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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Notes on learning another language

I've been learning languages for a while, on and off. Probably because when I was a kid and we were moving all over the world every few years, I had to learn something if I wanted to live, and it's one of the things that has lingered even as I've been stuck here in one spot for too long.*

Currently, the main language I'm focusing on is Romanian, mostly just because. And because I hadn't tried it before. And because I like Sebastian Stan and he speaks Romanian. It's a pretty language with a lot of vowels**, so it sounds sort of rolling and bouncy and it's close enough to other romance languages to be vaguely familiar and far enough from them to be interesting. 

And I'm also learning Mandarin Chinese***, because my boss is Chinese and that seems like a good enough reason.

Here's some things I've noticed about learning basically random languages as an adult:

1. It keeps my brain ticking over
I've been out of school for a while, and wishing I could go back****, but since I can't, I have to learn things on my own. Years ago, when I first started trying to learn Swedish and Japanese, there was only Pimsleur learning tapes, which were very good, but not at all interactive. Now, though, I have three things that I love because they're fun:

Duolingo has the most in depth lessons, but Memrise has more languages on offer. All of them make it sort of like a game to learn, and I can feel the neurons growing in my brain as I work my way slowly through them.

PLUS, there's all sorts of fodder for stories when I'm pouring all this new stuff into my head. I don't think we can learn languages in a vacuum; I'm always looking for bits of literature, or folklore, or random facts, or news articles, or music for my languages, and every new thing is a new chance for an idea!

2. It makes me feel like maybe I could travel more easily to places that don't speak English
I want to travel the world again--I have itchy feet and a wandering soul. But I never really thought about visiting places where I wouldn't be able to talk to people before. Now, I think maybe I could do it. I could probably make myself understood in Romania, assuming I couldn't find an English speaker, and the few phrases I know in Chinese are clear enough that my boss knows what I'm saying, and it's super encouraging to be able to communicate with people like that.

It would be so nice to travel and not be isolated or lost because of a language barrier!

3. It's not easy, but it's fun
When I was young, picking up words and accents was so easy that I think before I found the language apps, the reason why I didn't keep going was that it now wasn't easy and my brain sort of felt like it should be. Brains slow down and it gets harder to learn new things as you get older. But I don't want to be one of those old people who ossified decades ago; I'm already learning new sciences and teaching myself math, and trying to keep up on tech, so what's a little language-learning?

And you know, it's neat giving yourself a challenge and then beating it. It's cool knowing something you didn't know before. And being the total nerd that I am, it's neat having worksheets and lists and handwritten notes happening because of this study, even if it is loose and slow and self-directed. 

4. Seeing someone smile because you tried to speak their language is so cool
Partly because it's got to sometimes suck always having to live in a different language, and sometimes be a relief to hear your own. Partly because, I think, a lot of Americans don't bother, so even one limping little phrase can be nice. And partly just because people in general like when you show interest in their lives. 

5. It's good for anxiety
So far, I'm not using the languages I'm learning all that much, because I'm shy and not that confident in what I know yet, but there's this neat side-effect I didn't expect: it gives my brain something else to chew on than whatever is setting off anxiety. 

The thing about anxiety is that it likes to just take over all your brainspace, leaving you not much else for other things, like being a functional adult. But having something else that uses up brainspace--like a nice semi-tough language--to focus on means there's no space for anxiety. And, bonus, it reinforces what you're learning if you go through your vocab lists or practice phrases instead of freaking the fuck out, which is super nice.

Do you guys learn languages? What's your favorite part about it?

*Other lingering things: drinking hot tea year round, no matter how hot it is outside; taking my shoes off inside; various foods that were normal for us but are apparently weird; a tendency to eat dinner super late and to shop for food every day...
***Other languages on random / as-I-feel-like-it rotation: Italian, French, Catalan, Basque, Swahili, Swedish, and Japanese. I just like knowing words I think.
****And I will, one day, but I have to do something about all the old loans that let me go before, first...

- Today's change: Learn something new and talk about the world in a different way!

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