Sunday, August 29, 2010

Language Lessons

One of my goals is to learn a new language. My native and, sadly, only language is English, which leaves the field of choices pretty wide open. French would seem the obvious pick since I live in Canada. It might have even come out at the top of the list if I lived near Quebec, or if I was interested in applying for a federal government job. However, neither of those are in my future plans. That, coupled with the fact that I am already fluent in cereal box French, has left me unmotivated to pursue French as a language choice.

Next up would be Spanish. I actually took Spanish at university and quite enjoyed the language. It is widely spoken in the US, and would be a real asset if I decide to spend some time exploring South America. The thing is, I have no immediate plans to travel to a Spanish speaking country. I think I'll save this language for later.

Danish (my grandpa was from Denmark) and Welsh have also been under consideration at one time or another. I admit the Welsh phase was short-lived. I had been reading a mystery series set in Wales and was intrigued by all the names I couldn't pronounce. However, I was confronted by the fact that fewer than 25% of the population of Wales can actually speak Welsh. If 75% of the population of a country can not speak their native language something is clearly wrong. Scratch Welsh off the list.

The language I finally decided on? Mandarin Chinese. I know, this makes the whole Welsh thing look like it might actually have been an intelligent choice. Especially given that I am not an auditory learner. If I don't see something written down the chances of me remembering it are near zero. Of course, this is a handicap when attempting to learn any language, but near fatal when undertaking the study of a tonal language such as Chinese. Fortunately my kids had used the Rosetta Stone French program when they were homeschooling, and I knew it had a visual component to it that might just make it possible for me to tackle this complex language. So I ordered it, along with a few other resources like a Chinese English dictionary and some flash cards (this was back in my naive stage when I thought I could learn the Chinese characters along with the spoken language).

Chinese might seem an unlikely choice, but having spent four years living in Richmond, BC I can honestly say I never once heard French being spoken, but a day didn't go by without encountering Chinese. That alone would have made it a front runner in the competition. More importantly though, my oldest son Karsten's wife is Chinese, and so it really was no contest. I don't have high expectations of myself. If I can eventually get to the comprehension level of a nine month old Chinese baby I will feel like I have accomplished something.

So almost every morning I sit down at my computer, plug in my headset, and challenge myself with this difficult task. Some days it is fun and other days it makes my head hurt. One thing is for sure, it has certainly kept me humble. When I was in China last year with Karsten and Diana we laughed at all the outrageous translations on signage around the country.

If my Chinese could ever be as good as these tranlators' English, I would be quite pleased, if for no other reason than the satisfaction of knowing my language learning endeavors had given someone a good laugh. After all, laughter sounds the same no matter what language is being spoken.


  1. Sounds like the Welsh Language Act isn't working as well as hoped. Mandarin Chinese will certainly allow for many more (many, many more) potential conversation partners. I wish you well on this project--I admire people who can converse in more than one language. My French II teacher (who was fond of me) advised me to focus on learning English. =)

  2. Good for you! I've often thought about learning more Dutch, but have neither the drive nor discipline to do so at the moment.

  3. Soon you'll be way ahead of me.

  4. Thanks to your comment on Jean's Knitting blog I've been reading and enjoying a few of your entries. Good luck with learning Chinese and may you meet many "blue boys" on bicycles. I have been struggling with learning Irish for about 5 years and get completely tongue-tied when I try to say anything in that language. But I still love the learning process.