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First Language, Best Language

We often ask people what their first language is. We often disclaim our inability to speak a language, saying “it’s not my first language”.

But we literally don’t do this with anything else.

We never hear a pilot say: “sorry, I can’t fly this type of plane; it’s not my first plane”.

We never hear a chef say: “sorry, I can’t cook this souffle: it’s not my first dish”.

We never hear an entrepreneur say: “sorry, I can’t make money on this: it’s not my first company”.

We never hear a player, a Venusian artist, a swordsman of the nether-regions say: “sorry, I can’t make out with this girl; she’s not my first girl”.

Indeed, we hear the very opposite of that. Chesley Sullenberger did not grow up flying Airbus airplanes. Paul Allen and William Henry Gates III are not known for Traf-o-Data. Gordon Ramsay isn’t famous for his boiled eggs. James Franco isn’t cool because he’s sweet and innocent. Joseph Conrad couldn’t even speak English — the very language in which he was to create his literary legacy — until he was a grown-a$$ man; many people hate his books, but they still read them and talk about them more than a century after he wrote them.

You don’t have a first language (not in the way you think). You don’t have a native language. Nobody does. Nobody is born speaking or reading or writing a “proper” language. Your native language, such as it is, is gurgling and drooling; your native language is crying like a little cry-baby bee arch. You couldn’t even control your bowel movements, so GTFOH with your “native” language proficiency that you weren’t born with; you weren’t born with it any more than Lady Gaga’s make-up is her real face. So, again, you don’t have a first language; your first language is the lack of language — whatever you conventionally call your “first” language came later. Years later.

You do have a best language. What makes it your best? Hint: not your Dad’s business card, your Mom’s hoo-hah or the government header on your birth certificate. No, it’s simply the number of flying hours you’ve logged on it.

Best languages, like respeck from your m8s, are always earned, never granted. Not even to royalty. Everybody from the Emperor down to the office cleaning obasan (小母さん/”auntie”/”lady”) has to put in their time to earn their linguistic stripes.

The only thing keeping your next language being your best language is your TV viewing habits.

Turn the TV to Japanese at 9am. Turn it off two years later. Or three or five or ten. Heck, never turn it off. Leave it on. Problem solved.

If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that Japanese wasn’t your first language. But guess what, though, playa? It wasn’t anyone else’s either. There are no native speakers, just reformed droolers and cry-babies. The only thing stopping Japanese being your best language is math. Specifically, the math you start accumulating today — yesterday has left your direct control; you can only reinterpret it now. Today. Arithmetic, not biology, will control your future. And you control the arithmetic. This is cold, hard, numeric truth. If you can add, you can win.

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