Saturday, 10 April 2010

Notes on a foreign language (Part 1 of a few)...

Would Herr Goethe be impressed? I suspect not.
First, it has to be said that I suspect I'm not destined to become the world's greatest polyglot. To put it bluntly, I'm finding this whole "learn a new language" thing rather hard. However, I have only been in the country for six weeks, and therefore perhaps my aspirations should be set a little lower than I-will-be-fluent-in-two-months.

I think my biggest problem actually isn't so much the language though, rather too many years in academic institutions has me rendered unable to engage in, for want of a better term, naive learning. Let me explain...

I'm not the only Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Schwäbisch Hall branch of the Goethe Insitut, far from it, but I am noticing all of us suffer from the same problem: we need to know why things are how they are. This isn't a good thing. Instead, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that the best way to learn a new language is simply to soak up as much of it as possible, like a sponge. At these early stages, if I could allow myself to just take it all in, and leave the questions until later, I'm sure I'd be progressing at a more rapid pace. Instead, I'm not, I just have too many questions.

Too many questions means I spend more time wondering why certain verbs are irregular, and not enough time actually learning the verbs (and irregular verbs are super duper important). For example, the past perfect for regular verbs takes the infinitive form of the verb (e.g. kaufen, to shop), replaces then -en at the end with a -t and slaps a ge-at the front (e.g. gekauft). However irregular verbs sometimes keep their -en ending (e.g. getragen, to have carried or worn), others do the -t thing, but change their spelling (e.g. nennen, to call, becomes genannt), whereas others do a little of both (essen, to eat, becomes gegessen). That's cool, I'm happy with some words are different, but I just can't shake the "why are they different" and, perhaps more subtly "is there anything to identify whether a verb is irregular or not?". The answer in the first course (A1) to all such questions was "nope, it is what it is", but in this month's course I've already learnt all verbs that add an umlaut (ä, ö, ü) in the second or third person (informal) are, by default irregular....and a little information can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Enough moaning, I'm otherwise finding learning Deutsch an immense challenge that does in fact reward well from time to time. Ain't getting cocky though, I've learnt that for every milestone there's an increasingly steeper cliff to climb to get to the next one (to butcher a metaphor or two). Still, to date I can (to some extent) build sentences longer than a single clause long and, although limited by my tiny vocabulary, speak in the present and the past perfect. It's a start eh!

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