Re: Post-Hiatus Observation The Second

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My German teacher harped on formal case all the time, and then I spent a year in Germany learning informal case because that was how everybody at the Uni talked. You can't win.


Posted by: fedward | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:43 AM
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Everyone should learn English. Like Barack Obama.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:48 AM
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The problem with foreign language education is that we start kids too late in foreign languages and we spend too much money on useless languages like German and Italian.

Sorry Blume.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:53 AM
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Yeah, my experience is more like fedward's. Canadian French Immersion gets you so used to using "vous" as opposed to "tu" that you end up calling everyone "vous." Which is fine when you're 12, and you should be calling everyone "vous", but makes you stick out like a sore thumb once you graduate and try to live among francophones. My French is quite good, but I always sound oddly foreign to francophones because I'm so bizarrely polite. When you're wearing a business suit, addressing your 17 year old barrista as 'vous' makes you look really strange, (especially if your accent is otherwise fine) and yet it's a habit I find hard to break.

So we should all adopt the practice of revolutionary Barcelona, and ban formal address.


Posted by: WMD | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:53 AM
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Like Barack Obama.

Wow, Barack! The nigga's name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain't his fuckin' name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, "Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit." [laughs] "That ain't your fuckin' name." Your momma ain't name you no damn Barack.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:53 AM
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Also it feels more natural to conjugate verbs in the "vous" form, because then they sound noticeably different than first-person verbs. Whereas most verbs sound the same when they follow "je" or "tu", you get the satisfying "ez" at the end of the vous verbs which makes it clear that you know how to conjugate, dammit!

Yes, it's all about selfishness!


Posted by: Auto-banned | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:57 AM
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I was in an intensive Spanish-lit program in high school with this awesome Chilean girl, and we spoke in Spanish together all the time. One day, pretty randomly, I decided to practice my Vd-ing with her and she got really pissed off. Even once she realized that I didn't mean it as a personal insult, she explained that it's a hard thing to remember is just a SSL mistake, and not a clear statement that we were no longer friends. It's viscerally insulting. Once you've decided to tutuar, you don't Vd people.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:58 AM
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I'd be insulted too if you started practicing VD with me.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:03 AM
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They do do that for Japanese, where the verb receives a suffix in formal speech. When I was first learning it, we learned formal first, and informal was taught to us later as "dictionary form," telling us to use it only in a few specified grammatical cases.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:05 AM
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5: Why can't he vote, per the longer interview? Felony or foreigner? I'm guessing the former, based on his command of the vernacular.

Let's just go ahead and stipulate that I'm racist.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:07 AM
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3: Deutscher ist nicht, Wille unbrauchbar. Es ist die schönste Sprache in der Welt, damit das Verwenden über Ausscheidung spricht.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:11 AM
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5: That's pretty crazy. Count me among those who assumed his work on It's Dark and Hell is Hot was satire. I have since changed me mind.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:13 AM
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10: Never mind. On a second look, I see I skimmed past the mention that he is indeed a felon. So I'm not racist after all. Whew.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:18 AM
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Uh, thanks Tweety, I think I can take the defense of the German language from here.

The problem with foreign language education is that we start kids too late in foreign languages and we spend too much money on useless languages like German and Italian.

I don't disagree. German certainly doesn't make sense as a first foreign language unless you're planning to go into certain academic fields.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:19 AM
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the mention that he is indeed a felon


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:23 AM
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I dunno. Learning German really forces one to think about grammar and syntax in a very explicit way that helps when you're learning to read and write in other languages. The same case is often made for Latin, but German's pretty good for that as far as modern languages go. I don't, however, think it helps for acquiring casual conversational skills in other languages.

I'm using chinesepod.com to learn a little spoken Mandarin right now. Their approach is really interesting.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:23 AM
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helps when you're learning to read and write in other languages

Maybe so, but how many other languages is the average person going to learn?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:38 AM
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17: the average person, or the average American?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:40 AM
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Of the people who learn non-native languages, I'm sure most people just learn one, so yeah, those people should choose one that might actually be useful. But I'd make a guess that very few people who learn more than one stop at two. So I guess the question is, what's the gateway language to full-on language-acquisition addiction?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:45 AM
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a warrant for his arrest was issued in connection with a unpaid parking fine and lampooning of a man that attended one of the concerts

Can they arrest you for lampooning?


Posted by: Old Zippy | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:46 AM
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The same case is often made for Latin

Yes, largely I think because the only real case for learning Latin--you'll be able to read a specific corpus of literature in the original--is of limited appeal. It's probably a failure of imagination on my part, but I don't see how learning one language would be better than another at forcing you to think about grammar and syntax explicitly. What makes German (or Latin) more grammar/syntax-intensive than, say, Spanish?

While I'm at it, can I be a little bitch and point out that the original post surely does not mean to speak of formal and informal verb tenses?

