The Sentimentality of a Polyglot

I’m sure I’ve waxed eloquent on how different languages communicate identities and the values and the beliefs of various communities. But this is really only relevant to the people who grew up speaking the language. Polyglots like Benny Lewis and Luca Lampiarello frequently talk about how different languages allow them to interact and understand other people. While I can’t speak for every polyglot, I believe there is a certain amount of self-discovery in becoming a polyglot.  Languages are reflections of the same human experience, seen from different angles. As a human, I share many experiences with people across the globe. Our mother tongues differ, which makes certain things more apparent or important to us. But if one learns other languages, one is greatly more aware of things we do that seemed normal once, and are odd to others.In this post, I’m going to talk about what the languages I speak reveal about myself, rather than what they reveal about communities and cultures to me. Note: I’m not going to talk about Kannada and English, since I grew up speaking them.

Spanish

Spanish was my third language, and I began learning it in middle school. This was purely as a matter of course, rather than me wanting to learn it, as we had to learn a foreign language as a part of our education. It was really only in my fourth year of study that I really began to appreciate the language, as we began to examine more genuine texts in the language. There were things in the text that were deeply foreign to me, and that inspired me to learn more about them. I wanted to know what Spanish speakers thought, and how they saw the world. Learning Spanish provided an opportunity for me to take a step outside of myself, and see the world differently for the first time.

Italian

I must admit that I learned Italian on a whim. I thought the language was beautiful, that the country of Italy was fascinating. Italian was similar to Spanish, but I wanted to speak this rhythmic and melodic language, which felt very different from the more dramatic Spanish. Italian was carefree and light, qualities that I personally lacked at the time. I was a very serious and severe sort of person, and Italian was the polar opposite of what I was. Italian allowed me to open up and become less stiff as a person. It was through the Italian language that I really embarked on the journey to becoming a polyglot.

Hindi

Despite having grown up around mostly North Indian family friends who spoke Hindi, and watching Bollywood, Hindi did not appeal to me initially. I saw no use in learning it, as anyone who spoke Hindi almost invariably spoke English as well. I only began to appreciate Hindi after I began listening to more music in Hindi and in Urdu. My father explained verses to me, and I thought the poetry about God and love was beautiful. Such poetry allowed me to appreciate my heritage more, because Urdu was the language of our poetry, and Hindi was our national language. It inspired a pride in my background, as I had been once apathetic and unappreciative of what my culture had to offer.

Korean

In a rather comical way, I started learning Korean because I was reading about the language on my phone in the middle of Biology, during the break between lectures. The language was interesting, because unlike Spanish, Italian, or Hindi, the Korean language’s dynamics were much more deeply rooted in a system of familial and social hierarchy. While not an unfamiliar construct, it was a system that I did not observe in my own home. My own culture and language placed an emphasis on respect for superiors and elders, but because I spoke mostly English at home, it often did not manifest itself. Even now, as I’m learning more Korean, it has made me aware of my deep lack of manners and respect for my parents. Korean led me to correct my ways in treating my elders and understand them differently. Oddly enough, it was a foreign language that allowed me to connect with people at home, rather than abroad.

Catalan

Catalan was my first step into the world of the minority. People found it exceedingly strange that I chose to learn a language of the small nation of Spain, spoken in an even smaller province called Catalonia. I had read much about Catalan nationalism in Spain, and I was interested to learn the language of these people. In doing so, I saw articles that openly criticized Spain, and fostered a respect for the opinion of the minority. It seemed awful that one’s own language was being silenced, effectively blocking out one’s heritage at the same time. It made me realize that I wanted to help the minority gain equal respect from others, no matter who it was.

Portuguese

The most recent addition to my languages, Portuguese piqued my interest because it was spoken by two underrated (perhaps “under-discussed” is a better word) countries in the world: Brazil and Portugal. Nobody really talked about either country, or the language. In the same vein as my reasons for learning Catalan, I wanted to learn Portuguese because it was off the beaten track. It was not common, and to make it even stranger, I chose the European variety of Portuguese, which very few, if any, were likely to speak in the US. European Portuguese, much like myself, is a rather sentimental language. Fado, the national music of Portugal, is a very tragic and melancholy form, deeply involved in the misfortunes of life. Portuguese is the vessel of my own sentimentality and emotional beliefs.

I hope you found this piece about myself interesting. Please go ahead and share this on Tumblr and Facebook and wherever else. Feel free to comment and share your own experiences in learning languages.

My Article From Italki: “How You Can Speed Up Your Language Learning”

Here’s the article that I wrote for Italki, and in case you’re interested, you can check out my teacher profile here: http://www.italki.com/teacher/1430507. Merry Christmas to you all!

