Urdu is a South Asian language and is the national the language of Pakistan. Urdu was one of my graduate school languages and a bit of a struggle for me because it uses the Arabic script. Though up until then I had learned Roman (of course), Greek and Devanagri (Hindi) scripts, Arabic script blurred together and changed form depending on position.
After a year of study, I won a fellowship to study Urdu in Pakistan. When I arrived in Pakistan my Urdu was very weak and I could only have minimal conversations with my home-stay family. But after three months of study something happened that showed me that my Urdu skills had reached a new level.
One morning on my usual bike commute from my home to the school I rode past a local garbage dump. As I rode close to the dump, I saw a crow picking at some rotten food scraps and when I got close, the crow flew off. I tracked him as he flew across the sky and off into the distance when all of a sudden a voice in my head said: “Your lips will be a beautiful red!”
I was puzzled. “Where did that come from?” I thought. Then as I looked back toward the garbage dump I saw that the crow had flown past a billboard advertising for lipstick and the sentence on the billboard in Urdu said “Your lips will be a beautiful red!”
My mind had read and translated the Urdu without my conscious participation. And then I heard the broadcast of the translation. Wow, and all this without me doing I thing. This is how I realized I had finally reached a new level in this language — an automaticity. But more importantly, I also had another concrete lesson of how my mind works without me. My sense of “self” was chiseled down a little further.