Friday, December 19, 2014

Some background

So... the "necessity of necessity" posts were kind of a primer on my current situation. I'm not a self-proclaimed linguist or anything, but for the past decade (well, more), it's been my thing. An obsession, on and off, but always there.
I moved to another school district in junior high, and the new district started teaching foreign language the grade before I moved in, so most of my peers had already had the first semester of French or Spanish, and the second semester was taught in eighth grade. Since I came in between the two, I had two choices: reading (seriously?) or Latin. Thankfully I got Latin.
And that was the beginning of a five-year (ish) study of that language that no one ever speaks, but it was a fantastic primer on grammar and construction and verbs and everything, perhaps the best one could ask for. So in that way, it was terribly useful. But it was unsatisfying in one very important way. I didn't have the advantage, the satisfaction of using what I learned to speak with people, to show off my skills or abilities.

Down the well
something very interesting going on down an Italian well
And I wanted that. I had a family member who took a semester (or more) abroad in Russia, and it fascinated me, and seemed sufficiently exotic. I had zero interest in Spanish or French at the time, so Russian it was. I started shortly before I graduated from high school. I made a very unorganized study of the language on and off over a number of years, but rarely had any chance to use it at all,
so it was slow going at best. Eventually it kind of died off, and a trip to Asia in 2007 derailed that whole line of study and I got started on Chinese and now I've been here for six years and speak more Chinese (as in more time speaking Chinese) than English, usually.
But there's always been a language project. Even after Chinese, I flirted with Thai for a few years, and made serious progress. Can I speak it now? No. Could I at one time? Yes. It was very useful in the past few trips I've taken to Thailand, but those were years ago, and I stopped after I came back. Since I've been here, I've also had flings with Italian (before a trip in 2010),  Norwegian, and some others that I've tried to pick back up after some serious effort spent back in America.
But what's the rub?
Necessity! Like I said before, I am not required to use these languages at all, ever. I have NEVER run into a Norwegian and said "if only I could communicate with you," (well, first, I've never run into a Norwegian, and if I were to, they'd most likely speak English) so there is zero practical reason to study Norwegian. Thai? There is a Thai population here, but I would have to go way out of my way to contact most of them, as in multiple modes of transportation and significant travel time before I would.
At this point, they're all kind of cryogenically frozen, everything I've learned, what I've studied and written down and tried so hard to practice. That's not to say that I have an amazing memory and instant recall, but it's all there. You'll realize this if you've studied before. You don't entirely forget something; it just takes a very long time to call up, perhaps with some prompting or refreshing, but it's there.
And with various degrees of effort and attention, I feel confident that if given three months (okay, maybe six) in Moscow, Florence, Bangkok, or maybe even Paris, I could come to be rather conversational in the local language. Why?

Stupidly hot Ayutthaya in 2010
Having spent significant time with at least the first three (Russian, Thai, and Italian [Latin helps in a big way there]) is a big part of it, but I also know what and how to study. I have a pretty good idea of what's worth my time and what isn't, what I need to focus on and the kind of practice I need, how to prepare, and what to do to get by. And most of that comes with experience, being in the trenches, as it were, like I've done with Chinese for the past six years here (and a year and a half or so in America). I need that environment, and the greatest reason for me starting this blog when I did is because I'm going to try how to figure out how to make this work. I want to learn, but don't need to. Who's willing to learn with me? Anything! I need a way to pick up another language or two, and hours in front of dictionaries and grammar books (which I don't so much mind) aren't going to cut it.
Let's get talking!

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