The struggles of an introverted language learner

Today I have been getting back into the language learning saddle after as break to focus on other projects and I came across as a most excellent fellow called Donovan who is very introverted like myself but isn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger and likes to travel to far flung places to learn languages fluently.

His blog is called Mezzofanti Guild (after a famous 18th c polyglot) and it details his journey towards proficiency in Irish, Russian, Arabic and Korean. These are very hard languages to learn and I admire him for the dedication, time and effort that it requires to go to the lengths that he does to study these to the degree that he does.

Now I’m not personally interested in learning Irish, Arabic or Korean but I do know people that have learnt/are learning those languages so it can be done even if your a mono-lingual English speaker.

Russian is a language I dabble in when I have time but it’s not a priority for me. Same could be said for Spanish. These are interesting (and I’m a very curious, inquisitive person) and it would help me with travel, socialising and my other hobby Eurovision but my main focus is on Greek. Not the biblical or ancient kind but the modern kind. This is so that I can strike up a conversation with a native and actually gain friendships out there (Lefkas) but due to the fact that a) I can’t drive and b) I couldn’t afford a mobile out there that’s never really going to happen as I so very rarely interact with people my own age.

I love words as I may have mentioned a few times before but the spoken word is a bit of a mystery to me as you can interpret the same phrases in so many different ways depending on how they are said. This presents quite a problem for a person learning Greek as there are many word pairs that I have come across that change their meaning depending on how they are pronounced. For a person with issues with their speech, this is quite a nightmare. Some examples are the word for safety and fuse, amusement and theme park, when and never, the most common swear word and straits of Malacca in Indonesia. There are countless more that could be listed as while English has about 1 million words as we steal from a myriad array of languages, Greek tends to be the originator so only has about 650,000 in comparison. This density is useful as you could possibly obtain fluency quicker but also increases the errors you could make as well and for socially anxious types like myself, this is never going to be a good idea.

It’s commonly put about that it’s easiest to learn a language through speech as that’s how we learn our first and while this is true it’s not very helpful if your shy, introverted, or just a person that doesn’t like talking. This is a daily struggle for myself having to get out into the wider world and converse with strangers. I most recently tried with a bunch of computer scientists which was doomed to failure almost from the outset because of the inherent qualities of being a girl meaning I’m was persona no gratis.

Greek grammar 2

I’ve been trying to write a post on Greek grammar now for a while. The first one got interupted by my computer being a pain in the ass as it has Windows 10 and it got interupted in the middle of an update as my net dropped out so it decided the next time it turned on it would present me with a Cortana and start button aint working error. Fast forward to my Windows 7 disc fixing the error and the fact that I help out my mate Angelos by proof reading his website as translating from Russian to English and back when your a native Greek is quite difficult due to the different grammatical structures in place. He does a stellar job of it angelos’s website but there are various features that are inherant in each language that are difficult to get around and its tricky to remember which set of rules applies to each. For instance Greek is a gendered language and has male, female and neuter words as well as the single and plurals to account for. This means that word endings change, the phrases at the start of words change and you don’t always need to say I as sometimes you automatically assume its there. That’s why when translating from Greek to English you have to insert all those little words which simply are not necessary in Greek. This can create slight problems if you forget but due to the brain not reading everything anyway it doesn’t really matter. I’m going to say Russian is similar to Greek in this respect but even more complex as it has more cases.
This brings me to my next point what on earth does nominative, genitive, accusative, instrumental, dative, prepositional mean? These are probably terms you’ve never come across if you have not studied a foreign language or done your native language at say degree level. These are names for all the cases in Russian which is why it is perceived as such a difficult language along with say 14 words for motion. However the Inuit are supposed to have about 20 different words for snow and if you hear the English talk about rain you will get the same idea. So its a bit exaggerated but there are ways to get around this as usual. Take it slowly and only deal with them when necessary. You will be far more receptive to the words and what they represent if you don’t bite off more than you can chew in your quest to master a language. Create your own mind pictures like today I learnt aristera is left and dexia is right in Greek and thought that resisting arrest is wrong as they put cuffs on your wrist. Also in days gone by it was wrong to write with your left. So right is correct by the law and customs. Furthermore manual dexterity is working with your hands and so many people are right handed that I think you need special tools if your left handed proving again that if you want to do something dextrous use your right as you will be arrested for using your left.

Language learning obstacles

As I’m quite interested in language learning at the moment I have been trying to learn a1 Spanish on Memrise but the thing that is tripping me up right from the start is the gender issue. I keep getting the forms wrong for the most basic verb llamo because learning how to say my name is correctly is quite important. Maybe the conventional way of learning a language is not good for me as I have progressed better with my Greek by following a rather obscure method of a bit of this, that and the other since there was no a1 course. Learning grammar I have found was easier later but to properly get this in my head I need practice. I’m rather reticent however to practice on my friends because its embarrassing and I can’t speak properly anyway.

I am however diverging from the point that maybe because Spanish is perceived as easier as there is no alphabet to learn and lots of the words are similar to other romance languages or you can figure them out relatively easily due to exposure that it doesn’t activate the brain as much as it constructs roadblocks to prevent learning.

I am however struck by the similarities in alphabet construction between Greek and Russian and I’m having the same issues here namely all the e’s. Who would have thought that one letter in English could have so many different sounds which are separate letters in Greek and Russian?

Memrise

I think I may have learnt all the Greek I can from Memrise as mnemonics are great but they don’t help you learn clauses or how to form sentences. They also don’t help with speech. So learning lots of different words is brilliant and it says I’m up to about 381 words but none of it will really be of any use in an actual conversation. Sure I teach my friends and relatives but they don’t know if I’m saying it wrong or using it incorrectly. There are limited engagement opportunities in Memrise. I have Memrise Pro but the immersion mode is just for main English courses and I haven’t come across the listening mode yet. The difficult words feature is helpful but so far I haven’t benefited that much from it. I haven’t used it that much but I thought that I would start learning Spanish to see if that was better as it’s a main language and the cross language ability may help me. Russian has piqued my interest too with ballet, history programmes, a novel adaption and I have a book already on how to learn Russian. I also thought it may help my Greek as it’s similar. So you could say I’m trying a new approach as I’m bored with just accumulating vocabulary and having no way of practising it. I need to wait until Greece for inspiration I think.