Aug. 26th, 2017

hollymath: (Default)
I wrote my last post and read some comments and went to bed and woke up early so I thought I'd try my new and hopefully less frustrating podcast app to catch up on some podcasts and the first one was Lingthusiasm.

Some background: When I told Andrew I was jealous I'd never get to be a linguist because of all the linguists whose blogs/twitter/podcasts I follow, I was thinking primarily of these two. (And Lynne Murphy, whose comparisons of UK and U.S. English I love.)

I had this podcast recommended to me by lots of people and rightly so, but this kind of "two people having a conversation about a thing" podcast isn't usually my type (I'm more "actual Radio 4 shows" or else "one person reading a script about a thing, usually history"). So I don't think I was prepared for how much I would get drawn in by the style; I really feel like I"m listening to friends have a chat and I could see myself forgetting these are people I don't actually know.

But it did seem like they'd done this conversation about learning languages just for me and its relevance to my life as of yesterday. So I listened with great interest, envious of Gretchen's early exposure to French (she's Canadian), taking Spanish and German at the same time in high school against the usual recommendations, taking a new language every year she was in college... Though as she told me on Twitter when I mentioned this, she feels like she "started pretty late with languages! Mostly in late HS/undergrad rather than childhood!"

Another thing I really liked that she addressed on the show (after she sent me that tweet and I replied with a precis of my brainweasels about how late i"m coming to this, which might well be an issue for many mature students), this idea that if you don't start learning a language in the womb it's hard and there's no point. I remember hearing this as a teenager when it was finally possible to start learning Spanish, which I did when I was fourteen. Like I was already made to feel inadequate then. But anyway, Gretchen addresses exactly this thing (starting around 32:30 in the podcaast): there are actually domains where adults have an advantage. She points out how long it takes kids to learn: it's a whole year of hearing a language all the time they're awake before they even say a single word. Adults learn vocabulary and syntax a lot easier than kids, can focus their practice on it in ways that kids don't: we can already read and write in one language which makes it easier to learn in another language.

I also really like how much time they spent talking about the huge cultural/political/emotional connections we have with languages: colonialism and heritage languages and the prestige of certain languages. I know if I choose Arabic because I live in a neighborhood it might be useful, when I go home at Christmas and get quizzed by my family about what I'm doing now, I'm gonna be wary because if they have any associations with the Arabic language at all it's going to be "what terrorists speak."

I really appreciate the thoughtful comments everybody has left on my last post. [personal profile] brithistorian's highlighted something I was talking about anyway: "Find a book you want to read, a movie you want to watch, etc." Setting yourself a goal in the language you are learning is a good idea as a motivation, but also it's worth thinking about what kind of cultural osmosis you're opening yourself up to as well as the grammar or script or whatever draws you to the language itself. So while, as I said last night, if the university told me "there's only one foreign language you can take and it's this", I'd be pretty happy whatever the "this" was, I'm finding myself less inclined to learn, say, Russian just because the history and culture of it does not interest me as much as other places (sorry, Russians!).

Poking around some of the links from that episode of Lingthusiasm, I found Will learning a second language help me learn linguistics, a question to which my answer is "probably but even if it didn't I'd jump at any chance to learn a language" but I still found the contents of the post useful. It confirms what friends of mine said in comments, namely "you’ll get more of your assumptions [about how language works] challenged by learning a language that’s as unrelated to your first language as possible... So for English speakers, go for a non-Indo-European language if you can (common options include Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, ASL)." (I think those last two are probably more common in the U.S.! Though obviously other sign languages could be elsewhere.*)

So yeah, I honestly feel better (though no closer to a language decision!) after listening to the podcast. Of course I'm overwhelmed; I had a bunch of things to think about and potential decisions to face, and language is one that's tied up with everything else about us. Even moving to another country where the majority speaks the same language I have a huge amount of thoughts and feelings about identity and stuff I'm really sensitive about and class and history and regionalism, all based on the language. So of course this is a big deal and of course it's weird and difficult.

Yesterday when the person from the linguistics department was talking about how the course worked and what kinds of directions we could take our studies and so on, I had at one point the dizzying kind of realization that pretty soon the choices I make will start to close down some options and open other ones but right now I do not now what is going to happen and it could be anything. I remember feeling like this a lot when I was eighteen and starting college too. Being in such close proximity to so much potential makes me feel a bit light-headed, honestly.

* I still love the idea of doing BSL, especially after Debi pointed out that almost everybody who uses it will be (relatively) nearby and not in Japan or Turkey or whatever.


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