Re: [LANGUAGE] Learning another language
Mon, 21 Sep 1998 15:40:09 -0700

--On Monday, September 21, 1998, 11:26 AM -0700 "Brian D Williams" <> wrote:

> My fellow Extropians,
> In the interest of personal growth and trying to maintain a certain
> brain plasticity, I have decided to take up learning another
> language. Although this not my first attempt (three years of French
> in high school, living in Japan for a year) it will be the first
> serious attempt in a long time.
> I had considered doing this when I was considerably younger, (I
> turn 41 on Thursday) but was dissuaded after learning just how many
> languages there are, and the fact that I do not seem to have a gift
> for learning this material.
> I thought I would share my reasoning in the hope of encouraging
> others.
> I have decided to start with Spanish, because of the large number
> of Spanish speaking people living in the Chicago area, as well as
> it's percentage of the worlds population.
> I have realized that it is not necessary to try attain the fluency
> I have in my native tongue, (which I am still learning) but that by
> acquiring a few thousand of the most commonly used words and the
> structure, I should be able to develop it to good conversational
> levels.
> I then intend to move on to a second, then a third, and so on. I
> may choose French or Japanese next as I have some familiarity with
> these.
> I am currently training useing a module from the Random House
> living language series which has a textbook and 8 accompanying CD
> Roms. I also keep the TV or radio turned on to Spanish programming
> as background when I am at home.
> Any and all comments or suggestions are most welcome.
> I thought I'd share some charts I came across while researching
> this.
> Languages spoken
> (In Millions)
> World U.S
> Language Local Total Language Total
> Mandarin 863 1,025 Spanish 17.33
> Hindi 357 476 French 1.70
> Spanish 352 409 German 1.54
> English 335 497 Italian 1.30
> Bengali 200 207 Chinese 1.24
> Arabic 200 235 Tagalog
> Portugese 173 187
> Russian 168 279
> Japanese 125 126
> German 99 126
> French 75 127
> Malay 57 170
> Hasta Luego!
> Brian
> Member,Extropy Institute

If you are interested in brain plasticity it might be interesting to learn a language which is most different from your native language (English?). I tried learning Chinese, mostly for this reason. It was the one offered at my college which struck me as being most different from English. I never attained fluency (so I guess it didn't work) but learned some interesting things about the language. It's a tonal language, which means that a word in a certain tone has a completely different meaning then "the same word" in another tone. This is very hard for English ears to pick up on. The writing is also a completely different type, where each character represents a different word (you are probably familiar with this from certain japanese characters). After learning 500 or so characters you notice certain regularities in the way that the characters match up with concepts, which makes it much easier to learn new ones after you have mastered a certain number. And there's something about a "comment-topic" structure which is supposed to be very different from English, but I was never really able to pick up on it.
If you really, really wanted to challenge yourself, you could try learning an agglutinative Native American language (Mohawk for example). They do things pretty much completely different from English. The most noticable result is that words are extremely long (almost every concept is a prefix or suffix or transformation - not a single word). I saw some translations between English and Mohawk and things like "She was coming down the path picking up things all around her while he watched her" are translated into a single word in Mohawk.
Then there's another language which used to be spoken in California (I think it is no logner spoken anywhere) called Atsugewi, which doesn't use any nouns. You just say the verb, and from which verb you use, the noun is inferred (like saying "barked", it is clear I am talking about a dog). Then you add affixes to the verbs to specify certain types of motion. Like one affix for moving something with your hand, another affix for something passing over a fence-like barrier.
Sign language would be another interesting one to learn.

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