Every language has certain grammatical rules, and, often times, they do not correlate with one’s first language. When I first began learning German, I had immense trouble understanding verb placement. The concept of placing verbs at the end of the sentence absolutely blew my mind; then again, at that time I wasn’t very aware of my own language let alone another. Eventually, after a year, I finally caught on to verb placement, as well as kicker-words that placed verbs, once more, at the end. That experience made me nervous about verbs.
Since I began learning Spanish, I had the same problem – I wasn’t sure what to do with multiple verbs in a sentence. I wanted to say, I think I like speaking Spanish more than German. Easy enough, right? Well, in my warped, uninterrupted mind, I began, creo que, me gusta español hablar más que alemán. Of course, this is incorrect, but I can’t make myself place verbs together! In English, we can place tons of verbs next to each other and it would make perfect sense; however, that darn German corrupted me and made me question verb placement. Finally, though, after two weeks, I think I understand. English and Spanish have very similar principles in terms of verbs – with exceptions, of course – however, Spanish verbs make me oh-so-less scared of verbs.
Creo que me gusta hablar más español que alemán.
On another note, I feel learning German has prepared me for Spanish by introducing me to dative construction. By this I mean the way “me” and “I” is used in a sentence. In German, when asked, Wie geht’s dir? (how are you?) One wouldn’t answer with Ich bin gut (I am well), but rather they would answer with mir geht’s gut (me goes well). I’m sure someone could explain why this happens, but I cannot, rather I accept that this happens and use it accordingly. Similarly, in Spanish when you say you like something, one would not answer, yo gusto (I like), but rather one would reply, me gusta (me like). There are a few more exceptions in Spanish where these eccentricities allow the language to be more exciting and unpredictable (as long as it’s not verbs)!
Thus far, I am enjoying Spanish. It’s becoming very useful in my daily life – listening, speaking, and understanding my fellow humans. In my region, Spanish is easily the second language, so I’ve been able to listen to MANY people around me speak. This has helped tremendously with my own self-study and exposure to dialects. Is there anything in Spanish that should have me worried? Difficult syntax? Nouns? Prepositions? VERBS!? Has anyone had any trouble learning Spanish or other languages?
I read an interesting website, stating it’s easier to learn a language that is in the same language family as one’s own. But, does classification truly keep up with how languages constantly change? For English speakers, the logical choice may be learning German, as they are both part of the Germanic language family. However, English has gone far off the beaten path compared to German. Old English and German were once both considered synthetic languages; in morphology, this merely means words have lots of endings. English has dramatically changed and is now considered an analytic language – less inflectional endings.
English has developed quickly over the last 2000 years. In 5th century AD, The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes traveled with this language from Northern Germany to England where they were met by the Celts and Romans. Old English gained minimal influence from Celtic tribes and Roman Latin. Approximately 7th century AD, Scandinavians made their way to England and influenced the English language. From there, Old English took on the Normans where French and Latin (brought by Christianity) transformed the English language once more. Of course, that stage of English is much different than what we speak now. During this period, English gained popularity and transformed into dialects and, furthermore, changed with the coming of new English speaking places – United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. In the year 2012, we have numerous variations of the English language and, additionally, dialects are sometimes not mutually intelligible.
My point being, is it accurate to say that if a language is in the same language family that it will, naturally, be easier to learn? Perhaps English is the exception? Language classification seems to be a historical concept rather than modern ideology to categorize language constantly in motion – especially English. Though the English language fits into the Germanic language family, does that make it easier to learn a language in that same language family? Can this concept be applied to other language families?
I’m curious to know what others think about this. I have limited experience in languages; however, I do find some inconsistencies in claiming learning languages within the same language family are “easier.” Please share your thoughts in the comments thread.
Over the last few years, I have wanted to learn more languages. I began with German, and though I learned a lot, it became difficult to practice in my region. I learned enough from textbooks and university courses, but I needed to practice with others outside the classroom. Unfortunately, the Stammtisches in my area are not well organized, so the opportunity to utilize the language to gain fluency is limited. Sadly enough, cultures using German as their first language are highly educated, meaning, their English is almost always fluent. They have to be a truly kind and exceptional person to put up with my bad German so that I may practice. So, two weeks ago I decided to learn an additional language – one that is more practical for my region.
(Check-out what Mark Twain thought about German)
In my quest for language learning, I targeted two languages in my area that could be utilized in my community; Mandarin and Spanish. Next, I looked at my career path and asked myself, “Which would I benefit most from right now?” In the last twenty years, the Pacific Northwest has become home for many immigrant families from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries. So, my choice in language learning is really based on practicality – I chose to learn Spanish.
Learning any language is a daunting task if you’re lost in the void that is the internet. Many resources tout various slogans such as, “learn Spanish in 3 ½ days! Guaranteed!” or “Become fluent and get more jobs and money!” In the end, they are designed to teach an individual target phrases for travel, business, or ordering at the local Mexican restaurant. These are essential phrases, sooner or later, but beginning with basic lexicon is best.
