I’m sitting here looking at various language videos online, perusing the resources available to me in a 1st world magic-land. There are quite a few free resources if you’re willing to do a bit of searching. I’m very fortunate to have access to so many learning opportunities. It’s too bad that it’s all structured wrong.
My language learning in high school was the standard fare: book learning, a bit of speech. Learn the alphabet, the parts of a sentence, verb conjugation and the like. It worked average. I could probably get by if I were dropped in a Spanish-speaking land. I wouldn’t know all the words, but I could probably indicate where I had pain if I were hurt, order food if I were hungry, and get a room if I needed shelter. That’s from three years in high school and 2 years in college (plus an ill-fated semester attempting Spanish literature. Eesh).
I don’t feel I ever grokked language, though, until I made my realization that words don’t really mean anything. I mean, they mean something, but it’s fiat meaning. Just as a dollar is only worth what it is because everyone agrees you can buy most of a Snickers with it, a particular set of sounds only means something because enough people agree that “dog” means that shaggy thing with the ears and the drool. The sound “dog” for me corresponds to a series of sensations and impressions from every experience I’ve ever had involving dogs.
Once I had that epiphany I was suddenly able to retain more of a language. In my somewhat lackadaisical recent language excursions, my retention and understanding when I see i.e. le épinard and know it means a green, leafy vegetable, is so much greater than I ever had when I was in my younger, more malleable years. I wish they taught languages that way in schools.
They don’t, and Rosetta only sort of mimics what I’m talking about. Rosetta is still a lot of “show some phrases and hope people deduce the rules”. Well, that works fine I suppose. You can build decent vocab and eventually you’ll start to deduce things like sentence structure and conjugation. But I wish there were a more experiential kind of learning, where vocab was presented in context of how you felt when you think about it. Psycholinguistics, if you will.
I find it quite helpful to think about the environment of a language and use that to inform how I understand the language. Coming from English, which by all accounts has an overabundance of words, some phrases in other langues sound banal, trite, or just like caveman speak. Tengo hambre is literally “I have hunger” in Spanish.
But think think about the word “aeropuerto“. Puerto means “door”, aero for “air”. Puerto’s cognate in English is “port” or “portal”. So the feeling I get from that word is more like “portal to the sky”. Imagine how differently you might view air travel if the airport were called the Sky Portal. It sounds fantastic to me. I mean, we’d just take it for granted if that’s how it were — but even so it would color your world.
I happened across a video by Amy Walker, she of the 21 different accents, that was kind of interesting. She implies some of this sense. I particularly like the bit about cheese, because that thought occurred to me when we were in Paris. Americans like “cheese”, the French have a relationship with “frommage“.
Amy also has a series of videos teaching how to perfect your accent. In a couple of them she brings up the point that how you sound and the rhythm and words of your language are how you want to appear to other people, and how you think you are. It’s interesting, and combines with Benny’s suggestion from Fluent in 3 Months, which is to construct an identity for your other language.
Someone who says, “J’ai faim” when they are hungry thinks about their hunger differently from someone who says “I am hungry”. The kind of person who has hunger periodically is different from the kind of person who becomes a hungry person, then becomes a not hungry person later. It extrapolates to the rest of the language.
I’m not sure what I think about constructing an identity. I’d prefer to just have the same identity as I do as an English speaker, but the language may not support it. Or perhaps the language will just let me express myself in different ways more suitable to the mode of speech.
Lastly, and from a more practical standpoint, I really wish that some language teacher would have just sat me down and said, “Look, just try the accent as hard as you can. It’ll only sound weird to English speakers.” What I have been finding is that if I mimic the accent as best as I can, it flows so much better. I tend to follow the philosophy of “laziest way to say it is right.” Following that and attempting the accent as hard as I can makes the phrases flow so much better!
I should stop, this has been longer than I meant it.