English aka What's up with the accent?

Already years ago, people did not want to believe I was Estonian when I spoke in English. The accent I had was strong but not something you would expect from someone from Estonia. Now-days, when living abroad is more common, they often ask if I have ever lived in England. The answer is no, however it does sound that way from the accent and while I often claim this is due to reading British authors it is not all there is to it.

The Struggle


Not too many know that English wasn't even my first second language to begin with. It was German and I struggled with it. I passed all the other subjects with ease but not German language. It was hard and needed work and I was... well, lazy. I think I was in fourth grade when all the numbers on my grading sheet were fives (essentially A's. We had 1 to 5 system), except from German that was a three. I just could not put the effort into it. It wasn't fun nor interesting. True, the telly did show a lot of stuff in German. I often watched cartoons on Pro7, SAT1, RTL2 and in my first memories of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles they spoke in German (it was dubbed on RTL2), but it still did not seem to click with me.

Then we started with English at school (the second second language) and that made more sense. It was still difficult, but it was the language I already knew. It was the language they used on my favourite cassette.


The irony is that while I found the cover of this cassette in the internet, I did not find the playlist I remembered. The one we had started with Herman's Hermits "No Milk Today" and it also had their song "I'm Henry VIII I Am" on it somewhere but that is all I remember.

As said before, this was my favourite cassette. I listened to it a lot. So much that the tape got broken many times and I had to carefully fix it with thin office tape - loosing a section while I did it, but leaving the rest of the cassette playable.

I did a bit better in English but what I remember from that time is not the words we learned but the teacher telling me to stop making faces. That was not helpful as these were not bad faces I made. I was like an actor, tuning into the role of English language and used my face as canvas. It just made it easier for me.  However, the teacher did not seem to care as much about my skills in English as she did about me getting wrinkles from using the full potential of human face for expressing myself. She hated it. I still have no idea why but it did not help with learning the language.

Second to the first


I was going to change schools and while all the other subjects in the class I was joining were more less on the same level, there was one problem: They had had English as the first second language. This meant I had to put more effort into it.

I spent most of this summer before the new school at my grandparents. They had both been teachers in the old times. Grandfather used to be a teacher of German language and also physical education while my grandmother used to teach English. I remember learning new words and pronunciation in their kitchen. Only later did I learn that my granny had no no concept of accents. For her, there was just one English language - the Queens English. So this was also what I learned.



I think that about the same time they started showing Muzzy in Gondoland in telly and my parents also got the small booklets that came with it. This show was made by BBC, so that was another droplet of accent to my language pool.

I don't remember too much about the English classes after this summer. I think I was quite average, but I did struggle with the rules. If you told me to write a sentence in Past Present my brain froze. However, when there was an example sentence, I instantly found it very easy.  I was learning it the same way you learned your mother tongue - how many rules do you know about the language you grew up with? But you still feel the flow and have the overall understanding.

Finding the fun


A change in my attitude to English came in the gymnasium with a new teacher. In the first lesson she wrote "Anything discussed in this class can and will be used against you" on the wall and this soon turned out to be true. You could find the words that we used in discussions in your tests, even if they had never been in the workbooks. However, as I soon learned, synonyms would also do the trick. I had started playing Dungeons and Dragons recently and as I was the Dungeon Master I also had to know all the rules. This meant reading all the core rulebooks and understanding them. Therefore my vocabulary was already quite big.

This teacher had a sense of humour. I once wrote 'being' as 'beeing' in one of my papers and when I got it back there was a drawing of a bee, made with a red pen, next to it - something I will remember for the rest of my life. I also remember getting the papers back with a comment "Not bad, but not the words we had in the workbook." Due to my vocabulary I knew the synonyms and that was good enough - I did not loose any points from these tests. I had the skills obviously, I had just not done the homework.

At this time I had something odd going on with the the accent. I call it my Accidental Accents period. I had no control over them and they had a tendency to change in the middle of a sentence. I often had to read things out loud in the class and I still don't know if it was because I never did my homework or because it was just entertaining to listen to all the odd accents. In any case, it helped a lot.



