The Trouble With Being Young

As a high school student and aspiring polyglot, I am often faced with the obstacle of having few resources at my disposal for the practice of foreign language. This is largely due to my age. It’s kind of hard to have a real conversation with older people (by older, I mean at least 10 years older than me) . Let me list off the biggest ones:

1. Not being able to drive to places. Of course, this is easily remedied by actually learning to drive, once you’re 15 & 1/2, anyway.

2. Not having money. Again, this is remedied by getting a job, but if you’re a so-called, “AP Student,” like I am, this is still difficult.

3. Getting lessons. Even when you do have money to spare, it’s not like the classes are cheap. Of course you could teach yourself, but you only get so far.

4. Not being taken seriously. Learning a language is serious endeavor, and requires commitment, but even if you do, people who might be able to help you out may think otherwise.

5. Getting real-world experience. Finding native speakers wherever you live is half the battle. It’s even harder trying to get to the place that native speakers come from, because studying abroad is hugely out of the question in high school (at least for me anyway), and you can’t exactly buy a plane ticket on whim.

6. Parents. We love them dearly (I hope), but sometimes they just don’t understand or they’re trying to help you focus on what they believe to be higher priorities. Other times they’re not willing to or don’t think they can spare money. There is very little you can about this, and I would say it is inadvisable to try and negotiate. They might provide some support for your wanting to learn other languages, but that’s probably as far as most might go.

So, that’s my bit for this post. If you have any comments, do post them!

Language is Social

It feels as if it’s been forever since I posted last. I hope all of you who have summer vacation are enjoying some relaxation in whatever way that pleases you. Anyway, my topic this time is about language as a social experience.

By definition, language is a communicative tool, and for communication to be what it is, there has to be two or more people involved. You have to be involved with other people when speaking a language. You’re never going to get your practical skills down unless you practice with someone else. Besides, humans, by nature, are a gregarious species. We like to be with others of our own kind (most of the time), and we want to get our ideas across to other people as best as we can.

Many of the most basic words in any language have to do with relations with other people and social interactions. For example, take the word, “mother,” or, “mom.” It’s easily one of the most common words that people use in their mother tongues (there’s a reason that term is phrased that way) starting from early childhood. Languages wouldn’t have a word for it if the word didn’t really matter to the people who speak it. Now, let’s take a more complex word: saudade. It’s a word in Portuguese describing an intense feeling of longing or yearning for something that has been lost or has gone away, and usually will not return. Portuguese people use this word primarily in reference to people, because you usually don’t have such an intense feeling in relation to an inanimate object.

Learning a language, therefore, must also be a fundamentally social activity. You can get only so far in learning by yourself, looking up grammar and vocabulary, and talking to yourself. When you learn a language, you should engage someone else in the process. There are three set-ups to this:

1. You and a native speaker (Student to Teacher)

2. You and another person, each speaking (a) language(s) the other wants to learn (Teacher to Teacher)

3.  You and another person, both learning the same language (Student to Student)

So, get out there and learn with someone! There’s always someone out there who’s willing to walk with you on the path to learning a new language!

A Challenge!

As the end of the school term and beginning of summer vacation for many draws near, I’ve thought up a challenge for all of you language learners! Even if you’re just starting a language now, this is a great way to get a head-start, especially if you’re planning on taking formal classes. There are three main parts to this challenge:

Part 1: Vocabulary

You’re never going to be able to hold coherent conversations unless you have some amount of varied vocabulary. So, in this part of the challenge, you or another person will assign 5-10 new words every day for you to learn. Having another person do this for you is not only a fun social experience, but that person will also keep you on your toes to study the words. This is a pretty manageable number of words for most people to learn in a day. Make sure to change the themes of the words every two weeks! So, for weeks 1-2, you learn 70-140  words relating to food and cooking. Then, for weeks 3-4, you learn 70-140 words relating to travel. Feel free to change the themes to whatever suits you at that time!