Syntax: I need word order before I can tackle anything; it helps with visualizing the words when I know where to place them in a sentence.
Verbs: I look to regular verbs and how they’re conjugated in a single tense, but I generally stay away from irregular verbs unless they’re essential in language; e.g., the Spanish irregular verb ir (to go). I spend a day or two paying attention to what verbs I use most often in English. When I have a list of 10 to 15 verbs, I learn them in Spanish, as well as their present tense conjugated forms. I suggest using 501 Spanish Verbs. These verbs usually consist of human needs or giving information: want, must, need, write, go, study, live, have, eat, and speak.
Nouns and adjectives: I create a weekly vocabulary list of practical words I may use throughout the week. I suggest using a Langenscheidt English-Spanish dictionary. A fun way to learn nouns is to write their name in your target language and tape it to the object. Essentially, you’re building your own language learning classroom in your home. Each day when you look into your mirror, you’ll always see that its name in Spanish is espejo. If you’re a visual learner, this is a great method to create images in your mind. I have trouble with word recall, and being able to visualize the word in my mind allows it to be recalled faster.
(Update 01/03/13: New York Times released an article on labeling methods)
In the next step, I take these basic verbs, nouns and adjectives I have learned and create simple conversational phrases that may arise in a casual conversation. For example:
Hablo inglés, pero yo estudio español y alemán.| I speak English, but I study Spanish and German.
El azul es mi color favorito. | My favorite color is blue.
Necesito ir al hospital. | I need to go to the hospital.
It’s nothing fancy, but it conveys important information. More than learning the phrases, you have learned their various forms and how to use the words properly; this in comparison to phrase books which do not explain the phrases, but provide half-hazard translations. When learning a new language, understanding the essentials to exchange vital information is important. Learning a new language is a slow process that takes dedication and practice – never expect to learn a language overnight and always remember we all learn at our own pace. Set a pace that is comfortable and establish firm and flexible goals for yourself and continue to practice every day even if you’re not learning new words.
If you find a great resource that establishes a lesson plan, use it! I have chosen two resources that have done this. StudySpanish.com is a great lesson plan that even provides exams to test your knowledge. The second is a resource I checked-out from my local library, it’s called Living Language: Spanish – The Complete Course. Alternating between two courses allows for a more comprehensive basis for learning a language on your own. Sometimes one may explain the concepts better than the other which allows for you to move on to the next level. Mixing resources is a great way to stay involved and learn from different perspectives.
Aforementioned, set realistic, attainable goals that engage your intellect and challenges your personality. There are two goals I want to accomplish before my birthday in April:
Write a one page biography in Spanish.
Order a Consuelo (an alcoholic beverage the size of your head) and dinner from the Cantina.
This will help further my Spanish learning, as well as expose me to my target culture. There will be mistakes made in both goals, but the goal of learning a language is not to be correct all the time; it’s to learn from mistakes and immerse yourself in a culture and language you did not know before.
Next term at university, I tutor adult ESL learners – immigrants and refugees – where I am hopeful these new language skills will aid both myself and the students. I will continue to provide resources for others wanting to learn Spanish, as well as share my journey in learning Spanish.
The act of gifting is rooted deep in numerous ancient celebrations – especially during the winter solstice. The ancient Babylonian feast of the Son of Isis celebrated on December 25th practiced gift giving. The ancient Roman holiday Saturnalia began their gifting towards the emperors and gods, but later spread gifting to the larger population. Christmas, which is so interlinked to world history, adopted these customs and, throughout history, has transformed this idea into a socio-economic battle of generosity and kindness.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that Christmas became a family holiday centered on gift giving. In fact, it wasn’t until this period that families began placing gifts under their trees. The act of gifting was not truly popularized – at least to our current standard – until Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This sparked many notable figures in society to adopt altruistic values.
According to Wikipedia:
In the spring of 1844, The Gentleman’s Magazine attributed a sudden burst of charitable giving in Britain to Dickens’s novella; in 1874, Robert Louis Stevenson waxed enthusiastic after reading Dickens’s Christmas books and vowed to give generously; and Thomas Carlyle expressed a generous hospitality by staging two Christmas dinners after reading the book. In America, a Mr. Fairbanks attended a reading on Christmas Eve in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1867, and was so moved he closed his factory on Christmas Day and sent every employee a turkey. In the early years of the 20th century, the Queen of Norway sent gifts to London’s crippled children signed “With Tiny Tim’s Love”; Sir Squire Bancroft raised £20,000 for the poor by reading the tale aloud publicly; and Captain Corbett-Smith read the tale to the troops in the trenches of World War I.
After upper-class figures began to model themselves on this Christmas altruism, the lower-class began to mimic these Christmas altruistic values which transformed into hyper-gifting.
