Alastair Reid [1926-] is a poet and essayist and translator, probably best known for his English language versions of Neruda, Borges etc. In his book Whereabouts: Notes on Being a Foreigner (North Point Press, 1987), he writes about his native Scotland, and his periods of living in Spain and Dominican Republic. In the course of which, he makes the following statement(s) regarding the learning of foreign tongues, and, because it's something I've thought and said myself in the past, I believe it worth quoting:
Which is to say, if I may paraphrase for my own purposes here, that it is impossible to duplicate the process which occurs in childhood, when one is first learning language, of adopting the sounds and rhythms and denotations thereof. One can never have the intuitive underlying layers of feeling and secret springs of emotion and knowledge that are formed from earliest consciousness in language. It is these qualities that are deepest and most profound, which inform the best writing, the most poetic, the most mysterious.
Robert Frost said that poetry is that which is lost in translation; by which he meant that the crucial ingredient of poetry, its magic element or component, is the wellspring of intimate associations with the language, which reach far back into our earliest encounters with and experience of words. As one who studied Latin, French, Spanish and German in varying degrees of unsuccess as a child and young adult, I was always struck by the strange rhythms and habits of phrase which exist in foreign languages. I think I knew then, as I am certain now, that I would never be able to fully grasp the native speaker's apprehension of what it felt like to speak those "foreign" languages as an original act. The more difficult any poem or piece of prose is to translate, the richer its degree of idiomatic content. We are closest to the springs of our language when it's at its most inscrutable, its most curious, its most enigmatic.