Monday, May 19, 2008

Gratitude, Inspiration and Language Learning

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

- Tennyson's "Ulysses"

In the last week or so, I've been thinking about the different methods I've used for study, and the different languages I've studied. This started when, via the Omniglot, I visited Professor Arguelles's website. Among other things, he talks about the languages he's stuck with, and the languages he's had to abandon. While I haven't gone nearly so far as the professor, I couldn't help but think, Yeah, me too, as he talked about the realization that maybe you can't learn 'em all, and about letting go of something in which you've invested a lot of time.

The life of a language learner can get frustrating. First you get bogged down with a method that's not working for you. Then you find something that works better and take stock of the time wasted. But it probably doesn't work that way. And even if it does, it's best not to think of it that way.

With Breton, I started with some resources that just didn't work for me, including Colloquial Breton. There was too much grammar and too much enumeration of rules. Assimil has treated me much better. On the other hand, I got the Colloquial Breton because I wasn't picking up what was in the Assimil. The Colloquial book didn't teach me Breton, nor even the grammar. But it gave me enough warning that on my next effort with Assimil I had a better idea what I was looking at. At least, telling myself this, I am reminded of the value of using multiple methods and am able to treat my efforts with Breton as a steady if slow progression.

The same thing goes for the multiple languages I've studied over the years. Spending a summer with Arabic twenty years ago (was it really twenty?) did not make me a fluent Arabic speaker. But it expanded the world I lived in. It exposed me to the idea of languages with a completely different writing system and grammar from English. It pointed me toward a new culture. And it gave me an entrée into Persian and the Turkic languages. Not that I'm fluent in any of these. But with every language I've studied, there have come new cultures, new worlds, new ways of thinking.

I've written a lot in the past about attitude. One of the problems you run into with language learning is is getting on the right track when you've been on the wrong track. Taking a moment to take full measure of what you've learned can put things in perspective and carry you forward. So remember that whether you're moving to a new book or a new language, or even giving a language up, it's key to keep your eye on that expanded world that your efforts have brought you. Then keep moving forward.

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