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Language addiction and the Twitter experiment

January 30, 2011 in The road, Thoughts and ideas

Language addiction and the Twitter experiment

So far, I found writing to be the best way to take a long and honest look at the actual amount of vocabulary I am able to use in order combine words into sentences.

Not so long ago (about a year or so), a horrible realization has come down upon me that after being passively immersed into English for many years, I still struggle with speaking. Not because I am shy (well, I am, but that’s beside the point) or don’t have enough vocabulary. Right on the opposite, I actually have too many words and expressions in my head, and I have never used any of that treasure!

Hello, my name is Roman and I’m an addict

This is why I call myself a language addict. Speaking English (or Spanish, for that matter) very frequently is like a drug to me, not a thoughtful and intelligible process. Whenever I speak Russian, my native tongue, I might either grumble out a few words or break into a long tirade. Lately, I’ve been doing the latter in order to develop a skill of expressing my thoughts coherently and passionately (which is more have to do with my shyness or whatever, rather than with the actual language skills).

But when I start speaking English, I pull out all the stops and can ramble on for hours. I did it a couple of times recently at the local English speaking meetings organized at CouchSurfing.

It is an insanely powerful and exhilarating feeling but, as I tried to put in one of the previous essays, it also has its disadvantages. I get ahead of myself and end up halting half-way through the sentence because I forgot more exquisite and sophisticated word I wanted to use, and its more humble and down-to-Earth brother just doesn’t work as well. This brings out the “umms…”, “oh, let’me rephrase this…”, “whatchamacallit” and other verbal horrors that better be left unsaid.

Not cool.

This is what happened at a language-skills assessing interview I had the previous week. Sure, I spoke nothing but English for a good twenty minutes and an extremely nice and understanding girl ensured me that she wasn’t taken aback by my rambling at all.

As I got out of the coffee shop, fresh and frosty air of St. Petersburg during the winter filling my lungs, I woke up from a drug-induced dream sequence, that is speaking English for me, and told myself (probably even out loud, weirding out humble pedestrians in the closest proximity): “What the hell were you rambling on about in there, man?”.

And that is not even the saddest part of the tale. In the end we went on to talk a little bit in Spanish, and I struggled to put together several coherent thoughts.

Over the last few months my comprehension skills of Spanish increased greatly through constant immersion. However I’ve found out that I can’t start speaking Spanish out of the blue like that. Only after I spent the entire day in Spanish, my mind rushing with images of fiestas, señoritas, Buenos Aires and lyrics of Ojos de Brujo, Amparanoia and Aterciopelados.

This is all because the vocabulary I have is never put to a good use. This has to change.

I am fairly sure that my idea is utterly unoriginal, but I hope it will do the trick. I created a Twitter account for myself (romand_es), where I will be writing a single coherent phrase in Spanish every day. If I get the hang of it, I will do it more often. I sure am hoping that I will.

I will also add cool language lovers, fellow Spanish addicts and hablantes nativos in order to eventually get some conversation going.

So there.

Picture by shnnn

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen February 20, 2012 at 01:37

Oh man, I can relate. Even though I’m not as fluent in either Russian or Spanish as you are in English (I’m much better in Spanish than in Russian), there’s something intoxicating about putting thoughts together in new ways, which is part of what speaking a foreign language involves. I don’t know whether that’s a big part of the addiction for you, but it certainly is for me. One difference between us is that I don’t like to shut up in English either. But the thrill of running my brain in a foreign language is like a jolt of electricity. I feel the same way about practicing other accents of English (I’m American, and I’m working on learning a couple of British accents). I don’t have the other accents down perfectly yet, but I’ve hit the point where they seem to take on a life of their own in my mind — once I get into the groove, it feels so good to make these movements that feel exotic and yet flowing and natural, all at the same time. It’s hard to let go of it and go back to speaking like a normal American — it feels as if some part of my mind has come to life and doesn’t want to go back to dormancy.


Roman D. February 25, 2012 at 00:09

Indeed, Karen!

I haven’t re-read this blog post in quite a while, and as I went through it, the details of that wonderful night were as clear as if it happened just yesterday. I can even remember how I felt that slight rush of adrenaline calm down as I breathed in the fresh air after leaving the coffee shop that day.

This is what probably makes language a sort of drug to those who really enjoy using it. And, as I came to believe from my recent experiences with Spanish in Barcelona, this is what constitutes a great part of conversational fluency. Just getting into the kind of mode where your brain is so empowered and energized by the experience of speaking that it keeps producing for you the new ways to express your thoughts.

Actually, this gave me an idea for a new post. I would really love to explore this topic further.

Thanks Karen, for your comment and thoughtful input :)


james May 8, 2014 at 21:42

Thats the same problem i’m trying to deal with and fix with my spanish it seems like unless i’m with the language for hours it doesn’t flow off my lips smoothly when i try to speak.


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