Sergeant Schultz rides again

The first week of full activity (I am not counting Korean which is a story for another day) and I have already discovered something. As the esteemed John Banner so memorably said, “I know nussink!”

Before starting this project, I had a rough path in my mind of how the learning (and blogging) would proceed. First off I would attend or simply do the first lessons in each language and after the second lesson, I would compare the choices that each teacher/programmer had made.

Foolishly, I simply assumed that the first lesson would always be “Good morning, how are you?” “I am fine, and you?” “My name is …. What is your name?”

Well, so far I am two out of four. Arguably one-and-a-half, because the Polish software didn’t quite get to “How are you?” until Lesson 2.

Hindi? Bang on – first lesson was, “Hello, My name is… What is your name?”

So my Chinese teacher started me on the numbers – one through nine, ten, hundred, thousand and zero. Then some compound numbers. Why? Because each tonal possibility – straight, up, down and up-then-down – is found in one of the numbers.

Was it weird? Absolutely. First off, the numbers were taught using a corny story featuring a three-legged rat. (I hate to say it, but it has helped me to recall the Chinese numbers. Interesting). But, I have to say that the sounds are tough. It requires some serious facial contortions, sounds have to go all kinds of places – up your nose, under your tongue, through your teeth – and it sounds undeniably foreign.

Arabic was equally entertaining but in a slightly different way. Another set of very foreign sounds to wrap your mouth around. Half-a-dozen of us began our class slogging through the Arabic alphabet. As a Semitic language, the alphabet is just the consonants and there are plenty of variants there for the English ear.

Once we had acquainted ourselves with these sounds (it would be presumptuous to say “mastered”) we even attacked some of the written letters. Only then did we get to a few greetings and questions.

The moral of this story? It comes back to what I seem to say to myself every time I come up against a foreign language – keep an open mind, open ears, give it a go. And do the homework.

Which I have to do now, so …..

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