Inserting a New Language Into a Not-So-New Brain

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Inserting a New Language Into a Not-So-New Brain

by baldilocks

I don’t remem­ber whether I men­tioned it here or not, but two of my jobs as an active-​duty USAF NCO were these: Ger­manic– and Slavic– Cryp­to­logic Lin­guist; those are the titles on my DD Form 214 (Record of Active Duty.) The Ger­manic part indi­cates that I was a Ger­man Lin­guist, but obvi­ously there is more than one Slavic Lan­guage; I was a Russ­ian Linguist.

My Ger­man is still pretty good, but my Russ­ian has fallen by the way­side due to my lazi­ness. That acknowl­edged, I’m learn­ing a new lan­guage: Hebrew. By far, it’s the most dif­fi­cult of the three.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_83232” align=“alignright” width=“150”]history-hebrew1-hp1 What the Hebrew lan­guage first looked like in my brain[/caption]

Some­thing I dis­cov­ered with learn­ing for­eign lan­guages. The first one is the most dif­fi­cult to learn for two fun­da­men­tal rea­sons. First, each native lan­guage shapes the think­ing of the indi­vid­ual and of the cul­ture in which it is used. To facil­i­tate the learn­ing of a new lan­guage, one must dis­card the old way of think­ing or, at least, tem­porar­ily dis­able it. It’s sounds a lot eas­ier than it is and it’s why sec­ondary lan­guages are more dif­fi­cult for those who are older. The native language’s man­ner of think­ing becomes more hard-​wired with time.

And sec­ondly, gram­mar is taught in junior high school/​middle school, then ignored. (This may just apply to most ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Amer­i­can pub­lic edu­ca­tion.) For many of us, gram­mar terms have become a for­eign lan­guage all its own.

There­fore, though Ger­man is the eas­i­est of the three lan­guages I’ve stud­ied, because it was the first, I had the most dif­fi­cult time learn­ing it.

The first week of the 32-​week Basic Ger­man course at the military’s Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute and For­eign Lan­guage Train­ing Cen­ter (DLI-​FLTC) in Mon­terey, CA con­sisted entirely of Eng­lish gram­mar. About a month into the course, I recall wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night after hav­ing a night­mare con­sist­ing of a non­sen­si­cal blur of Ger­man run­ning through my brain. I could not think of one word in Eng­lish. I didn’t expe­ri­ence that while learn­ing Russ­ian, nor with Hebrew. My brain had been soft­ened up.

For this lat­est lan­guage, it’s nec­es­sary to exert a greater amount of self-​discipline than with the oth­ers — not only because of its dif­fi­culty, but also because of the con­di­tions under which I’m study­ing it. With the first two lan­guages, I was in the mil­i­tary, and learn­ing each lan­guage was my entire exis­tence: eight hours per day, five days per week. With Hebrew, I’m doing it vol­un­tar­ily; it’s a free class taught by my pas­tor. Being 30 years older than the last time I tried to force a for­eign lan­guage into my brain doesn’t seem to make much of a dif­fer­ence that I can tell, but hav­ing more cares and wor­ries than I had back then cer­tainly does.

Why am I doing it? Because it’s a great oppor­tu­nity to learn the lan­guage with which the major­ity of the Old Tes­ta­ment was com­posed and, there­fore, get a greater insight into the think­ing of the com­posers and that of the Composer.

Is Greek (New Tes­ta­ment) next? Sud­denly, I have a headache.

Juli­ette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was pub­lished in 2012. Her sec­ond novel will be done in 2016. Fol­low her on Twit­ter.

Please con­tribute to Juliette’s JOB: Her new novel, her blog, her Inter­net to keep the lat­ter going and COF­FEE to keep her going!

Or hit Da Tech Guy’s Tip Jar in the name of Inde­pen­dent Journalism — -»»baldilocks

by baldilocks

I don’t remember whether I mentioned it here or not, but two of my jobs as an active-duty USAF NCO were these: Germanic- and Slavic- Cryptologic Linguist; those are the titles on my DD Form 214 (Record of Active Duty.) The Germanic part indicates that I was a German Linguist, but obviously there is more than one Slavic Language; I was a Russian Linguist.

My German is still pretty good, but my Russian has fallen by the wayside due to my laziness. That acknowledged, I’m learning a new language: Hebrew. By far, it’s the most difficult of the three.

history-hebrew1-hp1
What the Hebrew language first looked like in my brain

Something I discovered with learning foreign languages. The first one is the most difficult to learn for two fundamental reasons. First, each native language shapes the thinking of the individual and of the culture in which it is used. To facilitate the learning of a new language, one must discard the old way of thinking or, at least, temporarily disable it. It’s sounds a lot easier than it is and it’s why secondary languages are more difficult for those who are older. The native language’s manner of thinking becomes more hard-wired with time.

And secondly, grammar is taught in junior high school/middle school, then ignored. (This may just apply to most beneficiaries of American public education.) For many of us, grammar terms have become a foreign language all its own.

Therefore, though German is the easiest of the three languages I’ve studied, because it was the first, I had the most difficult time learning it.

The first week of the 32-week Basic German course at the military’s Defense Language Institute and Foreign Language Training Center (DLI-FLTC) in Monterey, CA consisted entirely of English grammar. About a month into the course,  I recall waking up in the middle of the night after having a nightmare consisting of a nonsensical blur of German running through my brain. I could not think of one word in English. I didn’t experience that while learning Russian, nor with Hebrew. My brain had been softened up.

For this latest language, it’s necessary to exert a greater amount of self-discipline than with the others—not only because of its difficulty, but also because of the conditions under which I’m studying it. With the first two languages, I was in the military, and learning each language was my entire existence: eight hours per day, five days per week. With Hebrew, I’m doing it voluntarily; it’s a free class taught by my pastor. Being 30 years older than the last time I tried to force a foreign language into my brain doesn’t seem to make much of a difference that I can tell, but having more cares and worries than I had back then certainly does.

Why am I doing it? Because it’s a great opportunity to learn the language with which the majority of the Old Testament was composed and, therefore, get a greater insight into the thinking of the composers and that of the Composer.

Is Greek (New Testament) next? Suddenly, I have a headache.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.

Please contribute to Juliette’s JOB:  Her new novel, her blog, her Internet to keep the latter going and COFFEE to keep her going!

Or hit Da Tech Guy’s Tip Jar in the name of Independent Journalism—->>>>baldilocks