28 October 2015


Life as a Language Learning Challenge, Step 4

If I remember correctly, it was Maria von Trapp who said that there are two things we always do in our first language: count and pray. So of course anyone who is serious about learning a second language should start counting and praying exclusively in L2. Two steps ago, we were all about the counting; now let's talk about the praying.

To be honest, I already do much of my praying in what I call my L∞ . . .

Ora mecum!

There's the Traditional Latin Mass, of course. Even when I hear the Ordinary Form, I mutter the responses that they have in common in Latin, and pray the original Anima Christi after Communion. In private, I can already say most of the rosary, including the Fatima Prayer, in Latin.

Ironically for language learners, the Fatima Prayer doesn't have an official Latin translation. The original is in Portuguese, and it was this which was translated into every other language spoken by Catholics on earth. And so while every Catholic you meet could easily recite it in his mother tongue, there is some disagreement about what the Latin translation should be. This may be the only prayer of the universal Church that does not have a universal standard!

What I say is what (I believe) the SSPX say: "Domine Jesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, salva nos ab igne inferni, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent."

I started praying in Latin almost immediately after I started my Latin lessons. It didn't matter to me that I didn't understand the grammar perfectly or that there was some self-interest involved in the change. When you're already speaking the official language of the Church and using the formulas handed down by Tradition, the ways in which you fall short personally are irrelevant.

That isn't really something I can say about other languages, though I admit that when I was still serious about French, I was determined to be able to pray at least one thing in it . . .

While I did manage one whole rosary with all the Hail Marys and Glory Bes in French (and everything else in English--LOL!), I only remember bits and pieces of both today.

Now that I'm serious about German and Italian, however, I hesitate to pray in either of them because Latin is just too perfect. =P Maybe I can compromise by announcing the mysteries auf Deutsch or in Italiano . . .

The Geheimnisse and the misteri don't look too much like direct translations, do they? And that's because they aren't! Knowing that my long-lost identical triplets in Germany and Italy are certainly also Catholic only takes me so far, because the Catholic Church in Germany is a different sort of mother from the Catholic Church in Italy. Take the case of two mothers in my own family: one of them prays a perpetual novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and wears as many as twenty religious medals at the same time; the other structures her prayer life according to Magnificat magazine and is an active member of a charismatic group. Perhaps the only practice they have in common (besides the essentials, of course) is abstaining from meat on Friday. Their children are not all as religious as they, but if you had to sort out the three raised by the former from the three raised by the latter, knowing only their own forms of religious expression, you'd probably do a good job.

Back to the wording of the mysteries in German, Italian, and yes, English. Since it's a Wednesday, let's take the First Glorious Mystery as our example.

Resurrectionem Domini nostri Jesu Christi a mortuis

In English, it is an event--a noun formed from a verb and the suffix "-tion" (which points to results): The Resurrection. In Italian, it is the statement of an action--a complete sentence in the simple present tense: Gesu risorge ("Jesus rises again"). And in German, it is a description of Our Lord--His Name followed by a relative clause in the perfect tense: Jesus, der von den Toten auferstanden ist ("Jesus, Who rose from the dead").

A bonus, in case you were wondering: in Filipino, the First Glorious Mystery is also stated as an event, but with more detail than in the English, because "Pagkabuhay" doesn't have the same immediate recognition that "Resurrection" has: Ang pagkabuhay muli ni Kristo ("Jesus's coming to life again").

Among all of these, I find the German most fascinating, because it is the most different . . . which means I must currently have more in common with my Italian triplet than with my German triplet!

What are the prayers you know in your L2? When do you use your L2 to pray instead of your L1?

Image Sources: a) Je vous salue, Marie carte, b) Die Geheimnisse des Rosenkranzes, c) I Misteri del Rosario, d) Primum mysteriosum gloriosum


Itinérante said...

I find that in the particular case of prayer, it really comes in the language the Spirit leads you to use.
Often times I find myself reciting Psalms in English in my heart when I am sitting waiting or Hail Marys in French.
Knowing a prayer by heart in L2 is what makes you use them I think, and then for the spontaneous prayers it comes most of the times in the native language (unless you are praying with a friend who speaks only L2)
Sometimes even it happens that we pray in a language we do not master, like singing Nisi Dominus with Vivaldi or reciting the Shema Israel...

Enbrethiliel said...


Given my innate strong interest in foreign and dead languages, I hesitate to say that the Holy Ghost sometimes moves me to pray in whatever I happen to be studying at the moment. (That's just my personal opinion and one that only applies to myself!) The only exception is Latin: I really think that my desire to learn it was a great grace and I wish that others could receive the same.

You're right that knowing something by heart makes the crucial difference in being able to use another language as "naturally" as possible. This is true for all texts from prayers to pop songs! I've also found that memorising funny dialogue from cartoons leads to my using the same phrases, in other contexts (which are still appropriate, of course!), and sounding quite functional. =)

Sheila said...

You could swap around each decade. That's what we did on my Rome trip -- first decade in English, then one in Spanish, then one in Portuguese, then back to English. I can also say the same prayers in Old English, Greek, and Italian. It helps keep you from getting distracted.

I still chant in Latin. Everyone should learn to chant in Latin. There is no art form in the whole world like Latin chant. Adoro Te and Jesu Dulcis Memoria are my favorites. I was lucky enough to take a chant course in college, so I know how to do them "right" instead of just belting them out like English hymns. They have their own time signature and everything. In that way they're one of the treats of foreign language learning -- the special thing that does not translate, which you never could have known about if you'd stuck with translations.

Have you looked up favorite hymns in your L2's? When I was learning Spanish, "Siempre Que Digo Madre" and "Pesador de Hombres" got a lot of airtime. And so when they come up at Spanish Mass, I can chime right in. It's interesting to notice, not just the different vocabulary, but the different topics and tone of the poetry. Spanish hymns are so passionate as to make Americans blush.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's a good suggestion for the rosary. Thanks. I haven't looked up any hymns in German or Italian yet, having stuck with pop songs so far, but they'd be a good next step. Or rather, a good complementary side step.