Many language learners have a great deal of difficulty trying to memorize hundreds upon hundreds of vocabulary words from the lists in their textbooks. Teaching experts call this stage of learning rote. This means that the information is remembered, word for word, and the very definition is burned into your brain. However, this information, while retained, is not understood. The goal of learning a language is to understand words and what a person is trying to say. The stage of learning that the ideal language learner should aspire to is called application. Application suggests that you comprehend and correlate acquired knowledge with new material, draws conclusions, and synthesizes information independently.

To apply this to language learning, we need to show that languages can be correlated. If you look at the linguistic map below, you can see the gradations of Romance languages throughout Europe. Ibero-Romance languages (in green), such as Portuguese and Spanish, have certain characteristics that distinguish them from other Romance languages. However, Catalan, spoken in northeastern Spain, is a Gallo-Romance language. It shares many features with Spanish, as well as with Occitan (a language spoken in southwestern France, near the border with Spain) and French. Here, we see green fade into the blue areas in France, signifying the correlation between languages in that area. And we see this in the languages themselves, too. 

In Spanish, the word for “language” is la lengua, in Catalan it’s la llengua, and in French, it’s la langue. Ignoring the fact that they sound alike (because, as we’ll see, that is not a reliable guide) Even more curious is that all three also happen to mean “tongue.” And to top it off, they’re all feminine nouns! So, with these clues in mind, we can reasonably conclude that these words are cognates, words of common origin and of similar meaning.

So, you may be wondering, “What does this all mean?” Well, it’s the key to accelerating your learning! You may not realize it, but when you start learning a language, your brain instantly tries to link it to ideas and concepts you already know, to be able to store it more easily. The first mistake that some people make is assuming that they have to start completely from scratch in order to learn a new language. But that cheats you out of an incredibly easy way to learn! Your brain recognizes that two words may mean the same thing, but are from different languages. This separates the two words in your long-term storage, especially if they sound different. I myself used my knowledge of Spanish to expedite my Italian learning, and that helped immensely in getting all the vocabulary down.

In my guides to Italian, Portuguese, and Catalan, which you can download at http://theworldspeaks9.wordpress.com/language-guides/, I make frequent mention of parallels between Spanish, Italian, French, and other languages to help speed up learning. This is very helpful in the analytical part of my teaching method. By helping my students correlate things they already know, the information is retained in the long-term, and it makes language learning easier and more fun. Learning a language should not be a drag and endless trudging through vocabulary lists.

If you know Portuguese, and you’re learning Italian, exploit it. Not only are words similar, languages often have very similar structures. For example, in Portuguese, the imperfect subjunctive of the verb ser looks incredibly similar to those of the Italian verb essere. Take the phrase, “As if it were a dream.” Como se fosse um sonho (Portuguese) and Come se fosse un sogno (Italian) sound nearly identical.

I know you might be thinking that if you try to correlate words all the time and find cognates, you’ll start mixing up languages altogether. But there are a couple of things that you can use to to work against this. First, is that your brain, as mentioned before, instantly recognizes the similarities as well as the differences. All that’s left for you to do is to practice the vocabulary in context. Second, is practicing languages at different times. The temporal separation helps your brain process the languages separately, and keep them from mixing with each other. Study Italian at night, and Spanish in the daytime.

I hope that this was helpful in providing a strategy for learning a language! Remember: many languages are related, so you should exploit any links that your target language has to one that you already know.

References:

Romance Languages in Europe in 20 C. AD. 2009. Wikimedia Commons. By Fert. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Linguistic_maps_of_Romance_languages#mediaviewer/File:Romance_20c_en-2009-15-02.png>.

Romance languages in Europe in 20 c. AD by Koryakov Yuri Serg!o, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Romance languages in Europe in 20 c. AD” links to: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Romance_20c_en-2009-15-02.png

CC BY-SA 3.0 links to: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

2 Key Differences Between Brazilian and European Portuguese

A lot of people think that they can get away with just learning Brazilian Portuguese, and assume that it’s really similar to the European version. It is, to an extent. In written contexts, that is. But, what’s more important is the speaking part, where you find out that they sound completely different. For whatever reason, Brazilian and European Portuguese sound much more different from each other than their Spanish counterparts. But I digress. Now, let’s get down to the 3 most important differences (aside from idioms and phrasing):

1. Pronunciation. Brazilian Portuguese is mostly straightforward, but nasals (-ão, –am, etc.) are very pronounced and the letters d and t become the j before weak vowels, such as i and e. The letter e is frequently pronounced as, “ee” at the end of words. Also, terminal r‘s tend to become breathy h‘s, so a word like cantar may be pronounced as, “cantah.”

