Friday, August 29, 2008

Frequency and Tone

I'm not talking about music but close enough.

I'm talking about language.

Each language operates at it's own frequency or tone-the trick to learning languages then, i think, is not to do what I've tried to do and beat yourself over the head with grammar and all that other junk...( it's not a bad place to start, structure is important too darnit) but to get a few of the basic words and then just listen...a lot. But it's more than that too...I am not sure I can really get to the heart of what I'm trying to say, except to point out some of the obvious things and go from there.

Mainly, you cannot overlay your knowledge of one language on top of another. Maybe with some that are closely related, but say with Turkish (my addiction), it's nearly impossible. I know this, logically, and yet the tone and frequency of English is so ingrained...I know how to manipulate English, how to be funny, how to be professional or intelligent (sometimes) or whatever....I can say with relative confidence that I use my language well.

The trick for me now is to turn that part of my brain off and really figure out how to do the same thing with other languages...German is easier. I am proud to say that on the right day and without the kids yakkin' at me a mile a minute I will just start a sentence in German and pull from my resource until I hit a block...I don't have to sit there and think for three hours about what I want to say or how to say it, I just start to say it.

Therein lies a distinction as well...being able to pull from a source and having to filter it through your own language first or being able to pull directly from that source...that's the beauty of being around kids. You start to associate the things you hear with what they do because overall, they are not spewing Shakespeare they are just talking about the basic things.

A few months back I put down the Elementary Turkish book (hard as it was...i'm surprised it hadn't printed itself on my hands) and said, Ok, enough of that. I started chatting with a friend of mine...she speaks no English and my Turkish is hardly rudimentary but whatever. I found an online turkish dictionary for when I really get stuck and I started to try.

I had a few moments where the other person didnt understand a word of what I said, and I would have to try again...but generally I could be understood.

THe problem is that I'm speaking at the wrong frequency...rather, I'm typing at the wrong frequency. I catch myself all the time trying to use Turkish like English like I said and it doesn't work. They have no word for the verb "to have" for cryin' out loud..hehe.

Some things work out alright but you can tell from reading my IM's that it's a forced language for me....I know the words, I have a set of formula's in my head for forming sentences but there's no....heart....not the right word...there's no spirit to it. It's just words being put down in the order that I know they should go in.

Sometimes I get glimpses of light and I know that I'm getting closer but I have a lot of work to do.

They also have 8 cases so I'm not entirely just a dummy hehe. :D

Language is the raison d'etre in a's about a process, neurologically, emotionally,'s the way to get past differences in race and culture. Language is all we have in a sense and I want as much of it as I can get. I don't know exactly why..maybe I want attention, maybe I'm looking for a better way to understand myself through the words of another, maybe I just like puzzles but there is something absolutely fascinating to me about the way people communicate with each other in their day to day life.

It's funny but I notice how differently our mouths work when we speak new languages with different sounds, and it's interesting because in older people, you can see the evidence of those movements in their smile lines and the lines around their mouths. That's cool to me.

There are some things that I can't imagine being written in any other language aside from English-namely my favorite books, because it wouldn't be "the same" I know how messy it is to translate something and to not just get the words but to get the meaning behind the words.

It's a loaded thing to try and translate what someone else has said into another language...I just said it but I'll say it again-it's not just about the words, it's about the meaning. The cultural, personal, societal weight and meaning that words can carry has to be translated along with the physical words.

I dunno...maybe I think too much. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar but a lot of the time, it has it's own story. (c: I think the same is true with languages, sometimes things are just what they seem...that's the stuff you learn in school "Sit in a chair." "Open the window." Whatever-but to really get into a language takes a reconditioning of the brain that anyone can do I think if they have the patience and the desire.

I don't know...the best way to do something well is to practice so I'm going to keep at it. I'm going to force my friends and family to help me fix my mistakes and to bear with me while I make a fool out of myself trying to move past the 5th grade speaking level hehe...

I can feel this process taking place in my brain sometimes I think-someday the door will burst open and I will "get it". (c:

Intention. Action. Fruition.


Lisa said...

I admire your willingness to tackle Turkish! I've been there three different times and I know what you mean about the language having an entirely different cadence, intonation, everything. It's sort of like when I hear someone speaking Korean and it all sounds like arguing to me, even though I'm pretty sure it's not! I lived in Germany for four years and I took classes, etc. but the thing that accelerated my German more than anything else was having a German boyfriend and being immersed in the language at times. For a little while, it was like I could sorta kinda get by. On the other hand, when I would bring him around my American friends, I found that I had an inclination to speak English WRONG since it made it easier for him to understand ;)

Riss said... know I catch myself doing that all the time! I say things backwards or I forget words or I find myself saying things to the kids in a way they understand because it's wrong hehe...

it's like..uhm...dammit.

I haven't taken any classes or anything, I've just been asking a lot of questions and shoving as much of the language in my brain as possible...I can basically survive. Basically. (c:

Steve Malley said...

I'm the same way-- I learn by the rhythm and 'music' of the way folks talk. Bits and pieces of vocabulary, cases, etc. are added gradually, until one day (at least in theory) I don't sound like the world's largest toddler. But it all starts with the general sound of the language.

Languages *do* get easier too, the more you pick up. Not just related ones, but all language in general. It's all about plasticity of concept...

Thanks for this post. My brain so seldom does any work!

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Thanks for stopping by! I agree wholeheartedly. Translated poetry is virtually pointless. The music in the words gets lost in translation, everytime. Now... if only I could read Spanish, I could seriously tackle Neruda...

steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steve said...

steve said...
I just got done listening to a course on CD by Michael D.C. Drout on English grammar. He goes through the history of the language from proto-Indo-European (I'm still unsure how we know about it, as it was never written) through West Germanic Old English, the Scandinavian, Latin, and French influences that gave us Middle English, and the evolution into modern English. The rhythms of Old and Middle English are not anything like those of modern English. Chaucer loses a lot by being translated into modern English.

I wish you the best in your pursuit of Turkish. The central character in my Dickems Challenge novel is fluent in five languages (French, Spanish, Germsan, Urdu, and Farsi) besides English by the time she's out of high school. There are people who can do that. As for me, I'm trying to relearn Spanish through Cds. I've forgotten most of it. Ditto for French, Latin, and German.