(Yes, apparently I can.)


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:49 AM
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I think Spanish is really great for learning tenses, because there are very distinct constructions for like 16 or so tenses. Aside from the difficulties of regional differences, the hardest thing about Spanish is mastering a fuckload of tenses that you'll use conversationally maybe once in your life.

I used to tutor Spanish grammar in college, and it was really fun devising short stories that use all the tenses for my students to translate.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:53 AM
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the average person, or the average American?

Clearly the former, since the average American is fluent in 3/4 of one language.


Posted by: Lester B. Aliddle-Biotche | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:55 AM
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21: German, unlike all Romance languages that I know of, has definite and indefinite articles that decline by number, case, and gender.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:55 AM
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Whereas German makes you think really explicitly about strong and weak verbs, cases, sentence structures, and all that.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:55 AM
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25 to 22


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:57 AM
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Very few people learn one other language, and certainly not two.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 9:57 AM
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I enjoyed learning Latin and I found it made me more aware of grammar constructions in English. I learned German as a kid, because my dad thought it would be useful 'for business.'

I know only a little French, but enough to be completely amused by the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop, which shivbunny and I watched last night. It's this murder mystery comedy about an Toronto cop and a Montreal cop trying to find a serial killer, and the movie is interesting in that it's billingual (the difference between the French and English version is the subtitles.) What amused me was that I could almost understand when (while in Montreal) the Toronto cop spoke French, because he spoke French with a Parisian accent, and while my French is pretty pathetic, I could recognize where the words were even if I didn't know most of them.

The Montreal guy? It's weird to have the feeling of not understanding an accent in a language you don't speak.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:02 AM
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27: The US is fairly monolingual, but the numbers are relatively small so a bad place to start. China is mostly monolingual, but India mostly isn't. UK monolingual, much of the rest of EU is typically not. So it probably comes down to Africa and South America, which I don't have a good feel for.


Posted by: Amero Szentric | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:03 AM
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29:

I should have said "very few US citizens."


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:05 AM
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30: Yes, you should have, but it is a less interesting question that way.


Posted by: Xenopho Bikmasses | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:09 AM
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One thing about language study is that language-and-literature study is different than practical language study. They're actually two different programs -- the immersion programs developed by the Army, etc., are non-literary.

I'm all for the language-and-literature approach, but that's something very few students really want. An practical immersion "Get along in Paris" program would attract more people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:11 AM
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For spoken languages, spanishpod.com and chinesepod.com seem really remarkably useful. I don't know if there are other Pod programs, or if there are some in the works, but they're very good. Unfortunately, if I want to spend time learning more languages, they're really only useful to me if I learn to read and translate in them.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:15 AM
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I learned very formal chiShona before going to Zimbabwe the first time (and I've now lost almost all of my always-limited ability to speak it), and the very first time I tried to greet someone, it went off the rails right away because they went off into slang and informality. It was like I said, "How do you do, my fine sir?" and got back "s'up?" On the other hand, when I met an old woman in a rural area for an interview, I was in good shape because I was so mannerly.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:38 AM
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One thing about language study is that language-and-literature study is different than practical language study.

This is a big problem for academic lang&lit departments that also teach language courses. The MLA Foreign Language Report from last spring has stated the new goal as "translingual and transcultural competence." I like this concept of "transcultural competence":

One possible model defines transcultural understanding as the ability to comprehend and analyze the cultural narratives that appear in every kind of expressive form--from essays, fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, humor, advertising, political rhetoric, and legal documents to performance, visual forms, and music.

Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:47 AM
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the immersion programs developed by the Army, etc.

The Defense Language Institute materials I've seen (reprinted in commercial form as Barron's Mastering series) don't even teach the second person singular in French; I vaguely recall that their Spanish course is the same.

I think Becks is basically right in the post, but which verb forms pop into your head first will depend on which you use most often, whether or not formal speech is enforced in class. My experience with Japanese was like Minivet's, but I ended up using informal speech almost all the time; that said, it's pretty easy to switch back and forth. (A Japanese teacher who wanted to be cruel could teach exclusively the higher-level polite forms rarely used in daily speech, making students sound excessively polite to the point of obsequiousness all the time.)


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:52 AM
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I took Latin in high school because it was obviously the coolest option (other options: German, French, Spanish, Chinese).

My experience would have been like Becks' had I ever been called on, more than once or twice, to address anyone formally.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 10:56 AM
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38

19: Sanskrit.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 11:10 AM
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Everyone should learn German, because you can't read most Classics scholarship without it! Seriously, though, Goethe?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 11:52 AM
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3: I used my knowledge of the German language to snag me a husband! You gonna tell me it's useless now?


