The Hardest Thing: Doing what You ACTUALLY Want

Now I stand in a position that I never thought I would see.

As it turns out, the hardest thing in my language learning journey isn’t about putting in the effort or about actually learning or applying usage of the languages.

At this point, I can have almost any language I want as long as I put in the effort (as a matter of fact, so can anyone, even though I believe that most people would rather not know that).

The hardest thing is learning when I have to give up some of my languages in the event that I don’t feel enchanted by them the way that I used to.

There have been some languages that have continuously kept their appeal for me (the Scandinavian trifecta). There have been others that I have been a bit “force-fed” (Hebrew, of course, but also Spanish and German).

And then there are others, I feel, that I used to like but then, for some reason, starved them. Back in August I felt very comfortable conversing in Portuguese, but now I can’t bring myself to speak even simple sentences.

Two years ago, I was very enthusiastic about acquiring an entire collection of languages. Now, it seems, that the novelty has worn off…or so it seems.

I have to infuse my projects with new relationship energies. I have to ask myself what I genuinely want from my languages, and always ask if I really want to learn that language or if I feel peer-pressured into it.

Back in July I made the commitment to learning both French (the European variety) and Faroese. A half-a-year later and can read KVF and Röddin without problems and the pronunciation and grammar are non-issues. And French? Ummm….Duolingo snail progress, although I can muster some phrases. Goes without saying that I’m 30x better at Faroese than I am at French.

foroyar

What happened? I just simply followed what I wanted to.

And now I have to ask that question again: what do I want? And to learn the languages that I really want to, that sometimes mean detaching myself from old prospects. Whenever that happens, I usually feel that the language is begging for me to not let it go (even though it never goes completely), but then my time budgeting ensures that it happens anyway.

I know that I have been a comfort to readers as a language blogger who specializes in very rare specimens indeed. That is what I hope to continue doing, as I feel that the blind spot of too many other language bloggers is that they ignore the many little worlds that are to be found in places many people don’t even know exist.

So this means: I am going to abandon some of my other languages in favor of those that I am currently learning or possibly even others. There will be a revolution.

I pledge to keep bringing those little worlds to you. And to whomever else wants.

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Several Languages at the Same Time?

DSC00067 (5)

I get asked about learning several languages at the same time by many, MANY people. The common wisdom that curious souls tend to glean from forums is the following:

  • Avoid it when possible
  • If you must, choose languages that are highly dissimilar.
  • You must feel very confident in one second language before taking on another.

As for myself, I have a passionate soul and heart that pulls me in all directions and, as a result, am not one for following rules that I don’t have to follow.

I have no real principles that I steadily keep about simultaneous learning. The only principle I really have in this regard is “if you have a desire to learn a language (or to do anything, for that matter), act on it!”.

“But what about mixing up languages?” some of you may say.

Well, I do have tips about doing that. Looking at my list, there are highly similar languages, such as:

  • Yiddish, German and Dutch
  • Norwegian, Swedish and Danish
  • Icelandic and Faroese

All of these, to make the problems even worse, are Germanic. But the only real ones I’ve ever mixed up consistently have been German and Yiddish! Those in the third category I have mixed up on…only a few occasions, and the second one almost never.

What did I do well with the Scandinavian Languages? Well, from the beginning I associated each one of them with highly different modes of speaking. As my first unofficial Swedish teacher told me: Norwegian is nasal, Danish is guttural, and Swedish is (like all things Swedish) in the middle.

The vocabulary between Danish and Standard Norwegian in particular are frighteningly similar, as anyone who has studied both languages will tell you. You thought Spanish and Italian were close? Well…imagine that times ten. Although it should be said that there are vocabulary differences between Danish and Norwegian Bokmål, despite what others may tell you (in jest).

The primary difference between Danish and Norwegian lies in the way they are spoken. The pronunciation differs very much (and Danish pronunciation has been known to scare students of Swedish just by merely mentioning the topic).

Where was I?

Oh, so the reason that I almost never mixed up these languages had to do with the fact that I had them categorized with different registers and feelings. One time on the “How to Learn Any Language Forum” I encountered a post that said that it was “not possible” to learn more than one Scandinavian Language because they were so similar. Well, obviously that isn’t true, because I’ve met people who can speak all three fluently. And if they exist, well, then it is possible…what is there to be said?

