Monday, May 26, 2008

Language Lessons

The title of this post was poached from a great scene in Better Off Dead (one of my all time favorites) when John Cusack finishes the big ski race down the dreaded K2 and the two Japanese dudes waiting at the bottom ask him how he was able to accomplish such an amazing race but since they learned how to speak English watching Howard Cosell they can only speak in sports vernacular....

Moving on- the point is I've been really fascinated with learning Chinese lately. It helps that I have a strong motivation to learn. What with the blank stares and awkward silences and all. I've been learning plenty on my own but I also beseech lessons from all my friends, chinese or american. I had so much vocabulary floating around in my head but didn't know how to put it together. Well, I'm starting to figure it out.

In some ways, Chinese is actually a lot easier than I expected. If you've ever learned a second language, Spanish, Italian, German, etc., you know that verbs are a nightmare. Trying to keep the different tenses separate is brutal. Chinese is really sweet that way. There are no verb tenses. Once you learn the word for "eat", it's the same everytime. The way you denote the tense is with time words. I eat yesterday. We eat right now. He eat already. Sweet. What took me years to accomplish in Spanish has taken me all of 1 month to figure out in Chinese.

[Disclaimer: If you actually speak Chinese, I expect you are cringing at the way i've explained this. I understand your pain. It's ok. Realize i've only been studying for a month.]

Unfortunately, what the language gives in grammar simplicity, it more than takes away in pronunciation. Holycrapchineseishard! Clearly the hardest part is that Chinese is a tonal language. One word can be pronounced 5 different ways and each one means something different.

ma - turns a statement into a question
mā - mother
má - hemp
mǎ - horse
mà - curse

You can imagine how hilarity ensues when I ask someone if they can ride a mother. Or if they want to smoke some horse.

Anyway, it's all pretty interesting and it's really cool now that my meager attempts to communicate are being understood. Special thanks to my amazing tutor, Kelly, pictured below. I really like this self portrait, not least of all because my amazing camera chose to focus on Sir Barebelly and his sidekick in the background.


1 comment:

Jenny said...

Language geek here... I finally found your blog, and I'm reading catch-up. I love languages and would love to hear more about your language discoveries.