Mayans

Mayans

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Old Language Learner

The best time to learn a foreign language is when a person is very young.  The brain is not yet hard wired to one's native language and is more receptive to the sounds and patterns of another.  In most European countries the study of foreign languages begins in elementary school.  However here in the United States, in far too many school districts, the study of languages is not required and often does not begin until middle school or high school.  I did not begin to study Spanish until the ninth grade.  Even though I am fluent and have a good pronunciation, I am sure that nobody mistakes me for a native speaker.

Nevertheless, this old, retired teacher has embarked on the mission of learning some more languages.  Several months ago, I wrote a couple posts about my attempt to learn some
German.  Since I was going to travel to Switzerland, I thought it would be nice to be able to speak a bit of German.  I went to a free website called "Duolingo" and began their German lessons.  At first it was fun and a breeze.  I learned a number of phrases and a fair amount of vocabulary.  I could even conjugate a few verbs in the present tense.  "Duolingo" even said that I was 34% fluent, which is laughable.  But then I hit a wall.  As I continued, the grammar was becoming quite difficult.  I had accomplished what I had set out to do... learning a smattering of the language... so I figured that I would not pursue it any further after taking my trip.

Even though most everyone in Switzerland speaks English, I found it great fun to use a little German from time to time.  My Swiss cousins said that my pronunciation was pretty good.  As a result, I was encouraged not to give up on German.  I have gone back to "Duolingo", and I have started from the beginning.  I want to retain what I have already learned and to relearn what I have already forgotten.  Perhaps I will even manage to progress a little farther, and by the time I make it to Switzerland again I will be able to speak more.

There are plans in the works to travel to Portugal next summer.  Years ago I spent a few days in Brazil.  (Brazil speaks Portuguese, not Spanish!)  I taught myself a few polite phrases.  However this time I want to be able to speak more.  Two nights ago I started the Portuguese lessons on "Duolingo".   Portuguese, of course, is very similar to Spanish, so it will be much easier than German for me.  Most of the words I have encountered so far are easily recognizable.  For example, in Spanish the word for "book" is "libro", in Portuguese it is "livro".  "Woman" in Spanish is "mujer"; in Portuguese it is "mulher".  Even the verb conjugations seem to be almost identical.  The present tense conjugation of the verb "to eat" in Spanish is:  como, comes, come, comemos, comen.  In Portuguese it is : como, comes, come, comemos, comem.  The only stumbling block will be pronunciation.  Portuguese has a lot of diacritical marks which change the sound of vowels and consonants. There are nasal vowel sounds similar to French, and some consonants that sound more like Italian.

After just two lessons, "Duolingo" says that I am 6% fluent in Portuguese.  This is not nearly as preposterous as my supposed 34% fluency in German.  Although I still can't say much, I can already read and understand a fair amount.

We will see how it goes.

 Até logo.  Hasta luego.  Until later.    

7 comments:

  1. I'm sure you'll do great at learning Portuguese! In my experience of learning French as an adult with prior Spanish knowledge, I felt I had a much easier time than younger students who had never studied a language before. That's because, as you know, you already know about things like verb conjugations, how nouns are masculine/feminine, the idea that some verbs are irregular, etc.

    I thought it would be hard to keep the languages separate in my brain, but it wasn't as hard as I anticipated. (I had classes in Spanish and French 10 minutes apart for 2 semesters, so I had to switch quickly between languages.) There were some times when I couldn't think of the word I wanted in French, but the Spanish came right up, even if it was a word I hadn't used in a long time. That was a nice bonus.

    Oh, and having learned French (since you mentioned similarities between French and Portuguese), I thought French was not nearly as intimidating as people make it out to be. Thanks to the Norman Conquest, English has more similarities to French than I had realized. So French actually comes to me more easily than Spanish sometimes! (I find that really surprising: I brushed up on my Spanish at the same time I was learning French, and I certainly thought I had a better grasp of Spanish since I've studied it longer.) So maybe the French-nesses of Portuguese will make intuitive sense to you. :-)

    As for Duolingo, I've never tried it, but some family members use it and really like it. I'm glad you're enjoying it too!

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    1. Hi Meredith,
      It is certainly true that knowing one foreign language makes learning another easier (even German!). I am amazed by some of the question asked by users on Duolingo. They obviously have no clue about conjugating verbs, masculine and feminine or the difference between definite and indefinite articles.

      The similarity with French seems to be mainly with pronunciation with all of the nasal sounds. It definitely is not as straight forward as Spanish pronunciation. The vocabulary and verb conjugations are so similar to Spanish. Only once in a while do I run into a word I can't recognize. Years ago when I was in Brazil, I was looking at a magazine and I was astounded by how much I understood.

      So do you still remember your French?
      Saludos,
      Bill

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    2. Bien sûr! The UW has a private residence hall for French speakers, and they host French-only dinners that are open to the public. I've gone there a couple of times, but I wish there were more opportunities to keep it up. Otherwise, I enjoying watching foreign films and seeing how much I understand without the subtitles.

      ...And as someone with a naturally nasal-sounding voice, I'm happy it comes in handy sometimes....just like my lisp when I'm speaking Spanish! (When I was studying in Costa Rica, I had a few people ask me where I learned my Spanish because of my lisp, which I had years of speech therapy to correct as a child, but which still sneaks out when I get lazy or speak excitedly.) Hehehe!

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    3. Well, I never realized that you had a lisp, and I never thought that your voice was particularly nasal.

      I am so proud that one of my former students has kept up with foreign languages! One of these days I will have to play tour guide and take you and Chuck to Mexico.

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    4. We would love that! I may take you up on the offer sometime.

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  2. Hola Bill, me da mucho, mucho gusto ese entusiasmo tuyo por aprender un nuevo idioma, el portugués como bien dices es muy parecido al español, porque los dos (igual que el italiano, gallego, rumano, francés, catalán, etc.) provienen del latín. Para nosotros los hispanoparlantes es fácil entender alguno de estos idiomas, especialmente italiano, francés, portugués, en forma escrita, pero en su forma oral la cosa cambia, y mucho. Estoy seguro de que, con tu conocimiento del español, aprenderás muy pronto a "falar portugues". By the way, three weeks ago I resumed my Chinese classes. Boy was I rusted, at first I forgot all the characters and almost everything, but little by little I'm getting able to remember. This is a life project, as my analyst calls it, and this time I'm determined to continue studying -- I dream of speaking fluent Chinese, at least a few phrases. Hugs!

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    1. Hola Tino! Muchas gracias. I am finding Portuguese (knock on wood) to be very easy... much more so than French. The only challenge is the pronunciation which I think is more complicated than Spanish phonetics.
      Good luck with your study of Chinese. That must be a very daunting task!
      Sorry this isn't written in Spanish, but I don't have the program I used to have on my old computer for writing Spanish accents. (And of course, the old teacher in me wouldn't want to write without the correct accent marks and tildes!) :-)
      Abrazos,
      Bill

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