  • The first time I combine an apple part with peanut butter. Delicious.

Context of words and the feelings they evoke.

  • I’m thirsty and hungry after a volleyball game. The first bite of an apple – what a relief.
  • My grandpa cuts an apple and gives me a part. Safety. Home.
  • I eat 2 apples and my mouth starts itching. Allergy? Fear.

When learning another language, you can link words to the context of your mother tongue.

But to truly understand them, you’ll have to create a new context too.

For example, an apple in Spanish: una manzana.

Seemingly the same object, now perceived through new sounds.

  • huerto de manzanas (apple orchard)

New actions.

  • Yo limpio una manzana. (I wash/clean an apple.)

New images.

  • I see una manzana in a Mexican supermarket. Someone is polishing it with wax to make it extra shiny. The first time I saw was in Mexico. So I didn’t see the guy polishing an apple. Vi a un hombre encerando una manzana. (I saw a guy putting wax on an apple.)

New feelings.

  • Compré una manzana (I bought an apple) and ate it without washing it well. My stomach wasn’t happy with my actions.

Keeping all that in mind, are we really still talking about the same object? Is the Spanish manzana encerada that made me sick in Spanish the same as the apple my grandpa helped me pick? If it is, do I now have a richer perception of that object that once up on a time, I could only interact with through the limits of one language?

Learning vocabulary lists with isolated words will never get you fluent in a foreign language.

If you don’t build a new context of sounds, actions, images, feelings, you’ll always keep imposing your mother tongue on the foreign language.

That’s why you can’t just learn a foreign language. You have to live it.


#58 Pre-verbal

There used to be a time when you didn’t have words for your feelings. You just felt them.

You didn’t have words to say that your parents are your parents. You just knew it.

You didn’t have words for the sounds other humans made. Like singing birds, a buzzing bumblebee, or a rolling thunder, it was all just vibrating air.

What was your experience of reality like before words started categorizing, abstracting and limiting what you could see, hear, touch and feel?

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#45 The tragedy of the spoken word

Language helps us describe the world we perceive. Yet in doing so, it closes our eyes, our ears, our touch, and our heart to the parts of the world we don’t have words for.

Every language is a lens on a felt reality within and around us – both clarifying and categorizing the world, and limiting it by the words it has available.

Learning more languages gives you new lenses – and a richer sense of reality.

But just like the structure of our ears limit the sounds we can hear, and the structure of our eyes limit colors we can see, the structure of any language somehow limits our felt experience of the world.

How do we re-access memories, emotions, hidden away in a long-forgotten language?

How do we re-learn to listen to the voices of the wordless world speaking to our animal self… the voices that once upon a time, before verbal language emerged, were all we had?

there’s an eternal song
drowned out by the confines of my mother tongue
a wordless melody that once made sense
until our brain started blurring it with a lens
narrowing it down
neglecting its nuances through verbs and nouns

with all its might language wants us to abide
but the wordless world it tries to hide
will forever be inside

Lukas Van Vyve

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