மாலை வணக்கம் (maalai vaNakkam), Buenas Noches, and Good Evening from Melbourne, Australia!
I’ll be sharing some a thing I did, a tweet I loved, and a thought I had.
A Thing 💒
For the last 2 weeks, I’ve been in Australia for my cousin’s wedding.
My goal was to help with the preparations. I completely underestimated how much help they needed. Over the last fortnight, I’ve had roughly three hours to myself.
I used most of that time to write this newsletter :)
A Tweet 🐦
Until I was 25, I only knew one language - English.
Now at 32, I know three.
Years ago, when I was living in Norwalk, Connecticut, the best barbershop in town was run by Hondurans. They couldn’t speak English. But they could do a high, tight skin fade with a scissor cut on top.
I first learned Spanish so I could order my haircut exactly the way I wanted. But after a few cuts, I became curious to hear about they were thinking - in their language.
I respected their attention to detail. I respected their patience. I respected their hustle.
The way they opened up to me when I showed a genuine interest in their culture was a feeling of connection I’d never felt before. We cracked jokes about work, soccer, and even dating. One time they even gave me a slit in my eyebrow without asking - just like the ones they rocked.
They knew how much work it takes to learn a new language. At that time, I’d never even been to a Spanish speaking country. They were more forgiving of my mistakes than I expected.
It lit a flame in me to keep learning Spanish. 7 years later, I’m learning colloquialisms and comprehending fast, native speech. And now I’m sharing how I did it with you.
I used to think I was unable to learn another language.
But looking back, perhaps I didn’t appreciate other cultures deeply enough to learn the language.
A Thought 💭
Have you ever thought about your mouth as an instrument?
Last year, I worked 1-on-1 with Idahosa Ness, the creator of the Mimic Method to improve my Spanish accent and listening skills. In case you missed it, here’s the pointer to part 4, the last in the series of exercises related to melody.
Idahosa is a classically trained violinist who learned “by ear”. He generalized those skills to speech to develop a systematic approach to learning new accents. But in order to treat our mouth as an instrument - we first need to develop an awareness of our lips, tongue, and breath.
This next exercise is a guided meditation for the inside of your mouth. It is focused on the tactile sensation of the mouth without seeing or hearing it. When we haven’t cultivated a conscious awareness of the different parts of the mouth, they tend to blur together.
This exercise made me realize how blurry the awareness of my mouth was. My biggest blind spot was noticing tenseness in the base of my tongue. My awareness was on the tip - shaped by importance of the tip in certain sounds in Tamil.
After I cultivated this awareness, I was able to decouple my lips from my tongue, and then from the breath. Mixing and matching these pieces allowed me to make make brand new sounds. Sounds that aren’t present in English, Spanish, or Tamil.
Sounds only present in Japanese and Russian.
After this exercise, my mind opened to the possibility that I could pick up any language. And it wouldn’t sound like me butchering it. It could sound familiar to a native speaker.
That feeling of connection when I’m flowing in conversation with a native speaker is unparalleled.
To me - that is the purest form of the highest respect for the culture.
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So, are you still rocking that eyebrow slit?
Congrats on your cousin's wedding, Jay. Excited to try out the meditation. Been looking at my German studies through a new lens because of your newsletter. Thanks man.