European Portuguese, on the other hand, is spoken mostly as it is written, except for the fact that it likes to throw out vowels, and replace terminal s‘ with the sh sound. The word, “sabes,” (you know) might be pronounced as sabsh. The letter e is pronounced as the uh sound at the end of words or in syllables, similar to the ö in German, or dropped from the end entirely. The European accent is often referred to as, boca fechada, or, “closed mouth,” because of the way Portuguese people speak, which can often make it hard to understand for learners. However, I find it, personally, easier to understand, because it ends up sounding more like Spanish than Brazilian Portuguese does.

2. Grammar. This is relatively minor fix, because this actually doesn’t impair your understanding too much. Brazilians, for the present progressive, use estar + the gerund (-ando, -endo), whereas Europeans use estar a + infinitive. The only other real difference is that Brazilians almost never use the simple future tense (which is to say, a future tense that’s one word), using (conjugated form of ir) + infinitive except in formal writing, whereas Europeans use it more often, and use the Brazilian form only for actions that are in the near future. Europeans also still use the tu form to distinguish between informal and formal address. Brazilians only use você form.

That’s what I’ve got for today. Hopefully, Shinobhi will be posting relatively soon! Please leave any comments that you might have.

3 Really Good Reasons to Learn Portuguese

We always go on and on about the professional merits of learning languages, and subordinate the cultural and internal benefits. Here, I’m going to give you 5 good, non-job-related reasons to learn Portuguese.

1. The music and dance. Portugal and Brazil have rich musical and dance traditions. Brazil is particularly strong in both, with its extravagant festivals for Carnival that include samba accompanied by loud, upbeat music. Portugal’s fado is also quite famous, and has two variants: fado de Lisboa and fado de Coimbra. The first simply refers to the kind that originated in Lisbon, which is often mournful, slow, and a bit emotional (lots of unrequited love, poverty, and misery). The second, which is from the city of Coimbra, is the polar opposite, being fast, lively, and extremely optimistic. Portugal is home to many folk dances as well, if you’re interested in the more traditional roots of the Luso-Brazilian culture.

2. The people. Brazilian and Portuguese people are very different, which can also be seen in the language. Brazilian people are very upbeat, happy, and inclusive people. Brazilians typically say a gente (the people) to mean, “us”. They also don’t have the tu-vous distinction with tu (informal) and você (formal), using only the latter to say, “you”. Brazilian Portuguese is also very prone to making innocent words into those of a sexual nature. If you learn Portuguese from my guide, you’ll see this. Brazilians very much want to be your friend.

Portuguese people, on the other hand, are more traditional, especially when it comes to the language, preserving spellings that aren’t even observed in the spoken language. Portuguese people are very big on manners and formalities, but this is not to say that Portuguese people are uptight. Portuguese people appreciate people who follow social conventions, and are very willing to help you if you just ask. The Portuguese people also have a great respect for their elders and their family, and becoming a friend of the family is a sign of being a good friend to them.

3. A greater sense of emotion. Portuguese has this wonderful thing called saudade, which, while being concise, roughly translates to the nostalgia you feel when recalling something that has gone away, and will most likely never return. Portuguese is a good language for emotion, particularly regarding love. The word apaixonar-se technically means, “to fall in love,” but is usually used in the present tense, which has a special meaning in Portuguese. It describes the feeling of continually experiencing love and being more enamored with the other person.

That’s all I’ve got for today! Please leave any comments you might have, reblog this post, and/or share/like it on Facebook!

The Stigma Against Europe in America

When I started learning Portuguese, I was surprised at how the Brazilian and European (also known as continental) versions are so different. However, I realized this wasn’t completely out of the question, considering that Latin American and European (also known as Castilian) Spanish are also somewhat different (though not to the degree that Brazilian and European Portuguese are). Old World powers that, back in the day, colonized abroad successfully, also transported their languages to these places as well. Words from indigenous languages, and words for things specific to the contexts in the New World came into being. The four most successful powers were Britain, Spain, France, and Portugal (poor little Italy didn’t have its act together yet). You might actually notice that the entirety of political North America is former colonial territory. Many of the colonies of these countries gained their independence from their European motherlands, except for France, which effectively had to give up Canada to Britain after the French and Indian War.

Given all this, the colonial versions of the languages of these countries had their own circumstances to develop within. In modern day America, where people from all over the world immigrate to, many people learn Spanish, Portuguese, and French. I realized this only much later, but people in America typically learn the colonial version of these languages. America had a particularly nasty relationship with Britain, and its relations with France were a bit strained, to say the least. Perhaps it’s only natural, then, that in America, many people have cultivated a distaste for European things (aside from wine that is).

Most people in America will learn Brazilian Portuguese, because people forget about Portugal entirely (Portugal kind of disappears after the colonial era in most history books), and also most Portuguese-speaking immigrants are likely to be Brazilian. Similarly, French speakers in America are likely to be French Canadian, and most Spanish speakers are likely to be from Latin America. Sure, you could argue that it’s just a matter of convenience, but I think there’s more to it than that. Canadians, Brazilians, and Latin Americans are well aware that there exist European counterparts to their languages, in a similar way to how Americans are aware of British English.

