2017-11-13

Language Unbleached: Talking Street

You're Screwed If You Don't Catch Up

Languages, as I've already said, are not limited to the crap you learn in school. Every native speaker contributes to his community's language. While institutions are busy doing what they do best -- instituting -- actual speakers of the language are doing what they do best -- speaking. This leaves you, the language learner, in a precarious situation. You can go the route of schooling, and learn the language that institutions approve of. Or you can go the route of acquiring the language that speakers actually use. Fantasdeck, PollyGot, and this blog are dedicated to the latter. Feel free to visit http://www.emptypromises.org if you just want support for your delusion.

How do I know if my language isn't just school-sanctioned crap?

To answer that, you need to challenge language institutions head-on. Try translating something like this into your target language: "Fuck that shit! You faggot-ass wannabes tryin' to hold a nigga back." If you failed, you probably only learned as much as schools were willing to teach you. You got screwed out of your money and out of some really important competencies.

Few things highlight this disconnect better than a post by the international Latin rock sensation Juanes when he posted an image of himself wearing a "Mexico Is The Shit" jacket. The problem? Spanish speakers got pissed. Why? Because many failed to understand American English slang. It took the intervention of Juanes himself to clarify the matter:

It's true. Mexico is the shit,
if you know what that means.
Hola! La chamarra me la regalaron en México y me gustó muchísimo. ["Mexico is the shit"] es una expresión que significa que "México es lo máximo", no es una expresión ofensiva.
→ Hello! They gifted me the jacket in Mexico, and I liked it a whole lot. ["Mexico is the shit"] is an expression that means, "Mexico is the best." It's not an offensive expression.
That fact, however, didn't stop the mamones from feeling offended. And, honestly, they can only blame themselves. They should have understood American English slang better.

This example illustrates why learning to talk street -- learning the language that people "on the street" actually use -- matters so much. You don't only avoid looking stupid on Facebook. You also gain a competence that separates you from merely book-smart language learners. Knowing the difference between book smarts and street smarts is your first step out of failure.

Okay, I've taken your red pill. Get to the resources!

I've described various resources (here and here) to provide you access to resources online. That said, there's not much more I can recommend. You'll have to start your journey of acquiring the rest outside of your mom's basement.

Wait! Does that mean I have to move?

Not exactly. People will tell you that your only path to full fluency is to move to speakers' native lands. Unfortunately, this leads many people to assume that foreign language skills flow from the plane ticket. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider this analogy: Suppose you want to be a great football player, so you visit your local stadium every day. Now, how much better do you suppose you'll play football after merely watching others play? Exactly. It's the same thing with language. Language is a game, but not a spectator sport. Attending an away game won't "immerse" you in any meaningful way. To play sincere language games, you have to be a sincere language player, and that means you'll have to face some uncomfortable realities.

When You Start, You Ain't Shit

You're not going to prance before a bunch of "foreigners" (abroad, you're the foreigner) and wow them with your language abilities right away. You'll need to start small. You'll need to learn your essential "survival language" first if you want to continue playing. But, that takes humility, and it's hard to be humble when you're too busy being frustrated.

So, the most important thing to adjust when you start is your attitude towards making mistakes. If someone's willing to correct you or complete your sentences, take it as assistance instead of criticism, even if they're being critical. Especially in the beginning, native speakers will be more frustrated with you than you'll be with them. After all, they have to decode your foreign-ass noises into some sort of meaningful message. Count each successful exchange as points toward your language game score. Over time, the "聽不懂's" and "no-te-entiendo's" will become less and less frequent, and you'll be able to approach more natives with fewer issues. That's the only route to approaching the richer language you crave.

Bilinguals Can Be a Crutch, But Don't Hobble Yourself

It's hard to resist not putting yourself at a disadvantage against another player in a language game, and this is where bilinguals are like sirens that beckon you to crash into the rocks. They can make you complacent, and complacency breeds failure. However, bilinguals are also useful, because they can guide you toward more comprehensible and native-sounding speech.

"No te pongas entre la espada y la pared."
"Don't put yourself between a rock and a hard place."
This puts you in a subtle balancing act. You need to weigh the urgency of communication against the drive to suck less. The problem compounds when you realize that bilinguals seek to use you to suck less, too. And, if you let them, they'll suck you dry. If a bilingual speaks to you in your native tongue, and if you can respond in theirs, it's best to do so. Doing anything else guarantees a one-sided language exchange, and I can't count the number of expats who venture abroad with high hopes of multilingualism, only to befriend people who cloister them into their own language communities.

