Sunday, November 28, 2004


I've set about learning German, using only free online courses... And whatever programs I can scrounge off ebay... Actually I was pleased to find there are a number of places on the internet which have free language courses, and German is one of those languages which seems easy enough to find... I don't know how far I'll be able to get using only these courses, but I've decided I'll see just how far I *can* get before I spend a single dollar on actual classes... Except of course for what cash I use to scrounge-around ebay with... You see, I took 3 years of French back in school, and 2 years of Spanish, and I remember next to nothing from either one... Or actually, I *thought* I'd remembered next to nothing: until I started trying to learn Czech, and finding that, when I was unable to remember part of a sentance in Czech, my mind would automatically pop in with the missing word or phrase in French. Guess I learned more French than I thought. Actually, I think that learning German at the same time as Czech has been the most helpful thing for my Czech... The only downfall is that German is so much more easilly accessible than Czech, that my German-learning is going leaps and miles faster than my Czech now... oh well. Being on the continent where these are spoken for a while, and having studied Czech but nothing else for the trip, I felt actually a fool for not knowing at least simple things in German. It kind of drives me nuts when English-speakers tell me I won't "need" any other languages, elsewhere in the world. After having been where English isn't the primary language for the first time in my life, and feeling for the first time what it's like to not understand voices in the background, or signs on the wall, or people talking directly to me, I began to sense an extraordinary desire to get at least a working grasp of as many languages as I can, before I return to the EU... German, Russian, and Italian are on my list... Czech started out at first as just a sentimental wish, I guess... It's hard to say where my desire came from in the first place to learn Czech, except that it's kind of a family-language; my great-great grandfather was from that country but we've long since lost the language... But then there were people who told me that there was also an academic weight to studying it: one said that it would be an even more valuable language, in terms of literature, than French. But in any case the desire had already started growing in me, towards this language. The only immediate way in I could find was to get a used Pimsleur-program from ebay and listen to the tapes. Very useful, actually; since Pimsleur is based exclusively on a language's sounds, rather than its' written aspect... I'd be so lost at this point if I had started trying to learn Czech from a book; the pronunciation is totally alien to anything in English. I would be so stunned every time: the program teaches you how to hear and say a word first, and then it lets you see the word printed, and I could not believe, when I saw it written, that it was the same word as the one I'd just learned; the spelling looked just so gnarly. I got a few smiles in the Czech Republic when I was trying to use what I'd learned; who can tell if it was appreciation or amusement... But anyways I wonder how many foreigners they get who know even remotely how to actually say their words for "do you speak" and "goodbye" and "what is that", which is sadly just about all i was able to get from the few lessons on those tapes... Yes, when it comes to more "esoteric" languages, Pimsleur is good, but not enough. I found myself wishing that there had been twice as many lessons in those tapes... If not more... And then there came my desire to learn German; or a sudden inexplicable awareness from out of the blue, something telling me "i'll need to know German... Somehow I'll be needing German... And Russian too but let's go one at a time..." Really I don't know where these bizarre-seeming desires come from. They could be just residual study-aholism, leftover from my bitterness at having to graduate and leave my college education behind... the possibility has not excluded itself from my mind... But onto my to-do list "learn German" went, me not knowing exactly how I would go about it... Thus I was extremely happy to find Deutche-Welle, an online radio program from Munich with a free downloadable German course, and also free lessons in all the most popular languages on the BBC online... Also the Rosetta Stone's website has like half the program free for the sampling which is a good resource in itself... Yes, I enjoy the fact that many language-software programs often have free samples online; and that they each tend to teach different words and take a different angle... So I get the feeling that I'm chipping inwards into the iceburg, corner by corner... As I entered the continent for the first time I thought to myself, of my language education thus far: I'm so sick and tired of knowing only the tips and corners of all these languages; isn't it possible to go in deeper and grasp the inside, the middle of a language, to have a hold on it like the kind its own natives have, even if it can never be as deep? Right now I think about how the only language I've ever known that deep, or deeper at all than its bits and corners, is English; and I really wonder what it must be like, what it would feel like, to have one's feet in two languages; it would be like living in two minds; at least I imagine it would be... The Czech have a saying that goes, you are as many people as the languages you speak... I feel that by knowing only the English language with any depth, I am standing on a small and lonely island, no matter how popular or commonly-spoken a language it is.


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