Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Language of the World

I speak seven languages. Really? Which languages? European languages? Asian languages?

In my mind I am conjuring up a visual image of the person who speaks all of these languages. How do they get daily practice speaking not just one other language than their "mother-tongue" but all of the ones they profess to speak...

It seems to radiate outwardly in a kind of a wave. Let's say the mother-tongue is English. In school we may have learned French, Spanish, German, even Italian. At a stretch, we may have learned Russian, but this is a far harder language to learn with past passive participles and other oddments.

Going out with the ripples, it is unlikely that we would learn Portuguese or Greek. Even less likely that we would learn Romanian, Serbian or Croat. It is even less likely still that we have a command of Catalan or Basque. But we might. Following this theme, Asian languages are going to be really hard to learn, because they have no relationship to anything in our experience, unless we have spent time there in an Asian country with Asians and speaking an Asian language. And Asians are remarkably good at English, so why would we need to learn their language?

I began to learn Korean. I was fascinated with the culture. I got good at conversational Korean, but never learned the alphabet. This was a mistake, because I couldn't relate to anything which had been written, only spoken. Now, if I try and remember anything, it's a distant memory. And this was only a few months ago...

I think what I am coming to is that to successfully learn any language, you need to have a strong knowledge of the culture and also have someone who speaks that language spend time with you, helping you understand all the nuances and tricks in learning to speak it. Oddly enough, I remember enough about Korean to know that you have to use different words to say goodbye to someone who is leaving you than if you are leaving them!

Something which is really helping is the emergence of the Web 2.0 culture and all the social networks. This is helping stimulate bonds of friendship between really indigenous boundaries. It will be interesting to see how far this really goes. Even the Chinese censorship and blocking of outside web links is not having an adverse effect on social media. The word is still getting through. And woe betide you if you are an Iranian dictator who wants to stop a fair election! The word also gets out here too.

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