Oh, to hear them bitch about self-inflicted impotence!

That brings me to my next pointer:

Don't Be a Bitch

I mean this in almost every dimension one can in English. 
  • Don't be a whiny bitch. Don't complain about what you don't know. Ignorance is your own damned fault, and complaining wastes time that you should spend learning to play your language game better.
  • Don't be a bottom bitch. Don't let people take advantage of your lack of knowledge. This is especially crucial in places like Mexico, where police officers have targeted me on a handful of occasions, hunting for infractions to score mordidas ("bribes"). If you're not fluent, don't put yourself in needless predicaments. If you are fluent (and also, from a dominant country and not committing any crime), enjoy the shakedowns and grin as their eyes widen in surprise and roll in disappointment.
  • Don't be a psycho bitch. Don't think that fluency gives you a free pass to talk shit to everyone. Men, particularly, have egos to defend and are desperate to play hero in front of women. Mocking people when it's genuinely funny is all well and good, but there's a fine line between teasing and cruelty.
Also, it's a good idea, as basic street smarts, to learn how to diffuse anger and to learn how to defend yourself if others decide to escalate matters. Never assume anyone abroad (not even a cop) has got your back.

I get it. Being a bitch is tempting to many of you, and it's mainly because:

Language Games Are Sisyphean

"嘿,希臘暴君,你有空時,我就想跟你討論這份進步報告。"

You either continue playing or you quit. There is no language endgame.

You can't treat language acquisition like a race, because doing so would be like chasing the horizon. No matter how many steps you advance, there's an infinity beyond wherever you're standing. The best you can ever hope for, even in your native language, is to know the terrain better.

I've been speaking Spanish competently since 2002, Mandarin since 2011. Not once have I thought, "I know all the Spanish and Chinese I'll ever need," because my goal has been to pass for a (linguistic) native. That means nearly automatic speech and no inhibiting lexical gaps. That means adapting my speech to regionalisms and slang. That means keeping apace with neologisms and cultural memes. How could there be an end? Why would you want there to be?

The shit that matters for those goals can't fit in a curriculum. They can't be assigned, but have to be explored. If that upsets your pet delusions, don't hate the players, hate the game. Better yet, hate yourself. Whiny bitches get no sympathy here. Players, on the other hand, get mad respect.

2017-01-20

Language Unbleached: Talking Dirty

You're Screwed, or So You Hope!

Sex: We literally need it to survive! Much of what we do from puberty onward is meant to attract mates. As Dave Chappelle put it:
"If a man could fuck a woman in a cardboard box, he wouldn't buy a house."
Now, there are more nuances than that, but the core fact is true. We, men and women, have various standards that make us seek out various mates. And, as the majority of the Earth's population seeks long-term monogamy, one thing proves to be quite important -- communication! Or, as my sainted mother says:
"You can sleep with them; but, eventually, you'll have to talk to them."
In my experience, even to sleep with them, you have to talk to them. People crave stimulation, and they prefer it from proficient tongues. Thus, for anyone who lives where their native language is not the lingua franca, foreign-language skills can help you do more than survive and make friends. They can help you find lovers, partners, and even spouses.

Now, flirtation, loving communication, and "the dynamics of human peer bonding" have dimensions that (a) are less related to languages and linguistics, and that (b) my own romantic life disqualifies me from discussing. That said, you'll have to adapt what knowledge I have to your own methods.

Why should it matter what language I use?

To answer this, I'll turn to the SLA expert and an intellectual frenemy, Stephen Krashen. In his book, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, he describes the "affective filter hypothesis," which states that negative emotions impede language acquisition. Now, the only thing that I like about this hypothesis is the term. The rest is unoriginal. Psychologists have long known that negative emotions (like fear) impede our comprehension of things. This is true for language, even if you're a native speaker.


But, fear is not the only affective filter. For instance, I hate being patronized for being foreign, and natives' simplifying their speech prematurely angers me even more. My anger, in turn, impedes comprehension of their speech. That impeded comprehension gives foreign speakers a false cue that further simplification is needed, and so a vicious cycle forms.

Sometimes I regret ever learning
the term micro-aggression.
Some expats whom I know, however, have no problem with this. They are happy to let their girlfriends order their meals for them at restaurants. They don't mind empty compliments about their language skills after they say six whole words in a foreign language. Instead, their affective filters are things like disgust with the foreign language, or feelings of pressure to respond perfectly. There is a wide range of such emotional triggers.