Posted by: di k | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:01 PM
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40: You're asking me?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:04 PM
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38 is correct, though as my Sanskrit professor cautioned in his first remarks to our class, "The study of Sanskrit is famous for the many bleached bones it leaves by the wayside."


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:05 PM
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41: Heh. Actually, you and will both should agree with it's usefulness -- you, for winning a convert to your cause and will for professional reasons.


Posted by: di k | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:09 PM
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its


Posted by: di k | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:10 PM
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My grad advisor translated from Sanskrit for a hobby. Learning languages is a lot easier if they're useful, which means travel without rushing, anathema for educated profit-maximisers


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:10 PM
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Seriously, though, Goethe?

travel without rushing

Verweile doch, du bist so schön!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:18 PM
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Incongruously, 37 was my experience as well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:27 PM
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Studying foreign languages for the literature is one of the things I do. I've only learned to speak two of them even passably. If you like it, you like it.

If you want an easy, underrated language, it's Portuguese. It's the equivalent of a subway stop or two away from Spanish, Italian, or French. Not very widely studied, and the literature has its own very distinct feeling despite its linguistic closeness to the others.

Buy now.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 12:54 PM
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I learned Hebrew in some useless manner up to age twelve. Then I started taking German and forgot all my Hebrew. In college, I learned French and forgot most of my German, and after college I went to Guatemala so I could evacuate my French.

Now I speak sucky Spanish, minimal French, virtually no German, and I can read Hebrew off the page enough to pray incomprehendingly.

Also I picked up enough Italian to get an airport bus that dropped me off across a highway from the airport.

(It is cool to understand another alphabet. I feel like my brain is ever so slightly larger for that skill.)


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 1:16 PM
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28: Heh, I have similar problems with French vs. Canadian French. I've lived in Vermont most of my life and I have a good, solid French-Canadian name, but both my parents grew up in America speaking English. So I learned French in school, and later as an exchange student in France. Now I'm surprised when I hear Québécois speaking French with a weird accent. And they in turn get disappointed when I have to ask them to repeat themselves.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 1:27 PM
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I can read Hebrew off the page enough to pray incomprehendingly

Yeah, but can you do that when there are no vowel markings? That part always fucked me up (although I can recognize the Hebrew spellings of Coca-Cola and California immediately).

Going to Greece and Turkey was an odd experience linguistically. In Greece, while I kept recognizing cognates and loanwords (from Greek into English), I was lost because I couldn't read the writing. In Turkey, even though the language itself was far less familiar, I felt a bit more comfortable just because I could read street signs and such. Very weird.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 1:41 PM
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when i was a student, we had to choose an optional language course at the 3d grade, Russian, English German or Tibetan, Chinese was still not popular then, some of my classmates chose Tibetan b/c it would be helpful to study traditional medicine, acupuncture for example
I chose German, but attended only 5-6 times for the whole year, what i was doing that busy i can't recall, our teacher had to chase us 'get your certificate! get your certificate!'
if i'll ever master English may be i'll start German again


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 1:59 PM
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,


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 2:01 PM
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French vs. Canadian French

I worked in a factory in Vermont one summer with a guy who spoke very rustic Québécois French. I'd had four years of high-school French and could speak passably well, but I couldn't understand a word he said.

I was lost because I couldn't read the writing

Similar deal for me in Syria. It was the first time since infancy I couldn't understand a single word, written or spoken, and it sucked.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 2:17 PM
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46: du bist ein Gott, und nie hörte ich Göttlicheres!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 2:25 PM
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China is mostly monolingual

Is that really true? Chinese languages (called "dialects" conventionally because they don't have their own armies and navies) are as far apart from each other as Romance or Germanic languages at the very least. Do we know how many people in China speak more than one?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 2:56 PM
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Almost all Chinese younger than 45 or so who speak non-Mandarin dialects also speak Mandarin by now.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 3:36 PM
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Sub-saharan Africans typically speak 2-5 languages. (At least one but usually a couple indigenous ones, in addition to one European language which varies depending on colonial history of the particular country).


Posted by: mmf! | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 3:47 PM
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57: But that's not really what "monolingual" means.

I've taken summer intensive courses in beginning Russian and German (different summers). For German there were 2 sections of about 15-20 people, and while not everyone did very well, everyone followed the course to the end.

In Russian there was only one section of about 15 and it met for one more hour of class each day than the German. Only about 9 people made it to the end and of them maybe 6 weren't clearly struggling. A few people dropped out and others kept attending but fell further and further behind and ended up in more of a tutorial situation with one of the instructors rather than keep up with the class pace.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03-19-08 8:08 PM
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59: Usually, people who actually speak multiple languages do so because they use them in daily life. Are you alleging that most Chinese people only have occasion to speak other Chinese languages in contexts similar to a summer-intensive course? And what evidence do you have that this is so?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 03-20-08 9:10 AM
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