Like a native

Someone once said to me that learning a language involves acting the part of a native speaker. The language in question was Russian, and its seductive appeal can only be strengthened by prior reading of Pushkin and Dostoeyevsky, even in translation. My own experience is that this second skin becomes second nature and then vanishes altogether. Whatever drew us to spend time learning a whole language makes us perceive its strange new world rosily. The glow fades and the pathos of distance turns out to have been an optical illusion. People are just people, possibly in circumstances quite different from those we were used to before we met them. The parallel question is how the earnest outsider is perceived by the natives. Perhaps when he thinks he is joining them most authentically, he seems all the more exotic and other to them, a person who only exists as a larger-than-life parody of a misapprehension. What would lead the natives to even suspect that misapprehension is an introjection — of them?

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