Filters aside, though, there is one more key reason to speak your target's language as well as you can. Foreign languages tax most people's energy. Because most non-natives learned your language in school, if at all, making them speak your language is like pushing them back into those dreaded years of vocab quizzes and grammar drills. How sexy can your target feel if he or she is pressured to recall irregular verb conjugations or determiner-noun agreement rules? As a rule, the seller speaks the buyer's language; so, if you're the horny one, bear that burden! Sooner or later, your naughty bits will thank you for it.

What should I learn to say, then?

Unfortunately, there's no useful pickup-line phrasebook or sex translation guide, because rehearsed flirtations are practically doomed to fail. Why? Because books like that don't know you. The sexiest parts of you can't be recited. They have to reflect and reveal what makes you such a catch. Instead, it's better to think of how you want to speak instead of what you want to say.

For instance, if you want to convey sexual undertones, you have to master a language's figurative sexual language. However, your sex and sexual orientation influence how much access you get to it. Men usually talk more openly about sex, and they're more willing to describe their desires, exploits, and so forth with vulgarity and double entendres. That means, then, that gay men and straight women often receive these terms more openly in the wild. Straight men, on the other hand, will likely need a cohort of single straight men to learn this piece of a language. That, in itself, offers an answer.

To answer the above question, answer this one: "Where do horny men go?"

Survey says…

Porn Sites

Most men enjoy sexual congress; and, if they're not having it, they're taking matters into their own hands, going online to watch videos of other people having it. About ten percent of all search engine searches are for pornographic content, and porn mainly serves male masturbators.

The challenge lies not in finding porn as much as finding porn in your target language. That may be much harder if mostly conservative people speak your target language (e.g., Arabic). Also, if the Internet is not very present where most of your target language's native speakers live, the Internet may be a dead end. For most language learners, though, entering terms for sexual anatomy into a video search engine will quickly yield results.

"Did somebody order a pizza? Extra sausage?"
"有人點比薩吧?加臘腸的吧?"
Any serious language learner should watch at least one complete pornographic video in his target language, but as if it were a normal film. Short of your sexual orientation, you don't need to pick a film based on your sexual preferences. You just want to learn the main terms used in sexual dialogue. The video, therefore, only needs to be appealing enough to keep your attention.

As you watch your porno with your hands off your junk, pay attention to commonly repeated phrases (there are a lot in pornography), and their tones of voice. Again, focus on how they talk, not on understanding every sentence. Then, at the end, see if you learned some key terms: tits, cock, balls, mouth, pussy, ass, cum (n.), cum (vi.), hard, wet, interjections for sexual arousal or encouragement, and pizza.

Comments Sections for Online Attention Whores

Thanks to sites like Instagram and YouTube, men can now receive regular media feeds of whomever attracts them sexually. The linguistic pay dirt of these sites, though, is in their comments sections. Here, men often post comments describing their reactions to said photos. Some even narrate whole sexual fantasies. Subscribe to a few feeds with high comment rates in your target language, and you'll be laughing your way to talking dirty.

However, these two sources have a limit. They only provide input. There's little to no feedback in what language you produce. For that, you need open sexual language exchange from human interlocutors. Luckily, there is a quick source for that, too.

Sex Solicitations

To be clear, I am not recommending that you hire prostitutes or escorts. If you're going to do that, the only sentence you will need is, "How much?" Instead, you just want to "catfish" sex solicitors. However, please do this cautiously, as prodding this underbelly of society could have real consequences if you don't use basic Internet "street smarts":
  • "Solicit" them with dummy profiles,
  • Never state that you want to purchase sex.
  • Never click their links,
  • Don't share your personal contact information, and
  • Never accept invitations or friend requests.
That is enough to avoid most trouble while you use them to refine your dirty talk. If you can find human sex solicitors, not automated programs, most will engage you for about ten messages before they catch on. At that point, some will start to insult you, and then you can practice your shit-talkingRemember that all exchanges, even the ugly ones, are opportunities to build your language skills.

I could go on, but this list need not cover everything. It just needs to guide you to some general sexual language sources outside of the barroom and bedroom. What's important to them is that you reach beyond your comfort zone in a comfortable setting. Propositioning a stranger, or even a third date, can be stressful. And, yes, it's that much harder to do it in a foreign language. But, nothing gives you charisma like confidence, and nothing gives you confidence like preparation. So, be prepared, stay relaxed, and always use protection!

This message was not brought to you by Charisma Man.