Part 2: Speaking

You’re obviously going to need to practice speaking the language if you want to actually speak to people. This is extremely helpful if you can’t actually find someone to talk to. The solution is… talk to yourself. Try to express yourself in the language you’re learning. It doesn’t matter that no one can hear you and correct you. Eventually, when you can talk to someone, they’ll help you out with pronunciation and accent more. Native speakers obviously think in their own language, so you should too when you speak that language. So, don’t say I have to go to school, when you’re learning Korean. Say 학교에 가야 돼요 (hak-gyo-e gaya dwae-yo)!

Part 3: Reading

Find children’s books or simple literature in the target language, and try to identify the meaning of the sentences. You should definitely try to be literate in the language you’re learning, because you’ll be able to build more vocabulary that way. Obviously, this is going to be harder for languages like Catalán or Basque, but you should definitely try your best to find books. Of course, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to read the I Ching in Chinese right away!

So, I issue this challenge to you, and wish you the best of luck!

The Messy Genius of Kanji (Guest post by Ineptidude)

こんにちは, everybody! I’m Ineptidude, and I’ll be posting today.

Today, I want to talk about the bane of the Japanese student’s existence: Kanji. (For those that don’t know, Kanji are Chinese characters used in Japanese to represent nouns, verb stems, and adjectives.) When I started to study Japanese, I was initially daunted by the immense number of kanji I would have to learn. (There are 2000 kanji, called jouyou kanji, that the Japanese government deems the most “common” kanji. Adding to this, there are other kanji that are considered generally good to know.) Continue reading The Messy Genius of Kanji (Guest post by Ineptidude)

Tips For Learning A New Script

When it comes to learning another language, you sometimes encounter languages with a different script from the one you usually use. This is especially the case with Eastern languages. The Nastaliq script is highly artistic in its aesthetics, and is written from right to left, instead of left to right like most scripts. Cyrillic is the script for many Slavic languages, primarily Russian, Serbian, etc, and is deceptively similar to the Latin script. And then you have the scripts of Asia, which can be complicated like Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, mixed up like Japanese, or like Hindi, which uses diacritics. While it can seem daunting to memorize three different writing systems for Japanese, or having to recognize the vowel sounds from context for Arabic and Hebrew, there is a way to learn!

1. Practice. I cannot stress this enough. You are not going to learn a script as quickly if you simply use flashcards. Despite being in a time where computers and typing are the primary form of written communication and letters are dying out, writing the characters of a writing system with a pen or pencil helps internalize the characters in your mind. Your brain learns to recognize the patterns you write down. Get a notebook or use several pieces of paper, and practice the characters. It’s usually best to practice them in groups of five, especially for Indian language scripts, and Japanese, whose spoken, “alphabets,” are recited as such. After you finish a page, go to the next one, and write out every single character that you’ve learned so far, in order. Then continue to the next set of five, when you can write all the ones you have learned with little to no difficulty.

2. Flashcards. This is more of an aid for reading. It is important to realize that even though I said you should write the characters in order, characters do not appear that way in written language. You need to train yourself to recognize characters in different instances, and out of order. After a while, you should be able to write a character without thinking too long if someone asks you to.

3. Read. Find a grammar school primer or simple children’s story books, and try to read it slowly. If you have trouble, keep a chart of the characters next to you, and transcribe the letters to your own script. This helps you to recognize characters in different positions in words.

4. Write. This comes into play more when you actually start learning the language itself. Write all words in the target language in its script, to force yourself to practice writing them, and also reading them when you review your notes. I got into the habit of writing my Spanish notes in Spanish this year. While not exactly the same situation, it works on the same principle. By putting everything you can into the target language, you model immersion to an extent, and force yourself to work with the language.

5. Recall. This is probably the hardest part of learning the script, because it doesn’t involve a tangible activity. You should only attempt to do this when you have a good grasp for most of the characters, though you can try to do this as you go along. Recall entails recalling the image of the characters in question in your mind, and writing them in the air, if you need some help. This is especially helpful for ideographic languages, such as Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.

Good luck with learning those scripts!