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The perplexity of learning a new language

06/03/2009

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I’ve spoken German, Chinese, Japanese, and English fluently in my life.  Notice I wrote “spoken” because I’ve forgotten about half of them.  I also don’t remember about learning them at all.  The languages just came to me, and before I knew it, I started to speak them effortlessly as if they were my native language.  All of this occurred before my 11th birthday.

Foreign languages, from what I can tell, is one of the hardest subjects to grasp.  Many high school students take four or more years of a foreign language and end up not knowing beyond saying “hello” and stating their names in the language they wasted so many years of their precious time learning.  Of course, if you are dedicated (and I mean dedicated), it can be done.  But in the meantime, those of us who have other school subjects to worry about, a foreign language is just not that important(learning to the point of fluent speech, reading the language, or even writing it; getting an ‘A’ in those classes does not require any sort of commitment or effort at all).

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So why is it so challenging? From experience, I can tell that there is a dramatic difference in the ways a child learns a language and a person who is in high school or beyond learns it.  When you are young, you tend to learn a language in terms of itself.  苹果 is 苹果, and 汽车 is 汽车.  But older foreign language enthusiasts don’t have this kind of luxury.  苹果 becomes “an apple”, and 汽车 becomes “a car”.  You end up doing mini-translations in your head that accomplishes nothing more than help you reinforce the definition of a subject in a language you knew in the first place.  A language falls apart if it is compared side-to-side with another (a literal example of this is your run-of-the-mill online translators, although they get the job done, the jobs themselves are never a pretty sight).  There are key differences in languages i.e. grammatical structures that just render raw translations futile.  Sadly, for a late foreign language learner this is a technique used more often than should.

How does this pertain to anything related to this blog? Well, a friend of mine is learning Japanese for the sake of watching RAWs rather than subs.  He is a person of utmost persistence when it comes to reaching his self-set goals (fuck off, weeaboo-calling-trigger-finger-happy-dickheads).  I noticed that he had countless pages of vocabulary written with Japanese words on the left and English definitions on the right.  I felt that it was a good start, but all that was going to accomplish was help him identify objects that I point at in Japanese, which does not equate to knowing how to speak a language or understanding a language when it is actually spoken.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… any sub-watchers who’ve ever declared that they want to learn Japanese, there is a certain weight associated with said declaration.  And if you don’t have the balls to see it through (many don’t), I suggest retracting such statements, for those weeaboo-callers are ever hungry and want their meal.

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