But I’m certain that there is some stigma against the European versions. You can see it everywhere, particularly in the media. Europeans, no matter where they’re from, are frequently depicted as pompous, heavily accented, and/or flamboyant. In English, to make someone sound like they’re very proper or uptight, we put on a British accent, for God’s sake!

Up until around my third year of Spanish, I knew virtually nothing about Spain or its particular brand of Spanish. People are often advised to learn the colonial variant because it’s easier to understand, which to a degree, is true. Speakers of Brazilian Portuguese tend to be very distinct when they speak Portuguese, whereas their European counterparts chop off the ends of words, and speak with what is called boca fechada, or “closed mouth.” The seseo, or ceceo (which is the Spanish word for the way you distinguish s, c, and z), of Spain, is often considered an impediment to comprehension when learning. This is because it is not discussed until the latter years of learning.

I have a friend with whom I practice Spanish, and I do try to use the Castilian accent, because I don’t get to hear or use it otherwise (I use the Latin American pronunciation in class, because that’s what’s expected). He doesn’t really mind, but he has said that he thinks that the Castilian accent sounds pretentious. I don’t really see how it’s pretentious, considering that everyone in Spain speaks that way. I’m also learning the European version of Portuguese as well, because it resembles Spanish more, and also because my particular book teaches the European form.

I’m further convinced by the conversations I’ve had with Latin American Spanish speakers and Brazilians that there is a distinctly American aversion to the European versions. Brazilians say that it’s kind of amusing to hear the European version in a conversation, but that’s mostly because they don’t hear it every day. Latin Americans don’t really care one way or another. Overall, they don’t really mind the European version of their language, even if it might be a little harder to understand. This could be because they are taught in school that this other version exists, and that it’s not worse or better than their own. Not that Americans are taught that their English is better than that of the British. In fact, when I was in elementary school, they didn’t even tell us that there was this other way of speaking English, and we only heard about it through TV and other media.

The point here is that in America, language classes should address the predominant forms of a language, especially when it comes to word choice, pronunciation, or even grammar. Language is inherently global, so it’s only fair that you learn about (though not necessarily learn entirely) the other versions. For example, I would say that it’s appropriate for a class to cover Brazilian and European Portuguese, but not for Swiss and Peninsular Italian. The latter two are not different enough to warrant extensive coverage on both, especially considering how close they are. Similarly, you cover Hindi and Urdu distinctly in the same class, but not two very similar varieties of Russian. You might say that Latin American Spanish and European Spanish aren’t different enough, because a Spaniard and Peruvian can understand each something like 90% of the time. But they are, considering pronunciation, word choice, and expressions (and the fact that two different versions of Disney and other movies exist for Latin America and Spain).

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and I hope to get more out soon! Please leave some comments if you have any! Please note, that my statements about what Latin Americans and Brazilians say about their European counterparts are from personal experience. I’m only saying these things based on what I know, have read, and learned.

Aprende o Português is now available!

You can now download my newest guide, Aprende o Português! It’s more or less constructed the same way as Scoprendo l’italiano!. There are vocabulary lists, verb explanations, and other items of importance in learning Portuguese. This guide focuses on Brazilian and European Portuguese, which are much more different than you might expect. Go to the Language Guides page to download the guide. Note that there aren’t any exercises yet, but I will add them eventually. Have fun learning Portuguese!

Upcoming Language Guides

As my summer vacation is practically half-over, I find myself wondering about what work I have gotten done. Aside from summer homework for AP classes, I started writing my fourth comprehensive grammar guide that includes vocabulary in each section. Aprende o Português, my guide to Portuguese, is well underway, and should be uploaded for you to download and learn from  before the end of August if not sooner. After that, I’ll be overhauling my guide to Hindi (Hindi Sikho), especially in terms of grammar, which might only be finished after the end of August. I will add exercises to the Portuguese and Hindi guides after finishing up the grammar and vocabulary aspects. After that, my Korean guide (한국어를 배워 – Hanguk-eo-reul bae-weo) will also be receiving an overhaul in grammar and vocabulary, but I’m putting that one off for now, because it’s much more massive. Unfortunately, I can’t really provide any cultural information in the Hindi guide, because I haven’t been to all parts of India in order to make any claims or make any statements about overall Indian culture, because each state has its own language and by definition its own culture. As for my Portuguese and Korean guides, I would prefer to have at least traveled to Brazil, Portugal, and Korea, though I could try and do massive amounts of research, but there is no substitute for first-hand observation.  I hope you eagerly anticipate the completion of these language guides!