Where do I even start?

Today’s prompt is “what is something you wish you knew how to do?”

I could go with I wish I knew how to…read social situations and know how to respond.

I could go with I wish I knew how to…keep the house clean with no effort.

I could go with I wish I knew how to…communicate in a meaningful way to the people tearing our nation apart to help them see that they are being manipulated into working against their own interests.

I could go with a lot of things.

But right now I am trying to learn languages. So: I wish I knew how to learn and retain spoken language easily.

When traveling in countries where English isn’t spoken I feel like it is critical to learn some of the local language. I always try. And, when I arrive, it never sounds like what I expect. Even phrases I know and have heard on audio recordings over and over don’t connect.

I can read and write (or at least I used to be able to) proficiently in French, but after studying it in middle school, high school, college, then being part of conversation groups as an adult, I struggle to understand the spoken language.

I know that part of my personal challenge with this is that my hearing isn’t tremendous. On a good day I am not quite tone deaf. But it is more than that. There is something that doesn’t connect audio input directly to meaning in my brain. Even in English I will sometimes have a delay between hearing and comprehending.

Between not being able to consistently recognize tone, people’s different variations on how they say tones and the limited number of syllables, Mandarin Chinese has been a real challenge for me. For example, I’ve seen (by which I mean “tried unsuccessfully to learn”) 15 words pronounced shi. Shi can mean: ten; to be; affairs (family or business, not trysts); to lose (an item); real or fact; time; plus several others, and it is used as a particle to set aside a phrase grammatically. My poor, little, almost tone deaf head spins. I give up.

But I try again when a potential trip appears on the horizon. I am back at it right now on spec. Hoping that I might get a chance to visit my son this year (the last time I saw him was in January of 2020). One, newish idea I’ve been trying is to play children’s programs (Peppa Pig and Baby Bus) in Chinese while I process photos. My hope is that somehow my ear will relax around the sounds. That sounds weird, but I don’t know how else to put it.

After a recent visit with my niece, where we talked about going to Machu Picchu together, I started working on both my leg muscles and Spanish. Even if that is a year or more out I need to get going. I try to do one simultaneous session a day, where I exercise to a Spanish lesson. Maybe the motion will help the lessons sink in.

Is learning language easy for you? Is one aspect of it more challenging than others? Do you have any techniques that work especially well?

11 thoughts on “Where do I even start?”

  1. Learning a new language is a fabulous way to manage and communicate in a country where English isn’t spoken much. I find watching movies in the native language with English subtitles on helps me a bit. And when you try talking to people, even while making many mistakes, you learn. People love the effort and will help you along the way.

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    1. You are right. Just trying makes a big difference. Which is why I always make that effort. On the flip side, when I meet people visiting the US I try to help them if I can. Last summer I recognized people speaking Chinese at Mount Rainier. I made a point of showing them to a point a little off the main path that had a spectacular view in my broken Chinese. Sharing the beauty of the world we live in brings us closer together.

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  2. Oh, I agree. I learnt French for 4 years and met a Frenchman and had NO idea what he was saying. My neighbour is French and looks at me blankly when I ask how he is in French. I’m pretty sure he isn’t thinking how much to tell me, but wondering what the heck I said. Haha. Good thing I have a reasonable command of English.

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  3. Learning other languages can be a lot of fun and I hope you persevere. When I was studying French I listened to the French radio whilst doing housework and watched the french news. It was a great way of learning how people expressed themselves during interviews as it was very different from what you’d learn from a textbook.

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  4. The best way to learn is to be around people speaking that language and if possible ask the odd question like. The next best is watching TV in that language with subtitles.

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  5. I think to learn a language you need to hear a lot and have the opportunity to have a conversation in that language. You are right to watch cartoons in Chinese. It is a great way to understand spoken language. Movies are a great way learn them. I am trying to learn sanskrit an ancient Indian language. I am seeing people posting food recipes, casual conversation and news on you tube channel. I think that is a great way of learning it.

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    1. Chinese is harder than most because it isn’t something you hear spoken, at least in my area. I’ve made my best progress when I visit but haven’t been able to for quite a while, my last trip was May 2019.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out. Right now I’m trying out a few different programs online some structured, which I need, and the others are more content focused, which I like for getting my ear used to the sounds of the language.

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