I’m in charge of this week’s Blogenning theme (cue evil laughter) and I figured I’d go with something I’ve been interested in and working on quite a bit. As topics go, “Language” is pretty open ended.
I’ve disliked my monolingual status for a very long time. It touches on a number of things that annoy me about Americanism. Every so often I run into people who complain about experiences abroad because not enough citizens of countries they visited spoke English. They seem utterly perplexed that people in a country named France would speak mostly French, or that people in Greece might speak mostly Greek. Geographically, the US is isolated, bordered by two countries. One speaks Spanish. The other speaks mostly English, with one French speaking region.
Unlike some nations, the US does not require students to learn a second language. The economy is global, and research shows that learning a second language makes it easier to pick up a third. If we started students learning a second language in elementary school, it would make it so much easier for learning more later. Not only is it easier to learn language as a child, it circumvents the problems middle school (when foreign language often begins to be taught) students face with the onset of puberty-caused self consciousness. I mean, elementary school kids can also be exceedingly shy, but on the whole they’re more likely to participate.
I tried to start studying French in… I think ninth grade, so my last year of junior high school. I didn’t go back for more French until I was nineteen, when I did manage to do more of the whole speaking out loud thing, but it was tough, and I really wasn’t interested enough. I did marginally better studying Japanese when I was, eh, sixteen or seventeen (time runs together after awhile) mainly because I watched a lot of anime at the time so I had a bit more familiarity with the language.
For years after my semi-disastrous attempts to study languages, I thought I’d failed because I didn’t have whatever it is that makes some people absorb foreign languages quickly. I also thought it would take way too much time to start learning, and that I would be better served focusing on other things.
Lies. I had already decided to start learning a second language this year when I realized that teaching abroad would be the right path for me. I did a bit of research into which do-it-at-home programs might work best for me, and then started in on it. Half an hour to an hour of practice with an audio program on my iPod isn’t much to ask of myself. Being a fairly confident adult, I’m even able to practice at work when I’m on break or when I cover an overnight shift.
The best part is that I’ve realized how much more functional some of the newer language programs are than the methodology of some in-person classes. I never learned numbers quite as readily through memorization, but the program I’m using throws a new number or three at me, out of order, in separate lessons so I learn the number and not where in the sequence it fits. So. Much. Better. It really isn’t just about memorization and repetition. Application of lessons learned is so important.
I played with the Rosetta Stone software when I tried to figure out which method appealed the most, but I went with Pimsleur in the end. My bone to pick with Rosetta is that it teaches reading at the same time as speaking, which I find makes it harder to pick up on pronunciation the first few go-arounds. I get tripped up by trying to sound words out, which is somewhere far south of useful considering the way language changes over time, as proven half the time when people unfamiliar with English names wander into my territory, going wait, is that really how Gloucester, Worcester, and Quincy are pronounced? Depending who I’m speaking with, I may decide to share the story of how our word “sheriff” came initially from “shire reeve,” which does eventually sound like sheriff if you repeat it quickly ten times. Pronunciation, like ruins of old cities, soften and wear down over time.
Pimsleur is neither perfect nor cheap, but I’m finding it helpful and more intuitive than classes I once took. I think this is a lesson I should remember when it comes time for me to teach.
Every once in awhile I stop and look at my life and realize how much more content I grow year by year. Crossing items off the list of “always wanted to do” and moving them over onto the list of “accomplishing/accomplished” is satisfying. It’s not a bucket list, per se, because I’m pretty sure I’m not going to care after I die. It’s a list of things I want to accomplish to make my day to day life happier, however many of them I have left (given my family’s longevity, that’s likely a good sixty some odd years, barring disaster or disease, and sixty years of discontent sounds, well, miserable and highly preventable).