Week 5 Anniversary

It’s an anniversary post and thus the theme once again is loosely related to earthquakes. The most active areas for earthquakes are at the join between two tectonic plates (die tektonische Platten), each of which is in motion either toward to away from the other. As it turns out, the plate is an apt metaphor for language learning in several ways.

First of all, satisfaction with progress in learning a new language is also something where things can feel as though they are coming together or that they are getting further and further apart. It can even feel that both things are happening at the same time, you suddenly have new vocabulary that you can use rather naturally and directly (rather taking an indirect route through your native tongue), and, at the same time, perhaps you struggle with a sentence structure about which you once felt similarly confident.

Perhaps a better metaphor for language learning than the tectonic sort of plate is to imagine the circus act where someone is keeping lots of plates (die Teller) spinning (I managed to find one source with something close to this phrase and there it was translated as viele Teller in der Luft zu halten – “to keep many plates in the air.”) Like this performance, speaking a foreign language requires you to do many things at once and give all of them at least a bit of your attention to prevent the whole thing crashing down around you.

Alternatively, one might say that when learning a new language, you “have a lot on your plate,” a phrase which dict.cc translates as both viel/genug am Hals haben and eine Menge/genug um die Ohren haben. Both of these have parallels in English in terms of being “up to your neck” or “up to your ears” in work (note that dict.cc also gives the first phrase, with the reference to Hals, as a translation for “to have many balls in the air”).

One thing is for certain, though, unless you are a child or a very unusual person, a new language is not something handed to you on a plate or auf den silbernen Tablett servieren!

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