So what you genuinely need to do with simultaneously learning is ensure that you put languages on different emotional registers. Give them associations with a culture, with a mode of feeling…and, as such, mixing up words will seem like such a terrible intrusion that it won’t happen.

On a side note, I should also mentioned that I even mix up my native language with my other languages. Sometimes I’m thinking in another language and speaking in English and as a result I have to pause and configure a phrase or a word into something that would make sense more readily in English. (Recent examples of this included me trying to configure the German word “Missbrauch” and the Danish phrase “har lyst”).

Is mixing up languages the worst thing in the world? Not if it happens very infrequently. And I’ve noticed people of all nationalities do it at some point! What you need to do is minimize the chances of it happening by ensuring that you compartmentalize the various versions of yourself in each language so that they don’t intrude on each other more than they need to.

When you have that, you will realize that you can study all of the languages you want, without fear of mixing them up.

Isn’t that nice?

 

 

Where in the World is Samiland?

sapmi

Have you ever looked at a map of Scandinavia and ever wondered if people lived in that northernmost area that encompasses Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia?

Turns out that people do live there. (There are also residents of Slavbard in the Polar North, but that’s another story).

This area is commonly known by Americans as “Lapland”, which nowadays denotes a purely geographical meaning (as opposed to the geopolitical “Samiland”, which is an area with some autonomy from the Sami Parliament).

The inhabitants of Samiland were formerly known as the “Lapps” and the language as “Lappish”, but these terms have fallen out of use (even though derivatives of them still appear in place names). Instead, they are referred to as Sámi People and the Sámi Language, and the land is Sápmi, or Samiland.

How many people live in this area? About 70,000.

What sort of languages are spoken there? In addition to the national languages of the countries that own the territory on a map (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian), there are the Sami Languages, or the indigenous languages of the indigenous Sami People.

(At this point I would like to say that whether or not I used the accent for “Sámi” is completely arbitrary.)

The most commonly spoken of these Sami Languages is Northern Sami, which I wrote about here.

The Sami Languages, all of which are endangered, belong to the Finno-Ugric Language family, and the Northern Sami Language in particular is about as distant from Finnish as English is from German. Both Finnish and Northern Sami use non-Latin versions of the months that denote aspects of that time of the year (unlike Estonian and Hungarian, which use the Latin names the way English speakers do).

There are many similarities in vocabulary besides, although Northern Sami does use fewer cases and more complicated “consonant gradation” (which is shifting a consonant in a word to a weaker form when it declines—in Finnish, “kaikki” [everything] would become “kaiken” [of everything] when declined in the genitive. Note that the “kk” becomes “k”. Northern Sami uses a similar system).

There are other Sami Languages aside from Northern Sami. Don’t ask me about them because I haven’t studied any of them. They are not mutually intelligible with one another, although their vocabularies are similar.

Here is the flag, my personal favorite flag on the face of the earth. I have heard a theory that the colors refer to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, but…like I know…

sapmi

The Sami are also well-known for a wordless singing known as “Yoiking”. You may have already heard yoiking before…if you have seen the opening titles for Disney’s Frozen. Yes, this was not an original creation, but rather the “Yoik of the Earth”. Have a listen and refresh your memory:

(Note: the latter portion of this version does involve a mashup with a Norwegian Christmas hymn).

Here is an a cappella version of the national anthem:

I could get into some of the politics of tensions that occur between the Sami and the various countries, but you are welcome to do research on that on your own.

In the meantime, why not treat yourself to some radio:

http://radio.nrk.no/direkte/sapmi

Or, if you would prefer, why not some television? (This links to the version with Norwegian subtitles, but you can easily find the same with Swedish or Finnish subtitles if you poke around the web, or ask about it in the comments).

http://tv.nrk.no/serie/oddasat-tv

I would like to dedicate this post to anyone who asked me about the Sami at any point. This is for you.

 

Fun Media from Winter Break 2015

Over the course of the break, I made significant progress in some of my projects (Northern Sami, mostly) and not so significant progress in some of my others (Celtic Languages), but while seeking to apply my languages I did come across some things that I thought I should share with you.

