Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Language barriers

Funny thing that, language. It's funny how language competence is very domain-specific, especially when it comes to the languages learned later in life. Finnish is my mother tongue but I wouldn't dare give a talk about my work in Finnish - I simply lack the vocabulary. When I've been making grant applications to Finnish foundations, the most difficult bit has been to write abstracts/summaries in Finnish.

I've almost completely forgotten any French I learned at school, although I'm sure it would come back after a brief activation. Same goes with Swedish. Occasionally I've tried to use Swedish here, with fellow Scandinavians, but I find it very difficult. I think I speak better Swedish in Finland than I do here. Switching to Swedish from Finnish is OK, but having to switch between two foreign languages, Swedish and English is for soem reason very difficult. I just end up speaking English workd with Swedish accent, and it's so comical that most Swedes will just have mercy and switch quickly to English. :-)

And there are some things I still can't do well in English. I discovered one of those things today. I can't get my jargon-generator and spin-engine to work in English. After a few years in politics in Finland I am pretty good at writing stuff that sounds impressive and important in Finnish. You know, stuff you'd put on reports, advertisements, web sites or funding proposals. How the "new institute has a proven track-record on capacity-building in various international contexts and how it's research output has attracted wide interest and how it intends to strengthen its multi-disciplinary connections and continue to attract the best talent by offering courses of unparallelled quality and scope with a strong individual focus and insight on the development of lateral skills..." You get the idea. It just doesn't seem to work, and flow. I've tried to write a chapter on the future directions of our research centre, and I find it very difficult. Would be easier to do that in Finnish.

There's a fine balance between a slightly sexed-up description that says all the right things and conveys the view of an exciting future, and horrible pretentious and clicheic bulls**t. I wonder if I got that right...


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