Sunday, May 23, 2010

The necessity of necessity

In most of my linguistic endeavors, I've been motivated by some sort of desire to communicate with someone somewhere, even in retrospect. By that I mean, for example, running into someone that speaks Twi and not being able to speak a single word of it. So I'll go home and look up some words or phrases or learn how to count to ten; even if I won't see that person again, it stands to reason if I've run into a Twi speaking person once, it's likely to happen again, and then I can at least say hello. But that's pretty much the extent of it. A day, maybe two. Some notes, a youtube video or a quick look at the alphabet on Omniglot.
A more devoted project was my recent pursuit of Italian, which I must say, although I wasn't terribly fond of in the studying process, I came to thoroughly enjoy when I had the chance to speak it with people IN Italy, and I will say that my conversations went beyond 'survival' Italian; I spoke with people about wines, cheeses, decent restaurants, real estate, culture and business, albeit still very simply. I was somewhat burdened by my commitment to 'learn' it before I left for Italy, but was motivated solely by the knowledge that I would bask in my success while there, or immensely regret my failure to stick with it before I came, thereby relinquishing a wonderful cultural and linguistic opportunity. That necessity was motivation.
A more long term but maybe slightly less aggressively violent pursuit has been that of Thai. I've dilly-dallied with it on and off for the past year and a half or so, but only last year did I really pursue it before I returned from Thailand and it fell into abeyance until just before I went again (with Li'l bro). I love the language and have since taken a long-term approach to learning it. Movies, music, reference materials, learning to read and write, etc.
What does this have to do with Hebrew? It's basically an excuse to say I'm finding motivation to learn this (incredibly difficult [or at least very foreign]) language extremely difficult to muster. It was part of the project from the get-go: to stack the odds against freakishly fervent language learners and see how we did. However, with nowhere to use it and very little motivation (except pride to complete this little project), I'm finding its arbitrary nature very uninspiring.
That's not to say I'm not going to continue to (try to) study it and see how far I get in two months, but the fervor with which I usually pursue a new foreign language is fueled by a desire to communicate with other people and USE the language. Even in the past month, Japanese has recently reared its head as a language I greatly admire and whose speakers I envy. It would actually be extremely useful to me here, and I have a slew of people and resources available to me to learn it, but I've tried to keep faithful to Hebrew.
This is to say that I'm finding, for me, usefulness is outrageously motivating, and the lack of it naturally the opposite. I am slightly excited by the idea of personal edification, knowing what used to be such an important (Classical) influential language, but I'm still not finding myself itching to listen to half-hour Pimsleur lessons at every opportunity. There are still 36 days, 8 hours and 47 minutes (at time of this post) left to the Hebrew Experiment, and usefulness is definitely my biggest obstacle to mustering motivation to finish all 60 lessons....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pimsleuring along

It's May 6, and I'm in lesson 6 of Pimsleur. I'm right on schedule, but barely...
Not to brag, but it's rare that I need to go over a Pimsleur lesson more than once, and (if I have the time) can often do three or four in a day. I had some difficulty with a few lessons in Russian as well as the semi-confusing 4-segments-of-six-hours-each time counting system in Thai. Aside from that, I can usually get stuff sufficiently.
The first two or three lessons were great. The sounds aren't necessarily foreign. Between German and Russian, some of the more guttural or strange sounds aren't hard to make. I did two lessons on one day and none the next, but was still on schedule.
Until lesson 5. Yesterday. The first half of the lesson was all review; there wasn't even a new conversation (that I recall), but about fifteen minutes in, you get hit with streets and their names, squares and their names, the verbs for "to eat", "to drink" and "to know." I don't recall if it's in 5 or 6, but they also tack on "to want" and some question words "when", "where." There are a few more concepts they add, and before then, it seemed like it was all according to the regular Pimsleur script (which it feels like I've done a billion times now), but it feels now like I'm moving at breakneck speed. I think I know why.
Hebrew (like Arabic), as one of my HebEx companions put it, is "obscenely" gender-specific. Whereas in Chinese (what I'm used to by now) doesn't have ANY gender, Hebrew specifies male and female in both pronouns and verbs themselves; the effect is learning TWO sets of vocabulary.
"Now," you might say, "I only need to learn my own gender's grammar since I will only be using that form of speech." This IS the case in Thai (with gender-specific polite particles to end your sentences) or in Russian, but in Hebrew, you also consider the gender of the person to whom you are speaking when you speak, so yeah, if you think you might ever speak to anyone of the opposite sex, you're learning two forms of a lot of vocabulary. That's how it seems now anyway...
Going to go over lesson 6 again before the day is over. Oof.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hebrew Handwriting

Found a helpful site for Hebrew handwriting.
I've learned to recognize the shapes of the letters and how to differentiate between some that look similar to each other. This is fine, but in trying to take notes, I find myself more drawing the letters than writing them. The script actually looks pretty great, but trying to replicate it with a ballpoint pen just wasn't working. It looks like... scribbles, even though I know what it should say. It just doesn't LOOK like Hebrew when I write it down. The link above is a link for the handwritten script, which in most areas closely resembles the general shape of the block letters you see on a computer. It serves not only to make the characters simple enough to write down, but also differentiates between some similar ones (to untrained eyes), thereby leaving no ambiguity when I go back to look at my notes.
Worth a look, because when learning a foreign language that uses a new script, I feel it's one of the most important things to learn that script first. (I say that as a fluent Chinese speaker that can write very little Chinese, but yeah, I regret that). It will give you an opportunity not only to learn to read and write, but it's another avenue by which to practice and become comfortable with the language.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Baby Steps

