Friday, November 30, 2007

Foreign Languages

I love learning languages. Most of them have leaked out of my brain by now through disuse, but I've studied a few. This is what I've accomplished so far:

English: mother tongue, duh.
Spanish: 3 years in high school
Latin: 1 year in high school
French, German: a few weeks here and there
Italian: 3 years in college, just missed minoring in it
Russian: a few phrases that cannot be shared on a family-oriented blog

I'd love to learn German next. Because my grandmother was German, because it's interesting, because I could read Steiner in the original. But then I found this commentary by Mark Twain that gives me pause:

Now here is a sentence from a popular and excellent German novel -- with a slight parenthesis in it. I will make a perfectly literal translation, and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphens for the assistance of the reader -- though in the original there are no parenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader is left to flounder through to the remote verb the best way he can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now -very-unconstrained-after-the–newest-fashioned-dressed) government counselor's wife met," etc., etc.

Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide gehüllten jetzt sehr ungenirt nach der neusten Mode gekleideten Regierungsräthin begegnet.

That is from The Old Mamselle's Secret, by Mrs. Marlitt. And that sentence is constructed upon the most approved German model. You observe how far that verb is from the reader's base of operations; well, in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state.

Of course, I don't think I actually have the time or energy to learn a new language, but a girl can dream, right?

(PS: To Papa Bradstein, who recently tagged me for the Infernal Eight Things Meme...not enough brain cells available for that right now. I'll come back to it. Even though NaBloPoMo is NoMo.)


Anonymous said...

If you want to learn German (or many other languages) you should investigate! It is such a cool site! The lessons are great and you practice and chat with tutors and other learners from all over the world. Best of all, it's Free! Enjoy!

Kerryn said...

I wish I had an aptitude for languages. I cope well with the written side but orally, well, I find that I can't make the switch to thinking in the language I'm trying to speak.

Over the years I've learnt Italian and Japanese but little has stayed with me. I have enough Italian to order a coffee or a sandwich or a few slices of ham from the lovely man in the delicatessen in the back streets of Rome but after that, niente. I think it all comes down to practise, practise, practise until it all becomes second nature.

I'd love to learn German though.

(Thank heavens it is NoMo although I will miss reading you daily.)

Papa Bradstein said...


Did someone say beignet?

And hey, you don't live here anymore, do you?