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.

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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.