Language is like a mosaic. When you have the right words and know how to put them together, it can be absolutely beautiful. Think of all the millions of things you can communicate with a limited number of words. You use different ones and put them together in different ways, and you get a new message. It’s like combining different tiles of the mosaic in different ways to get different pictures. Some are simple; some are much more complex.
And something that makes the mosaic of language even more complex and beautiful is that not only do you have different colored shapes, but they are also different shapes and have different textures. Take, for example, the words “beautiful,” “pretty,” and “gorgeous,” and “stunning.” They all have similar meanings, but have slightly different textures.
God has given us the ability to use these different-colored, different-shaped, and different-textured words, and to then use grammar to put them together in different patterns to create the beautiful masterpiece mosaics that are the different things we say.
But now imagine you’re in my shoes, learning a new language. You know that everyone else has a huge set of mosaic tiles that they can pull out and put together in a bazillion different ways whenever they want. But you? You have a handful of tiles and don’t even know how to put them together very well. If you want to say, “Please, may I have some water to drink? I’m quite thirsty,” perhaps all you can say is “Me. Water. Cup.” Not quite pretty, beautiful, gorgeous, OR stunning!
And when you hear people talk, you are sure that they are saying something well, only you can only see one out of every 100 pieces in the mosaic. You squint and tilt your head and try to figure out what it’s a picture of. Sometimes you have a good guess and can make it out. Sometimes they’ve been nice and given you a simple picture, made up mainly of tiles that you know, and you can see the picture. And sometimes, sometimes you have no idea what the few colors splayed in front of your eyes are trying to portray.
Now, when you’re learning a language, your only challenge is not the lack of tiles that you can use or recognize when someone else uses them, and it’s not only that you don’t really even know how to put the tiles together! But it’s also like you have bad eyesight, and all the pieces are a bit blurry. Is that a shiny red circle or a bumpy orange octagon? Is that a furry brown star or a striped maroon hexagon? You can’t be quite sure, and that makes your life even more difficult! Did they say “bean” or “beam” or “bin” or “been” or “being” or “bent” or “bing” or “bee” or “be”? And which word means which thing? They all sound rather the same to you! So not only are you playing with not a full set of tiles, but you also can’t even really see which tile is which! That person either said, “Come and eat” or “Have a good night.” (And yes, those are two that I’m starting to distinguish now in Viemo, the language of the Vigués, but that at first sounded way too similar!) Did he ask me to give him the oil “nimo” or the flour “nyimo?”
By God’s grace, the longer you stick it out and live in this confusing world where you’re missing most of the tiles and can’t even see the ones you DO have very well, your eyesight will get better and you’ll be able to distinguish different pieces better. You will also acquire more and more tiles and be better able to see the tiles that others use.
It’s a slow process, but as you continue on this journey called “language learning” (though that’s not the politically correct way to say it anymore), the beauty and intricacy of language becomes more and more visible to your eyes, and you, too, can rejoice over the creativity of God in making each language its own unique set of mosaic tiles and patterns.
(Image credits: http://3.bp.blogspot.com)