09 July 2010

Learning languages

Well, my study of French (which anyone who follows this blog knows has been a thorn in my side for about 8 months) is starting to wrap up. I had been really concerned about it, but I realised in June that all I needed to do was exceed at the assignments to get through the course. And getting through the course is, at this time in my life, really the goal. So I set out to do just that, and managed to get a 97 on my last assignment. My tutor praised my work, but I felt like all I had done was use my knowledge of language to work out what I needed to do. Let me explain:

When you talk, day-to-day, you speak in heavily nuanced, contextualised way. Imagine me telling you this story, as I might:
Dude, I was in the store today to get a bottle of water or whatever and it was like, I don't know, 80 cents, but all I got is a twenty, so I'm like whatever and this guy at the counter was like ::rolls eyes and sighs:: [you: yeah?] Yeah, I give him the twenty and he's like looking at me like, you know? [you: yeah, right] A twenty. I fucking HATE that shit. Seriously.
That's a mess, and if I wanted to tell this story in French, well, I would be frustrated. The key, I think, when you attack a problem like this in another language is to simplify, simplify, simplify. If I had to tell this story in French, I would try to boil it down to the important parts: I needed water. I only had a twenty. The cashier was upset with me. I don't think it is a reasonable thing to be upset about. And if I was writing an assignment about it, I would go through my book and look for whatever grammatical form we had studied and I would put that into my account, along with some linking words. And I would look up everything in a couple of dictionaries and use the forms I found in the dictionaries in my story.

Does this mean I know anything about the language? I don't think so. But it does mean I will likely pass this class without any trouble.