I'm in lesson four of Pimsleur. At this point, I feel like if I can just learn to read Hebrew in two months I'll be satisfied.
The whole thing is overwhelming at this point, but it was like that with a lot of my initial forays into new languages. I remember trying to learn to read Thai, Urdu, Arabic, Japanese, Korean. Maybe overwhelming at first, but after a return to it (maybe much) later, it made sense.
I'm recognizing consonants in Hebrew at least, and getting through Pimsleur lessons okay. Thought I'd get a head start on my own with verbs, but I'm just not up to it yet. Might have to take a few more weeks of just Pimsleur and the writing system before I can get out on my own and supplement my study. It actually makes me tired.
Slow'n'steady wins the race.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Language Phobias

"IF you don't use it, you loose it." This exhausted adage probably isn't any truer than in the realm of language learning. In fact I'd venture to say that nothing is more fatal to an acquired language than disuse.

However, I have a hunch about another acquired language threat. But it's heretofore nothing more than a hunch. It is completely untried and I have absolutely no personal experience that proves whether it would in fact prove fatal to an acquired language. The Hebrew Experiment will change that.

Allow me to explain. I have a morbid phobia of learning languages that are perilously close to the languages I've already learned. Don't misunderstand me. I know that few languages are islands and that most languages can host family reunions with their linguistic relatives. However some cut it a bit close. The veritable twins of the language world.

Take for example Portuguese and Spanish. There are a host of languages that are similar, so to speak to Spanish. Italian is quite similar, the matriarch Latin of course, but even French and Romanian are quite like it. But Portuguese...I don't know. I've heard stories from my Spanish speaking friends who've attempted it. They shake their heads with a chuckle and relate how during the time they attempted to learn it they came out speaking a sort of self-invented Esperanto if you will.

So I stay away from that tongue, and if I meet someone from Brazil or Portugal I'll speak to them in Spanish they can speak in Portuguese, misunderstandings will be infrequent and communication possible I'm certain.

But, on the other hand, I know my stance on Portuguese is cowardly. I'm limiting this marvelous, wonderful, almost boundless organ that is the brain. As one devoted teacher of language acquisition put it, "our brain is a Ferrari but we only use it to drive to 7-11." Maybe he's right. Maybe one can acquire perilously similar languages and speak them as separate entities. Maybe I'm being a linguistic curmudgeon in my avoidance of Portuguese.

But what, you might ask does this have to do with "The Hebrew Experiment." Allow me to explain, I've been studying Arabic for a few years now and to me, Arabic is to Hebrew as Spanish is to Portuguese. Lethal? I certainly hope not. My greatest fear in this experiment is not failure, or even that my ADD tendencies will cause me to abandon the project mid way through (but its def a close second), no its that this little foray into Hebrew will cause me to end up speaking a Semetic Esperanto, rendering both my Study of Arabic and Hebrew virtually useless for communication. Or that it at least prove to be an Arabic setback. I guess it remains to be seen.

But I'll sally forth, I guess its time to take this supposed "Ferrari" on a road trip. I only hope that, in my case, its not actually a Ford Focus.

Stay tuned, tomorrow begins the Hebrew Experiment. In spite of my reservations, I'm actually extremely excited to venture into a language that I find both intriguing and eloquent.

The time has come!

I had a little debate with myself about whether to wait for my other two study partners, seeing as I'm twelve hours ahead of them. In the long run, it doesn't make much difference, that twelve hours, but we've (at least I have) been alternately chomping at the bit or rather apprehensive to start.
When I looked at both my calendar and my timer I'd set on my computer for May 1, 2010 and they were both down not to days, not to hours or minutes, but seconds (clock just ticked 11:59), I kinda made up my mind: I'm starting NOW.
Over on my personal blog, I've been keeping a steady (but lately more and more hefty-seeming) pace with learning Thai without slacking off. One Pimsleur lesson a day is what I've got planned.
Yes, plans... how do we go about this, you ask? Let's discuss our plans of attack.
Wikipedia (and maybe Omniglot, etc) do a great job of giving me some very useful little bits of information about a language, especially a new one; it's like a cold read on a language. How is it constructed grammatically? How do they treat their verbs? Nouns? What about genders? How many cases? Sentence structure? This is all a good argument for how knowing other languages helps you learn new ones. On the one hand, I can relate to SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) word order from languages like Russian or German; English is SVO. There. I get that (mostly). After a brief overview, I want to learn two of the most commonly irregular verbs in any language: to be and to have. Then there's to know. Then I want most general rules for how to treat verbs. Can I change a present tense verb to the past (or future) tense with a simple particle or conjugation? What's the root form? The infinitive, etc.
Those are pretty much the two big ones. Pimsleur will help me with the most basic of sentence structure and the other most necessary vocabulary. After that, knowing how verbs work and strengthening my grasp of sentence structure, I should be able to start filling in blanks with other nouns as I need. That's my approach.
Oh, and also to learn to read as soon as possible.
I'm not so much excited about learning HEBREW, per se, as much as I am about starting a language from scratch, especially the way we're doing it.
Gals, what are your gameplans?

Monday, April 26, 2010