The hardest thing I did at that time, when it came to English, was reading one of my favourite authors in the original language. I had already read several books by Terry Pratchett, but all of them were translated. Now I picked up a book that was not. It was Thief of Time and I had to read it 3 times before I understood it. Though to be honest I did read it again fourth time years later and the story was totally different.
I tried many methods for learning the words I did not know in the book: underlining them with a pencil, leaving bookmarks, writing them out etc. However, Pratchett uses a very descriptive language and it would have taken me forever to find all the meanings of the words in the early days of internet (I did have a huge and heavy Saagpakk English lexicon at home as did most of Estonian families at that time. It was a book that you could use for killing people and not something you wanted to carry around willingly). So, instead, I mostly just skipped the unknown words, hoping that the context of the material could fill me in. It often did.

By the end of the gymnasium we had national exams and I picked English as one of the subjects I wanted to take the exam in. It included different sections. I don't remember all of them, but there was a radio interview that we had to listen to and fill in blanks in the text based on what we learned. I filled in most of the blanks before listening - the person they were talking to was a world know British author Sir Terry Pratchett. I also remember losing 2 points in the oral part of the exam due to using slang. In total I got 85 points out of 100. Something that was later seen as being above B2 level.

Nowadays


Looking at my bookshelf now, I have more books in English than in Estonian. I have been working in English language for over ten years and to be honest I often even think in English. I would say that while my language skills are not perfect, I'm quite fluent. I do make silly mistakes and typos time to time but I do the same in Estonian.

Even my accent has now settled, sounding a bit British but not specific to an area. Though there is still one thing when it comes to the accent that I have to be careful with. I tend to mirror the accent I hear (just as you start whispering when someone whispers). It's a bit odd and some people with strong accents might feel that I am mocking them - this is not the case. It's just a thing I tend to do automatically and try to be aware of.

I have not lived in England, but I have visited it several times. My first visit to London (was it 7 years ago maybe?) was a bit scary. I knew the language but the speed and accents they had was terrifying (I had the same problem in Scotland a few years later). Also, it was the first time I used tubes and I had to somehow get from the airport to London city centre and to Watford from there. That meant a lot of talking with locals to be sure I did not get lost on the way. While adults usually understood that you were not local and slowed down, the kids did not. It was when I talked to the kids of one of my friends there when I suddenly went in my head "Wow, I can really do this. Thats amazing!"

A few years later I performed in Slapdash improv festival in London with my improv group (improvising in second language) and half accidentally cracked a joke on the stage that was very specific to English language and history. The audience loved it. I was in awe. It worked. I was surprised it did.

Lovely Rahel and me doing an improvised duo in a second language.

Just this month I had my first improv duo show and this too was in English.
I feel that the language and the accent are here to stay and sometimes I'm even too fluent, forgetting that others might not have the language at the same level - as it turned out last year in Spain. Asking for a Milkshake from the bar did not work, what you had to ask for instead was Ice Cream Juice.

The Holes That Make You Whole

There is a hole in my chest. 
On the left side. Close to the heart.
My wife says it looks like someone 
has taken a handful of me
and ripped it off.
I don’t know where I got it
She might be right.

There are small holes in my head, 
Most were closed with stitch or two.
From the time of being curious
and not afraid of the world.
I got the first one when I was one
and last one at eleven
when the world started to scare me

There is a hole in my right earlobe
Small one, where the bone has cracked. 
It looks as if I had a piercing there.
I didn’t. I was in a fight

I have a hole in my soul,
From caring more of death than living
For bigger part of my life.
That surprisingly still continues - less lonely now.
I would love to call it a scar,
but old habits die hard.

I have a hole in my forehead.
From being hit by a car
They say it's magic that I didn't go mad.
I now look like Harry Potter.
I sometimes worry if I've lost my mind,
but don’t know how to tell.

