Here’s my entry into the Polyglot project, which you can find info about here: http://www.youtube.com/user/syzygycc. It’s called A Hunger for Learning. The format may not come out perfect, but oh well it’s time to go to bed…
A Hunger for Learning
An Essay on Language Learning by Christopher Sarda
My hunger for learning and knowing reaches far beyond the focus of this essay, but if someone has the heartfelt desire to understand the human condition, how can at least some interest in language learning not exist? I don’t believe it can, and I have to believe that those people who seek to live with a higher understanding of this mammal, that somehow, someway evolved self-consciousness simply has not discovered the beauty and importance of communicating ideas in different structures and methods than they are used to.
Though not as accomplished as some learners that will be featured in this collection, I know one day I will be. I simply do not have a choice in the matter, I’m interested, and therefore I will not stop. I didn’t always believe I could learn a language. I didn’t always believe that I should put in the work either.
SPANISH AND THE BELIEF THAT I HAD NO “EAR” TO LEARN IT
Half of my family is Argentinean. My grandparents do not speak any English, and in the earliest days of my life I’m told, I was using more Spanish than English, due to the fact that I was being taken care of by my grandmother while my parents worked. At some point, my English only mother put an end to that, although she doesn’t recall doing it, my grandmother today claims that that is what happened. Those are the origins of my current fragmented Spanish.
Later my parents divorcing and our moving away from the Hispanic side of my family didn’t help the level of my Spanish. A number of other things after that also added toward my apathy to language learning. For one, although I’ve always had a hunger to learn, I was an undisciplined, bad student. When I took Spanish in school, I didn’t learn anything because I hardly did any work. My step-sister of the same age on the other hand, also half from a Spanish speaking family, took classes and did well in them, that mixed with the fact that she may actually also have an ear for languages didn’t help my apathy. With Spanish, and later Polish, I also helped myself to block any advancement because of the fact I couldn’t express myself or my ideas in my second languages as well as I felt I could in English. This is something I still deal with now.
I spent my adolescence and the beginning of my adulthood believing that I simply didn’t have an ear for language or the time to study or the money to pay for classes. I lived like this until shortly after I met a little Polish girl on a work and travel visa.
STARTING A NEW LANGUAGE
STARTING A NEW CULTURE
The short story of how I came to be married to Gosia is: she came to the US, we fell in love, I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was in Poland.
Though I would eventually become enamored with the Polish language, it would be a good three or four months before I would start to work on it. I was so taken by being in a different country and culture; the food, the architecture, the people, all whether good or bad never failed to interest me. The new weather (Northern Europe vs Las Vegas is certainly a strange jump), meeting my wife’s friends and family, all took its toll and its time. Mixed with the fact that somewhere in the back of my mind language learning wasn’t my thing.
One day though, after Gosia’s mother noticed I hadn’t even tried to learn any Polish, we took a little walk to the language learning bookstore (yes, a lot of Europe has entire bookstores devoted to language learning). We bought a little book called Polish in 4 Weeks and I the journey began.
At the very start, the book advanced my consciousness. Polish and its grammar of noun cases, and its far more complicated than Spanish’s verb conjugations and perfective and imperfective forms, immediately helped me see conversation and communication in a new light, in a way that I had never imagined or conceived; and I plan to have that feeling again once I start an Asian language in earnest. Getting deeper and deeper into the Polish language and therefore into Polish culture opened my eyes to a wonderful new way to get to know a culture and a people better and eventually drove me to start playing with other languages.
THE LANGUAGE LOVING EXPLOSION
It wasn’t long before I knew that my entire life I would always be studying a language. Starting a new language is a far better way to learn about another culture than it is to read a newspaper article or a history book or even to travel to the country. Once I discovered that it was possible to learn and to learn on your own, I became addicted.
Like most of the people bothering to read this, I eventually discovered the most vocal internet polyglots on Youtube, like Moses, Prof Arguelles, and Steve Kaufmann. Listening to their videos had both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, the three of them and others (the how to learn any language forum and the All Japanese All the Time blog for example) introduced me to many methods of learning. Each learner’s style had slight to large differences from the others, and I had to decide what worked best for me. That was also a negative. I wasted a lot of time watching videos and trying everything proposed method half-heartedly, all time that I should have spent studying my languages. Even today though, I’m still learning how to learn. I still cannot however, fire up the webcam (yet) and give my opinions based on my experience and achievements and talk about what the best way is to learn a language. I have to come a little farther I think.
There are things I do know. I know that I will always be studying a language. I know that I will find a method, or more precisely a combination of methods that are best for me. I know basically what ideas will encompass that method. They are:
• Motivation and Discipline
• Massive Input
• To not allow yourself for any reason not to use the language when you can (especially concerning speaking)
I mostly argue in favor of input, and getting as much vocabulary as possible in one’s head. Passive vocabulary is an investment in the future of really knowing a language, rather than knowing how to get-by in one. With all of that said, I do think you should try to speak as early and as often as possible, this is my biggest problem. I can speak authoritatively here, being afraid to speak, worrying that I’ll sound stupid or not intelligent enough, and switching back to English because it’s easier, are the main reasons, I have not learned the languages I’ve studied better and faster. Let me reiterate though, the gaining of input by listening and reading is most important as a future investment if you want to read, speak, listen and write well, but don’t be afraid to use what you’ve learned if you have someone to practice with, even from the beginning. If you don’t have someone, then just work on your input and work on understanding what you read and listen to, it will be more than enough.
MY GOALS, MY ATTITUDE AND THE ROAD AHEAD
My general goals for life are quite ambitious; in fact I keep a whole blog about them. My lofty language goals reflect that ambition. I mostly want to learn European languages; the few non-European languages I plan to tackle are mainly Hindi and Japanese. I hope that these languages offer me new and more difficult challenges when I ready to start them. Hindi and Japanese are the two non euro languages that I want at high levels for, enough to be able to speak about politics and culture and to be able to read novels. I also have a desire to learn at least one African language, probably Swahili, but I don’t plan to start that for awhile. Arabic is a language I most want to use to listen to and read about current events, so I’d be happy to just practice input when I’m ready to start there. Navajo is a language I will be content to only play with, I’d be happy to spend just a year on it to get to a low intermediate to intermediate level.
I think my future, along with my wife’s will be in Europe, a Europe that is becoming more and more unified, but lucky for me unified in everything except language. I plan of course to be at a high level with the majors: French, Spanish, German, and Italian. Home base will probably be Poland, so a near native level of Polish will be essential, and because it was the Polish language that made me so interested in the world of polyglottery, I’ve also become a bit of an aspiring Slavist. That means I plan to gain high levels in two other Slavic languages: Russian and Czech. With a decent level of knowledge in those three Slavic languages it will allow me to play with some other Slavic languages I do not plan to study intensely.
Last but not least are two small languages that stay in the back of my head as languages I would love to have. One is Catalan, which shouldn’t be too hard with a good base in the major romance languages. The second is Hungarian, which I don’t why, it just has such a mystique to it, how could I not let it draw me in?
I know ‘lofty’ may be an understatement for my goals (14 languages were mentioned above!), but sometimes the road traveled is as good a reason to go as the destination. My abstract focus will be on my attitude and motivation. My worry-free demeanor will be my sword, who cares about my progress, so long as there is progress? I recognize I have a long ways to go, but I look forward to seeing all the beautiful scenery on my way to wherever it is I’m going.