since my resolution in the beginning of 2009 to learn German, I’ve become semi-obsessed with the practice of language learning.  Being in Thailand seemed an opportune time to learn an asian, tonal, language with a different alphabet.

I did learn to speak, read and write German last year, without any immersion.  I am, by no means, fluent, and have a rather crummy accent, but I can converse about practically any non-abstract topic-  you know, things done, food, going places, movies, books.  Philosophical and conceptual would be beyond my reach.  And, when speaking with German people, I definitely need them to be speaking to me. Following others’ overheard conversations is too difficult as of yet.

My approach, during the first six months, was to write in German for about an hour a day (in a journal, good for practicing tenses), study using an SRS (spaced repetition system, i.e. software that functions as build-your-own flashcards-  I use Mnemosyne)-  usually fifteen minutes a day-  and converse for an hour or two a week.

I learn by writing, or by doing.  Audio and auditory learning has never been my strong suit. (I also don’t process my thoughts out loud, which is a product of being very introverted on the Meyers Briggs scoring…)  I ought to practice more conversationally and out-loud, but, since it’s not personally as enjoyable or interesting…it doesn’t happen as frequently.

Thai, being tonal with five tones (low, middle, high, rising, falling) requires listening and speaking to achieve any practical use.  I have trouble even hearing most of the tones (rising and falling are pretty easy to hear, but the others are much trickier for me.)

So, I started by learning to read since I don’t know how to teach myself without being literate. This has evolved into pages and pages of handwriting practice, followed by learning to use keyboard inputs so I can add words to Mnemosyne or look them up online…

learning to read the tones has proved the most challenging. I expected it to be fairly straightforward, but it is, instead, a complicated formula that involves memorizing the base tone of all the consonants (41?), the vowels (45), whether a vowel is short or long, the tone marks (4), shortening & muting marks (3), consonant irregularities, and then the formula that relates all these variables to provide the syllable tone.

but I keep reminding myself, at least I don’t have to learn 3000 kanji to be literate!

(Renee’s photo of our of our typical hotel evenings.)

Posted by:Brook DeLorme

2 replies on “more on language

  1. I loved reading about your learning process! I also learn by writing (I was never one to recite “amo, amas, amat” but rather to write out conjugations hundreds of times). I realized I wasn’t an auditory learner in college when it was suddenly all about the lectures and there was no text to cram from (in high school I could get away with journaling through lectures because all I had to do was memorize the text book before exams). The way I ended up dealing with college lectures (as I only every processed 5% of what I heard as I was hearing it) was to take verbatim notes and then go back to my room and re-write the notes. That’s when the learning would happen.

    I do pick up things while listening to NPR, to podcasts, etc. But surprisingly little. On the other hand, some deep learning happens for me in conversation … so maybe I’m just weirdly wired. Poetry is supposedly an aural medium but as much as I LOVE poetry, I don’t go to many poetry readings. That’s just because I need to read the poetry. I don’t really “hear” it and it makes me feel pretty stupid – once I’m looking at the poem on the page my intelligence kicks in.

    Do you know about Izzy Lane? I think you’ll be enchanted.

  2. hey Elizabeth- oh, wow, I have run across Izzy Lane recently, but you are so right, I am totally enchanted and envious….I want a sheep farm (well, actually, really just want my own fabric sources…hmmmm…and it’s such a beautiful story…)

    so cool to hear from you, and how we have similar learning styles- I too took verbatim notes during lecture classes and memorized the information later :)

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