Learning New Languages.

Posted: August 14, 2013 in All kinds of blog posts, often with a very low level content.
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In this post, I want to show you how learning languages can be so different for everybody. And, while I’m at it, I want to stress that knowing three or four languages in Belgium is standard. (So hire me and pay me some hard cash!)

A few weeks ago I’ve finally put some actions behind my words. I began reading a French book, got a German for Dummies book and started to learn some new Polish words. Maybe it’s not very smart to start with all three of them at the same time, but believe me, they are all completely different from my perspective.

French: As a native Dutch (or Flemish*) speaker in Belgium I had eight years of French at school (just like everybody else here). I haven’t used any of it for over six years now. Saying that my French is a bit rusty is, to say the least, an understatement. Nevertheless, I’m surprised how much I do remember. But maybe more importantly, it’s remarkable how many words French and English have in common. The pronunciation is completely different. But when you read the words, they are often almost identical!

German: Dutch and German are very similar. Obviously this gives me a significant advantage. Understanding some German is do-able (though far from perfect or even “good”) without any training. Speaking or writing on the other hand are nearly impossible! It’s like running into a wall. I always thought that I would be able to say a few things in German. But I highly overestimated my skills. Starting from zero is the best option.

Polish: Horrible horrible horrible. Learning words goes slower than in other languages. Only a minority of the vocabulary has a Latin background. Whenever something has its origins in Russian, there is no sense of familiarity at all. Even worse is the grammar! Learning some words by heart is far easier than actually using them in the correct way. Just like German, I started from zero. But I need probably about four times as many hours to learn something.

Studying more languages is part of my attempt to get more skills with value on the jobmarket. Who is waiting for a young historian/philosopher? An MA in Scratching My Ass is considered a pretty high degree, but at the end of the day, all I can do is scratch my ass.

* To be clear, Flemish is not a separate language, nor a dialect. Officially Flanders (in Belgium) and The Netherlands (or Holland) have the same language. Dialects or on a lower (regional or local) level. It’s hard to classify them, but as far as I know, the dialects in Flanders aren’t linguistically speaking closer with each other than with other dialects. In fact, the relations between dialects are mainly vertical. The dialects on the coastline in The Netherlands have more in common with those at the coastline in Belgium than with other dialects in The Netherlands, etc.

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