These are the holes I look through 
when I look at life.
The empty spaces that,
when linked together and filled between
make me.
And sometimes with all these holes,
I feel like a damn good and old 
Swiss cheese.

Inspiration

As you must already know, from many previous posts, I have been writing the last 3 years or so and as it turns out, it has also had some effect.
True, some people have said that the writing was ok or funny or unexpectedly good (I still don't know what they actually expected. It seems that I disappointed them).
However, it seems that this is not the only effect I have.
I know at least 3 guys (gender neutral) who turned into "He can write sh*t, why not me"and started writing down their own stories. And also asking advice from me. Sorry. All I can say is that if you enjoy what you do, as in that case there is at least one who does.
I hope this is worth it.
It was for me. Even if the publishing does not happen.

A plank page

And here it is.
The plank page staring at my face. Intimidating.
I know I have not written here for some time and to be honest, I don't even know if I will finish this post. Nothing says I will.
But here is an excuse: I have been writing something else.
A fantastic tale that came way longer than I expected (78k words). I hope to hear from the publisher within this year (and if not, we'll see)  I'm still not sure that I really wrote it as when I take a piece of paper and try writing again, it just intimidates me. It is as if I have already done something (maybe not good or bad, but at least I finished it) and now cannot start a new thing/project.
Narrativia, the goddess of narrative, does not care however. You are just a vessel and the thoughts will come and just a few days ago I wrote down a short story just after arriving home from work. I wrote it all down with one shot. It was just so clear and it wanted to came out. Had there been need for a longer text, I'm not sure I could have done it yet.
I feel that there are some other things that I want to investigate and write about, but it has to come on it's own time. It makes no sense to force it, if you do it for your own pleasure and no-one expects you to deliver and keep deadlines.
The process is important.
So process I shall and I'll try not feel bad about not filling the blog.

On emotions and connection

(This post has been waiting in the drafts for some time. Time has come to clean it up and send it out to the big world.)

It seems to me that we have a lot of misunderstandings in our culture when it comes to emotions. Surely, it is not the only topic where we feel lost in, but maybe I just notice it more when compared to people from other cultures (cold and slow as we are ... supposedly).

The big problem with emotions is that we attend to them as if they are permanent - which in my opinion is a big mistake. 

Who has not heard about everlasting love? Sounds too good to be true, right? I'm not saying that it is impossible, merely pointing out the obvious that even when you have loved someone for years, the emotion has changed over time and possibly at some point you have even been deeply frustrated or annoyed with this person. Everyone in a long term relationship (even with your family and friends) knows that no emotion is permanent nor constant and sometimes or dearest ones piss us off the most. Does that mean that we don't love them? No, but it does not fit in with the concept of everlasting love, does it?

Emotions as Reactions to reality

Look at small kids. Even a year old can laugh and cry and be surprised or scared. However these emotions often last only for a moment (or entire 4 hours car-ride ... and it is usually not the laughing we get there) and after that, something else takes the attention. They are in a way fluid and natural reactions to inner (I want food!) and outer (what is this sound?) impulses.

A cool thing to notice is that if another impulse comes in, the previous one is often forgotten. If the kid starts crying, you can bring his attention to something else - maybe do strange noses - and he might bring his attention to that (this is how parents survive). 

I think it makes sense if you look at it from survival perspective: you might be hungry, but if there is a strange sound, maybe someone else is hungry as well and it would be smart to be aware of it before you get eaten. You can fill your stomach a bit later but the threat might be imminent.

We don't lose these natural reactions to impulses. The reaction just changes as we grow up. Some people get grumpy when get are hungry others just make a sandwich.

The aim of these emotions is to bring our attention to relevant topics (food, survival, etc) and as soon as this kind of need is satisfied, the emotion is done - there is no need for it anymore. It might take sometimes more time, but still, there is a solution coming. However, sometimes if the solution does not come fast enough, the kids go mad. Have you seen a kid crying as if berserk and nothing that you do helps? As if they have already crossed the red line and cannot come back. They still need a resolution, but the emotion is just so big already that they have to let it out. Still, it will never last forever (all though it might feel like that at a time when you are a parent).

