Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Learning to speak a new language

Sometimes I marvel at the complexities of language. Until I began to learn Swedish, I didn't think about this. Most of us talk and listen without thinking about it. It's almost like breathing.

But consider this: to speak a language, one must master hundreds of thousands of actions. They include: vocabulary, word forms (e.g. sing, sang, sung), pronunciation, stress, sentence melody, word order in sentence, how to use prepositions, the way people talk, and more.

It's not enough to know vocabulary. One can't go far without a vocabulary of at least a few thousand words, but even a huge vocabulary doesn't help if the hearer doesn't understand the word because it is pronounced wrongly. Word order it is possible get by without usage perfect (you understood this?), and placing the wrong preposition under the sentence (and that?) is understandable, but marks one as a beginner.

Today, I understand much of what I read, and snippets of general conversation. When people speak directly to me, I can usually understand and respond effectively. But in the absence of regular training learning is a long process.

Talking is a somewhat separate process from listening. I have found it really helpful on this trip to talk a lot. I don't get any practice at this in Alaska. Listening is easier....I can use the Internet.

It was interesting when we were in Norway last week to be able to speak in Swedish to an older Norwegian who knows little or no English. The languages are similar enough to be able to pull this off. Our talk was mainly about the weather and family, but it worked.

More in this blog on this topic here and here.

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