An Unfamiliar Word: The Transience of Learning a New Language

Europe 370
Justine Leonhardt. Teuscher Chocolate in Zurich. 2012. JPEG.

Like its very own confection, the shop sat close to the Limmat River where I found myself after three hours of walking through the streets of Zurich, Switzerland. Covered with teems of glossy foil, neon flowers and slender, colourful bars of chocolate, the line up of people waiting to sit in the café or purchase treats blocked out the vision of what was held behind the glass. I chose two slim chocolate bars, a dark chocolate and a coffee one, and waited for the clerk to greet me. I don’t remember the question he asked, but, in an amalgam of all the countries I’d travelled through recently, I stuttered out, “Si…Oui…oh, Ja!” The man burst into laughter.

It’s often said that one of the most unique things about Europe is the cultural diversity of such a small landmass. From the architecture of Gaudi in Spain to the literary history of Paris, France to the striking castles of Germany, beyond what makes each country so unique from its neighbour are the languages that must be learned as one travels from place to place. It is easy enough to drift across a border and observe a new cultural experience, but language can be a more difficult thing to grasp, something that has us fighting for the right words, racking our brain for the thing we’re trying to say whether we possess the knowledge or not.

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