I have spent what seems like a significant portion of my life studying languages, and for the most part, I’m pretty good at it. Aside from English, which I’ve been speaking at least semi-fluently for almost a quarter century, I also spent several years studying Spanish (and even have a college degree in it), and for the past two semesters I have been studying Koine Greek (i.e., the Greek of the New Testament).
There’s a problem that comes with being “pretty good” at language study though: learning a language comes easy enough to me that I am not too intimidated to try it, but it is difficult enough that I never completely seem to “get it down.” Part of this stems from the fact that language study takes a great deal of constant practice, and I haven’t always been diligent about doing that. Another problem is that my brain seems to have a difficult time keeping the different languages separate, which results in me occasionally producing a weird hybrid of multiple languages. For example, consider the word in in the three languages I know:
- English: in
- Spanish: en
- Koine Greek: ἐν
These three words mean the same thing, are pronounced virtually the same, and are basically spelled the same (the Greek ε is similar to the Spanish e and the Greek ν is similar to the English or Spanish n). Is it really any wonder that I semi-routinely get these words mixed up and use them interchangeably?
Genesis 11 tells the story of the Tower of Babel, which occurred at a time when everyone spoke the same language. In an act of apparent hubris, a bunch of people decided to build a tower which would stretch up to heaven. This displeased God, so he confused their language (v.7) to disrupt their cooperation and prevent the completion of their project.
All of that to say this: despite my best efforts, I feel like my languages are significantly confused and babbled in my head. And here’s the problem with that: when you misspell the word in, people start to make assumptions about your intelligence (or lack thereof).