From the Sami department, I encountered a TV show on NRK’s website, “Pulk Klinihkka”, which is…I kid you not…a Sami sitcom (for those of you unaware of what Sápmi is, I intend to write a blog post about it in the style of this one about the Faroe Islands).

Language is Northern Sámi with some Norwegian (and a bit of Swedish), with Norwegian subtitles. Even if you don’t know any of these languages, this may be somewhat amusing for you…I hope.

Here is the third episode, with a particularly amusing incident involving baptism:

http://tv.nrk.no/serie/pulk/SAPR69000313/sesong-1/episode-3

Obviously, important issues about minority identity come into play, and I see the same sort of “underdog” humor that I tend to associate with Yiddish theater in this show. Funny how that works out, eh?

From a somewhat warmer place, allow me to introduce you to another television show, “No Béarla”, an Irish-Language show from Ireland in which a native Irish speaker tours the island without using English. Interestingly I think that he does use English in some episodes, but maybe they were filmed…before he made the commitment? I have no idea…

Endless issues about endangered languages and language as it is tied to identity surface beautifully in this program. Here is the first episode:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyll-bBZzyk

And last, but not least, allow me to introduce you to some music I encountered over the break, this time from a very cold place.

The Jerry Cans produce songs in Inuktitut and in English about life in Nunavut, Canada’s youngest province. Quite eclectic and catchy music that may remind you of American country songs…I first discovered them on KNR (of all places…oh, you need to know what that is? Greenland TV) and then I followed the trail.

Here is the SoundCloud account:

https://soundcloud.com/thejerrycans

And here is the video I saw on KNR. “Mamaqtuq” (it tastes delicious) is actually a song about…seal meat stew…you can imagine the look on my mother’s face when I showed it to her. Watch the video and see why:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DueVqYKWQxE

What sort of interesting things have you done over your Winter break? Share them!

MMXV

Well, here we are again, at the first day of a new year!

I have only one memory of any New Year’s Day in recent memory, specifically when  I was with a study group in Haifa, Israel, visiting the Technion. Beforehand, however, I walked into an open manhole. Thankfully, I was not hurt.

On a day like this, there is a lot of reflection, and it seems that as time continues to amble along many of these reflections will be forgotten.

That doesn’t mean that reflections are not in order, however!

So what could I do to make languages of the world more real in my life?

  1. In an earlier post I exhorted you to act immediately in the event that you had any desire to learn a language…

 

Well, as it turns out, I am sometimes surprisingly hypocritical. I have a desire to learn a language, and then I think to myself, “don’t I have enough already?”

 

I don’t have to learn all of them fluently. Even if I just learned them to a basic degree, that would be okay. What is important is that I not be seriously handicapped by language barriers in the world. This is what I do what I do.

 

So, from here on out: if I have a desire to learn a language, I act upon it. I follow my own advice.

 

  1. Likewise, I also have to realize more easily when it is time to forget a language, no matter how much time I have invested in it. Sometimes the magic dies down, and there’s little that can be done about that. In that case, I need to find magic elsewhere, and not feel like a “quitter” or a “loser” for given up on a language.

 

  1. I also need to let memories of past failures stop weighing me down. For those of you who don’t know me, I have a very sharp memory when it comes to events, and as a result I find it difficult to forgive myself for past errors, no matter how long ago they were.

 

As a result, sometimes there are times in which I feel that I got “answered in English” because I wasn’t good enough or used an incorrect construction and I hold onto that unnecessarily.

 

No more!

 

  1. And I also need to stop insisting that I understand every word. Even when watching TV shows in my Native Language (something that I do with family members, primarily), I don’t understand every word, so why should I hold a similar standard with any acquired languages?
  2. More custom courses on my learning programs…that is, I put in the words myself.

 

  1. Get speaking exercises done more often, even in my strongest languages.

 

  1. Get pen pals for any language I believe needs practice.

 

  1. Stop questioning myself so much.

 

Don’t let you dreams be weighed down by anything.

Go get ‘em!  

max mekker with magic wand (ep. 36)