We understand it with small kinds, but not with older ones. I think that the same thing is happening when the kid is already older and yells "I hate you!" at his parents while they are in a supermarket (kids seem to prefer supermarkets for this... don't know why). Emotions are overflowing and it is only a temporary thing. Saying that this is not a nice thing to say to your parents will not help either as this is the truth at that moment.

I'm not saying that you should let your kids go wild, all I am saying is that the words seem to shock us. Would the kid just cry out like a toddler, we would understand just as well that he is sad and mad. However as soon as he says that he hates us, we take it to the heart - isn't hate an emotion and emotions last forever? How dare you to hate us after all the love we have given you? How dare you say something like this?

This brings us to the next topic.

Emotions as reactions to thoughts

Remember that I said that you cannot have everlasting emotions? I lied. You can, but these are called chronic not everlasting. These are not caused by the reality but our interpretation of the reality and often we just see what we want to see. As we translate every real event to a format that we expect and want to see, we are feeding ourselves constantly with the same impulse and have the same reaction all the time. This is more-less how depression works and that is not a emotion, that is a illness.

Humans are complex beings and at some point we develop the tools to create the emotions of our own - out from thin air. We think about a positive experience and we get all warn and good. We think about a negative one and we clench our fists and turn angry. This is a two bladed sword. We can use it wisely or let it run wild. The sad part is - when it runs wild, we do not notice the real needs. We operate in a bubble of our thoughts and interpretations.

As some emotions are too hard and/or painful some people use the same system and think the emotion into a different one. Sadness for example, in its deepest form, is paralyzing. All you can do is cry, clench on the floor and feel hopeless We all need a good cry time to time, but we also need to get things done. Sadness is not an emotion that will help you get things done. Anger however is. It has so much energy in it. It is focused. The way people do it is different, but the result is the same - one emotion is turned into another one by the need of reality. There is no time to cry, if work needs to be done and you have to pic up the kids.

In my experience changing a emotion is like drinking Red Bull. You will get the energy now, but there will be a drawback at some point. You still need a release.

But how do you resolve an emotion that has been created by your thoughts?

In the same way you resolve a regular emotion, but you also need to work with the thoughts. If they stay, the emotion will come back at some time. We often try to avoid them by bringing our attention to something else. Just like the parents do with toddlers who are crying. However, even if that is successful, it is only temporary - we still have to face the original emotion at some point.

We, humans are faulty and it does not appear better anywhere else than in our thoughts. Solving a problem with the same faulty tool (your brain) that first created it does usually not work well. Thats why we need to consult with other faulty beings - would it be friends or therapists - and they might mess it up even more. We all are complex and unique human beings and there is no-one in the world who could fully understand us.

However, it might be worth a shot to talk to someone about it, when you have constant thoughts distracting your everyday life.

All and All

Emotions are reactions to a stimuli - weather reality or thoughts. They last until there is a need for them, until they get resolved. They are natural. If you look into someones eyes for long enough - you have a shared moment of connectivity - a emotion will come from this. That is just what emotions do, it is how we react.

Therefore you cannot state emotion as good or bad. Emotions are what they are, the question is what you do with them. Do you resolve them? Do you take a deeper look into your thoughts? Do you ignore them and just try to go on with your every day tasks?

There are some thoughts and ideas that are causing the negative emotions. For example, everlasting love. This feeling as a constant can be pathological. How much guilt could it create when you freak out on your loved one? You could start thinking that maybe it is not even real thing? Maybe you are broken? And all this only because of one idealised idea that a lot of people worship and take as granted. When we have had a lot of positive shared moments with a person we could indeed call it love. However, with every new shared moment this experience will change. Relationship takes time and caring. There is no constant in it - the shared connections and moments are important, not a socially accepted idea.


Every person and every relationship is different.
Every person and every relationship is a bit messed up in its own way.
And this is why it is so awesome!