Wednesday, February 6, 2013

on foreign language, as an adult.

Oh, foreign language.

Confession: I was a mediocre student who, for some odd reason, chose to study Latin in middle and high school. I loved the Roman history and recluse-like translating. What a relief, to avoid practicing conversations! Perks of a dead language, I suppose. 

flat stanley digs latin, so it must be okay!

In college I took French. Took French. Did not actually learn French. Was too self-absorbed in college to learn anything. Ugh.

The only non-native language that has stuck with me is American Sign, which, like all true language experiences, I learned by having to use it. (And I love it. Highfive for ASL.)

I used to joke that I could hardly speak English, let alone anything else. The cold truth, though? I'd never tried. Not having people to speak Latin or French with effectively killed those languages for me.* Well, I guess it wasn't Latin's fault.** Anyway. What I mean is that I had more passion and excitement for learning ASL on my own than I'd ever had in a formal setting.

But now that I'm not being graded on things anymore, education has taken on a whole new light. Wouldn't it be nuts to have an experience with a spoken language like the one I had with Sign?

It really is amazing how wanting to learn new things grabs ahold of you when there's nothing to lose, no state expectation to possibly let down.

And so. I'm back in a classroom. For fun!


I love listening to the reasons people give for learning a foreign language as an adult. Some of them make perfect sense, like wanting to be able to communicate with relatives. Or needing to have a basic understanding before an upcoming business trip. Or, like, you know. Moving overseas.

Others are less clear. My own reasons are, honestly, hard to pin down. There is, of course, a fascination and deep appreciation for the history and culture, an undying love for the food, dizzycircles of delight for the storytelling... but I could say the same thing for other languages that I am content to know only three words of (if that).

Simply, I want to learn Korean. Or, I want to see if I can learn it. I like the challenge, not only to be back in the saddle of the spoken word, but also to make sense of a language that was, not long ago, wholly indiscernable to me. Go big or go home, right?

and, i mean, dude. the writing system is boss.

It may be partly fueled by that American guilt of only ever having needed one thing, of being born into the language that everyone else learns.

Oh, my American guilt. What a faithful motivator.

So, we'll see what this adventure holds. Tonight is our second class, and I'm loving it!

Among the many great things about DC: Cultural centers that welcome you with open arms. And Korean snacks.


안녕히 가세요!

*I easily could have found people to talk to, but again. I was not the best student. I habitually opted to coast rather than excel. Growing out of this now, thankfully.
**I rag on Latin, but I feel like that older sibling who says, "No one picks on Latin but ME," because I really do think it's a great language to learn. As much as I make fun of myself for wanting to study it as a child, I can't deny that I loved every minute of it, and still have these smug moments when I realize that I understand the basic concept of an unfamiliar word without having to look it up.


  1. Major kudos for pursuing your interest, even though it's mad difficult. I'm trying to learn Mandarin, but I have some foundation in it (spoke it as a toddler) and family to help reinforce it (though we usually fall back to English without realizing, doh). I'm using Rosetta Stone, though, not a class. RS has its pros and cons. Mostly I forget to do it. (Again: doh.)

    Andy's learning Spanish through Rosetta Stone too, but he's SUPER diligent and dedicated, so it's working out better for him lol. Plus he has me to answer questions (when I can remember what I learned... "uh, that's just how they say it" isn't a very instructional answer).

    1. Oh, and lack of snackage is a major con to RS. ;P

    2. Ha! I tried to use LiveMocha once, the online, free, dinky step-cousin of RS, and it... did not work for me. I had serious doubts about the accuracy of the content. I guess that's why it's free. =) Major kudos to YOU for tackling Mandarin!

  2. I always thought that those "Latin students" were too good for the rest of us (studying a dead language an' all). But then, I always secretly envied them their flash cards and cool factor. Sigh... I took French in college and Spanish in high school (and again in LA). It's a testament to how well I learned French that in Paris the cab driver and I communicated in Spanish (he didn't know English and my French was atrocious!)

    1. That is too funny. About the cab driver in Paris, AND about Latin students having a cool factor. Who knew? I mostly remember getting the single raised eyebrow, and the always endearing, "WHY?" Haha. Oh, high school.

  3. Wow, good for you for learning Korean. I think that would be a good language to learn. I'm currently working at international school where half the student population is Korean. It'd be soo nice to just be able to pick a few words out of their Korean conversations!

  4. Ahhhh, foreign languages. I LURVE them. I also took French (but in high school) and have retained very little beyond, "Est-ce que je pourrais alla W.C.?" I'm not even entirely sure about the spelling of that.
    So in college, I could take one semester of Stats or four semesters of Italian for the same GE requirement. And, naturally, I took Italian. And then I minored in it because I absolutely love it. Love love love it. And then, when I switched my major to Linguistics (the science of language! I have a serious love affair with words and language.) I had to take three semesters of a non-Indo-European language and I chose Japanese. And I loved it. Love love love it. But I could only do three semesters because then my degree was done. And now I'm so insanely rusty and I miss those languages, not to mention I want to learn more (Russian! Korean! Biblical Hebrew!(?). So I think what you're doing is great. Okay bye.

  5. Yes! This is awesome. Learning because you want to, is something completely different than when you have to. A whole other part of your brain's at work ;-)


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