Sunday, 6 February 2011

How I've dealt with Foreign Languages so far

If my brain isn’t fooling me then the first foreign language I stumbled across was Gujrati. 

I still remember that day. I was reading a magazine called Rishi Prasad. On the back of the magazine was a bibliography in several languages. Of those languages, I found the script of Gujrati resembling Devanagri somewhat. Some of the letters were identical and there wasn’t to be found the horizontal line over words. I was thrilled. I don’t remember how long it took me but I managed to decipher the script with the help of several other magazines I had. 

I have forgotten how old I was when I did that but I do know one thing: the next encounter with another foreign language would have to wait for several more years.

The second foreign language, alphabet to be more precise, I accidentally found was Russian. It happened something like this: my sister had borrowed an Oxford English Dictionary (1990 Edition) from my friend’s sister. It was kept on my table. I picked up the dictionary and, for the second time, found two strange looking alphabet listed at the end of 1000 pages+ thick dictionary. Over one the tables was written The Greek Alphabet in bold and the next page included a table of the Russian Alphabet.

I was thrilled to find that. Immediately, I sat on the chair besides the table and started cramming the Cyrillic script. I took me around 90 minutes but I managed to cram all of them. I showed off my newly acquired knowledge to fellow students at the physics class.

This time, however, I didn’t do nothing. Within a few days of finding and having learned the Russian alphabet, I went to the local library. There, I tried my best but couldn’t find a book on learning the language. I had to give up my plans to study Russian because I didn’t have the money to buy a book from the market and the library didn’t have any.

Fortunately (or not so fortunately), I found a book on French in the library and immediately I started learning French. After only a few days, I found French wasn’t the only foreign language in the world and there also exists another language called German. That was the first time, I could choose and I chose to go with German. Hardly I had had the time to go beyond the chapter of Colloquial German, I found Spanish.

So impressed I was with the language that I decided to learn Spanish instead. I learned a couple of dozen words and whoa! There was a book on Russian in the library!

Once again, I did the same mistake, got the whole course photocopied and set out to learn Russian. The neuron wires that contain the details of what happened afterward are now all tangled so I don’t remember why I left studying Russian.

The next language I decided to learn was Arabic. I stole (I knew it's wrong but I didn’t have the money then) G W Thatcher’s Arabic Grammar from the library and started learning the language. Again, I couldn’t go past the alphabet before I gave up. But as a consequence of my ten-days-study, I was now able to read Urdu.

The memory of what happened next is murky but I remember picking up French, German, Russian, Spanish, Persian, Chinese and Japanese during the course of next couple of years and then abandoning them all after a study of one month or two.

During the same period, I found another language – Esperanto - in Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist. Given the nature of the book (fiction), I didn’t suspect that there would really be a language called Esperanto. So I was surprised to found out  that Esperanto was a real language; well not exactly the of kind such as Hindi or Russian still but people spoke it.

I read more about Esperanto and the sixteen-rule gimmick impressed me. I downloaded them in print and tried to master the language from those rules. As it should have been, I understood nothing.

After that, months passed before I could save enough money to download The Esperanto Teacher in print. Even this time, I lost interest in the language only after a couple of months. Fortunately, Esperanto is easy enough so I could learn some basic vocabulary and grammar. It’s been three years since that happened and I haven’t tried to relearn the language with such devotion in that period. Another eterna komencanto (eternal beginner) was added to the ranks of two million (?) Esperantists. 

A couple of months later I dropped out of college, left the home and even my city to live life my own way. Though it’s nothing to do with the Esperanto-fiasco but because of that, I was now having enough money to buy books.

After getting my first salary from my third employer (I’d bought The Alchemist with the first 100 rupees or 1.6 Euros I’d earned from freelancing) I went to a books market and bought Teach Yourself Mandarin Chinese by Elizabeth Scurfield.

I failed to learn Chinese too. Then I ordered Let’s Learn Esperanto and A Beginner’s Compact Dictionary of Esperanto, both authored by Dr. P V Ranganayakulu. Never read them because now I knew about Interlingua and wanted to learn it badly. 

So I got printouts of the Curso de Interlingua pro Comenciantes Anglophone from the website of Union Mundial pro Interlingua and before I could start learning it, I found Lojban. A week later, I was asking the owner of a local cyber-café how long it would take to print the whole Lojban for Beginners. I did the first chapter about pronunciation and then lost interest. Russian was once again attractive.

I bought a Russian-English Dictionary and half a dozen other books in easy Russian. Now, they are gathering dust on a recess in my room. 

Luck continued to be on my side and soon I had enough money to buy a computer. I bought it and simultaneously got a broadband internet connection. I was about a year ago. With internet at my disposal, I was now able to any language I wanted. Unfortunately, I digressed so much during the past year that I wasn’t able to learn any language.

Then, only last week, I announced (for the first time in my life) that I was going to learn Sambahsa and Japanese. It’s only been a week and I’ve already started thinking about quitting.

At first, I had desired to learn a language because I wanted to know how it feels to be live outside the Anglosphere. But I couldn’t locate the right country. Arabs are fanatics, Russians are xenophobic, Japanese hate foreigners, Latin Americans are illiterate, Germans are perfect, Chinese are… 

When I realized it was but propaganda, I tried again but failed again. Now, I think I know the reason. In fact there are two reasons: 
  1. Most of the books that I’ve found concentrate mainly on the spoken language but I prefer to read than to talk. Resistance comes from within. 
  2. After years of failure now I know that languages aren’t merely words attached together by strings of grammar rules. There is something more basic to them which affects the very way we view the world around us. When I try to learn a language besides the ones I know since I was a child (English, Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu), I feel my worldview threatened and I immediately give up.
Now, what’s disturbing me is: why do I keep on trying time and again when  I know that languages have given me nothing but pain? Now, sometimes I wish I’d never looked into that dictionary.