Tuesday, January 26, 2010

¡Viva la Revolución!

Resolution #4: Learn a New Language
Progress: Just Starting

Foreign languages have been a interest of mine for as long as I can remember. In my youth it was fascinating to watch two people, expressing themselves with sounds undecipherable to the untrained ear, but clearly laden with meaning. At home, we hosted Japanese exchange students several times per year, eager pupils desiring to practice their English, and always willing to teach my siblings and me a few Japanese words, which we would use to impress our friends. I often found the most enthralling parts of the visits, however, was when our guests would phone home, or write a letter to their loved ones in far-away parts of the world. Listening to their rhythmic speech patterns and syllables which I was unable to imitate, or regarding the strange symbols they would lay to paper created a yearning to crack their code, and become privy to that incredible world.

My first formal foreign language education began with Latin in the third grade, but Latin didn't contain the glamor that I assumed all foreign languages held. To my uneducated mind, a language which opened up world of classic literature, and was the backbone for all the romantic languages, still wasn't as exciting as a language which could communicate with live human beings, and perhaps unlock the secrets to their world. My formal Latin education ended after only one year with the saying, "Latin's a dead language, as dead as dead can be. It killed off all the Romans, and now it's killing me!"

The next language I was exposed to was Spanish! Spanish was exciting, a popular language among students, and not so difficult to comprehend, probably due to the Latin experience. My older siblings took Spanish lessons in our basement, and as long as I was quiet and behaved myself, I could sit down there and glean the wisdom. My formal foray into Spanish, with classes of my own, would not follow for several years.

Greek was my next experiment. As a freshman in a classical high-school, Greek was a requirement, and I was all for it. Fortunately, I had now outgrown the notion that an unspoken language was a worthless language, since I was not studying modern Greek, but Koine Greek, the language of the Bible. This language quickly became near, and dear to my heart. I discovered that I had an affinity for languages with strange looking characters, and excelled in my studies. I pursued this language through freshman and sophomore year of high-school. When I discovered that my school was not going to offer a third year in the language, I sought other venues. I went to talk with the Greek professor at a local Bible college, and he agreed to accept me into his Greek Exegesis II class. I studied two semesters of college Greek, after which my professor informed the class that we had obtained all the skills necessary to study the language on our own, and the only step left in formal Greek education was graduate school. I decided that it probably wouldn't be wise for a high-schooler to attempt graduate school entry, and sought other linguistic pursuits, such as...

More Spanish and Hebrew. My high-school decided that it was time to begin offering some modern languages to interested students, beginning with Spanish. I was thrilled at the opportunity, to finally study the language I had pretended to speak since elementary school! Unfortunately, my plans were cut short by my Spanish teacher's engagement in the middle of the first semester, and her departure from the school. A new teacher was hired, not for Spanish, but instead skilled in Hebrew. Hebrew opened my eyes to another language without Roman characters, and was my first experience with right-to-left reading and writing. I enjoyed my study of the Hebrew language immensely, but alas, the teacher was only interim, and left at the end of the year, bringing a close to my formal high-school language instruction.

Studying engineering in college meant no language requirement, and between the coursework and sports teams, I had little desire to add to my already busy schedule with unnecessary study. That was my statement of intent, until the middle of my sophomore year. Shortly before Christmas break that year, it was announced that a study center was going to be opened in Nantes, France, and the school wanted to inaugurate the location by sending over a class of engineers. I suppose they figured if they can accomplish the program with a group of engineers, they could have success with anyone. I immediately signed onto the study abroad adventure, not willing to pass on this chance of a lifetime. Of course, going to study and interact in a foreign culture necessitates learning the language of the natives, and so, my French study began. On paper, my French language skills do not appear very impressive: one semester of beginning French. But as any expatriate will confirm, the classroom learning while stationed outside the borders of your homeland, is basically just a Q&A for language acquired in the streets. Partially due to the immersion within the culture, and partially due to it being the most recent, French is now my strongest foreign language.

So here I am, again, desiring to learn a new language, one that I will find useful, and one with strange characters. I have selected Japanese for my latest foray, because of the natural advantage it will provide me in my employment, and the availability of victims co-workers who can help me practice. In order to keep my goals quantifiable, and because it is difficult to measure knowledge of a language, I'm going to attempt 2 hours of study per week, and adjust the time after a few weeks trial. In preparation for this learning, I have obtained Rosetta Stone: Japanese from the work library, and will be using it as my tutor. With dedication, I believe I can achieve a level of basic fluency by the end of this year.

Want to share your language learning doldrums and adventures? Curious about my time studying abroad? I'm a giving blogger, all you must do is ask!

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