Sunday, November 05, 2006

The brain of the Octopus ossifies

If only I had been more motivated in my youth. I've been struggling over the past couple years with a number of languages, and now, because we are going to Paris later this year, I've decided, for the first time in my life, to try to learn some French. So I went out to the library and picked up a few audio-book packages and I've been trying to use those. Man, French is really hard. Japanese and Spanish are way easier. What is up with French pronunciation? This is going to be a struggle. I was thinking about getting one of those Rosetta Stone programs you run on your computer, but those are kind of expensive. Does anyone have any suggestions for programs or CD-audio packages for learning French? Why didn't I start learning French earlier?

When I went to the library for the French tapes, I also checked out a couple Chinese language sets. Back in 2003 I spent about a month intensively trying to learn Chinese from a very rudimentary tape and book set published by the Chinese government that I had borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library. (The pictures in the book looked much like the pictures used in Get Your War On. Now, when I read GYWO, I feel like I'm studying Chinese.) I was making some progress, but then I had to return the set. I have the Teach Yourself set here, but I don't really like it that much. I should probably accept that I'm not going to be able to teach myself Chinese in my spare time. I have been poking around at a Vietnamese language set I borrowed from the library, and it's probably more realistic that I could make some headway there, since Mrs. Octopus could help me out. It will take me some time to get a hold of the tones.

Meanwhile, I make efforts to maintain Bengali, Spanish, and Japanese, but I just don't have enough time. There's nothing quite as sad as losing language ability due to lack of use and practice. But I think you get a sense, from my scattershot and confused approach to learning languages, of my deep and fundamental inability to focus on anything. When I mentioned that I was trying to learn French, a friend commented that maybe I should try to at least attain fluency in one of the languages I have already studied before moving on to new languages. I think I used to think that was right, but who the hell has time to attain "fluency" in a given foreign language once one is out of school? I don't really see anything wrong in learning to speak several languages very poorly, in kind of a rough and ready way. I certainly won't be translating any poetry any time soon. But now, as I write this, I am thinking there really is something to be said for delving very deep into one other language, and getting to the point where you can spend a significant amount of time in a country where that language is spoken, where you can begin to appreciate the richness of that other language, and where you can have meaningful discussions with other people in that language.

In any event, maybe it's the French, but I am beginning to get a little discouraged about my ability to pick up new languages at this point. I know I can continue to learn them, but I am wishing I had had this mania for learning foreign languages back when I was ten. Youth is wasted on the young.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really, if you're just traveling to France, you don't need to know much more than "merci." But since you're determined to be an overachiever on the language front, try the Michel Thomas language CD's. His method is pretty effective for intro-level language.

Octopus Grigori said...

Thanks, Anon. I will check that out.

ivanomartin said...

Taihen desu ne.

Can't believe you think French is harder than Japanese. Maybe pronunciation, as you suggest, but surely not grammar.