It’s January, after 9pm and time to consider the first year of the Babel Project.
In theory, there was only supposed to be one year of TBP. The roadmap said five languages, five methods, one year and then we’ll assess the results.
Robbie Burns said that “the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay.” At this point in my linguistic efforts, I most resemble a “sleekit cowering tim’rous beestie” for I am a fair way from delivering my original plan.
Chinese, Polish and Arabic have stuck to the formula. Four terms of individual instruction (Mandarin), group instruction (Arabic) and 90-some lessons via software (Polish) have delivered varying degrees of fluency. But Korean and Hindi have morphed into a similar methodology.
For both languages, I was supposed to keep my wallet in my pocket – using only conversation exchange for Korean and free Internet stuff for Hindi. This lovely idea ran pretty quickly face-first into the real world. Firstly, free stuff on the Internet is inevitably published by enthusiastic amateurs. There are lots of fun sites like this, this and this; but all left something to be desired (for me).
So I sucked it up and bought “book + audio CD” packs for both Korean and Hindi. The Korean has supplemented my conversations (although the chatting has been about 95% English to 5% Korean) and replaced any online Hindi efforts.
At least I have been fortunate enough to run into situations where I can practice my feeble Hindi and Korean – my new hairdressing studio is Korean (and my hair grows quickly, so I practice about every three weeks). I also work for one of the many multi-nationals with extensive out-sourced operations in India, so some of my colleagues there are humouring me with Hindi conversations via instant messenger.
Where are my languages at after 12 months? Sad to say, it is all rather formless. There are pockets of capability – I can greet and introduce myself in all languages. I can be a little polite, saying thank you and asking appropriately.
In the past month I have run into illness (nothing major, but still), extra work travel and the onset of the holidays and all the preparation (and visitors) that go with that. All five languages have been on the backburner.
The best part of this Project has been that it has reminded me of the wonderful telescopic effect of being a beginning language learner. Even if I feel like I can only do a little, native speakers are wildly impressed. Being able to say “You’re welcome” to a Mandarin Chinese speaker who has thanked me – or “Happy New Year” to my Korean hairdresser. The positive feedback is disproportionate, and inspirational. It really does push me to try and do more and better.
I was hoping to be able to travel to five different countries where these languages are spoken, to see how well (or more probably how badly) I can get by. I am still hoping to do so, but in the meantime, I will keep at it. I am booking another term of Arabic and Chinese. I will keep beavering away at the software, the books, the classes and the people.
Roll on 2013!