Post-WWII America created a middle-class society that prided themselves in their autonomies, compassion, and their ability to be the best. A comic strip cartoonist named Arthur R. “Pop” Momand coined the phrase keeping up with the Jones’ in 1913; he produced a comic by the same name that ran in American newspapers for 26 years. This very essence embedded itself into our social caste system and became the pinnacle of Christmas traditions. With the aid of capitalism in the United States, companies were able to identity this phenomena and branded their products to appeal to this societal value of besting one’s neighbor at Christmas. Films emerged typecasting the American family as wanting to be the best on their block – best gifts, best decoration, and best looking American family. Having the best came from accumulated wealth, and many families in the United States were often times poor. Luckily, ingrained into American values was the term pull yourself up by the bootstraps. This meant that all Americans had the possibility and capability to earn and become the best family on the block during Christmastime. American values deeply supported Christmas traditions as they strived their ways to be the best.
We must also entertain the thought of the Messiah complex where individuals feel the urge to help the less fortunate. This, often times, occurs during Christmas time for white, Christian families wanting to follow their faith’s doctrine during the time of Jesus’ birth. Unfortunately, socio-economic class comes into account where many “minorities” (I use that term loosely and do not fully agree with its connotations; however, its use will be understood by most) are placed into a lower-class system. Whites predominately reign over the upper-class, so this gift giving can have negative effects on society where many Latino families and African-American / Black families are seen as poor – unfortunately, this builds itself as stereotypes or generalization.
The United States served as a Petri dish for American consumerism during the Christmas holiday. American values, capitalism, and the history of Christmas came together to create hyper-gifting during the holidays. Gifting may seem like a good gesture during the holiday season, but I feel it’s best to gauge why you’re purchasing a gift and if there are any outside factors at play as to why you’re giving the gift. The culture one belongs to dictates so many actions that we’re unaware of. During this Christmastime, take personal inventory as to your customs, traditions, and outside factors that may be influencing your urge to gift and then decided if the gift is warranted.
With many discussions over words and languages, few account for English’s long history with European languages – at least in my experience. One language, for myself, I have not taken into full account are Scandinavian languages. England saw many invasions of Vikings over two to nearly three hundred years (787-1014 approximately), where looting and invasion were common before their ensuing assimilation. As accounted by Baugh and Cable (1994), the assimilation was quite peaceful in comparison to their cursory contact with the peoples of England. While the noble realm of kings and laws were sought after by the English and Danes, much of the English population coupled with Scandinavians over a short period of time. This brought on many new words to the English language that were influenced by the Scandinavian language.
Even now in Modern English, we still have such words floating around our vernacular. The way philologists make sense of this influence is by comparing West Germanic Old English to North Germanic Old Norse. Old, Middle, and Modern English have transformed this influence into new variations fit for our modern times, so we must look for small indications to decipher how Old Norse has affected our language. One development that is a great indicator is how the consonants sk have transformed over time. Sk in Old English transformed into the palatalized sc which is pronounced sh; however, sk in Old Norse remains a hard pronunciation of k – as in sK. What this means for Modern English is that words that harbor the sound sh as in shirt, ship, shell, and fish are Old English. And words that contain the sk as in skirt, sky, skin, skill, scrape, scrub, bask, and whisk are derived from Old Norse.
Though many of the words have been changed from their original Scandinavian spelling or pronunciation, we can still see the influence of these many languages that have come into contact with the English language. While having adopted many words does not qualify for mutual intelligibility, it does offer an interesting look at history and perhaps where English is headed in the future. We have a diverse language that is capable of crossing many boundaries. So while you hear someone who may not be using what you may consider “standard” English, understand they are speaking yet another influenced English that just may become the next fad in the English language. Keep your ears open – our language is transforming every day. As linguist Dr. John McWhorter expressed, English is a magnificent bastard tongue.
I went on a search to find a book that spoke in detail of the Roman occupation of England and their subsequent influence on the English language. Luckily, I found a great book by the name of A History of the English Language Fourth Edition written by Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable. It’s a bit outdated since it discussed the breakup of Yugoslavia and the recent German reunification, so, yeah, about twenty years old. Anyways, this book is very detailed in discussing English phonology and morphology. I found it most interesting when they traced English back to the Germanic language family and then further to discuss Proto-Germanic as a subset of the Indo-European language family.
As I continued reading, I remembered I read that Sanskrit was part of the Indo-European family brought by the Aryans traveling through Iran and to the Northwest region of India. Imagine my amazement when they traced Sanskrit to Old English. Here is an excerpt from the book:
Grimm’s Law is provided as an explanation. There was a consonantal shift from Indo-European to Germanic Languages. Thus, throughout history, Indo-European languages changed, Germanic branched into its own language family and then English branched off even further in various ways, shapes, or forms. This is a brief look at the change, but I wanted to inspire others to research and discover their own connections of the English language.
Fun Fact: In 1906 United States’ President Theodore Roosevelt supported a reform to simplify English spelling. It would have changed have to hav, were to wer, and addressed to addresst – amongst many others.