Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Linguistic Progress and Advice to Language Learners

I had a short conversation in Dutch at work recently. I can't really speak Dutch, but I'm well prepared for it. I can understand a lot of what I hear on podcasts.

Reading is easier than it was at the beginning, but it's still daunting. I read Chapter 14 Xavier's way. That is, I read it straight through, then read it again. It worked well, but I went back to the dictionary for the rest of the book. It was good I finished that way, because the last chapters had some dense discussions of Reformed politics.

I looked at the Dutch to English test on TSF, but I decided not to take it. For now, Dutch will remain a hobby. I will keep going back to it and improve over time. I took their test in French because there was an urgent need right after the earthquake. Also, I'm good at high register material, which is most of what TSF appears to deal with.

My approach to learning languages has varied. In Spanish I talked a lot at the outset. In Portuguese, I did a lot of listening first, mainly to news programs. I talked to my relatives about current events, but I remember the blank look on their faces when my great-uncle asked me for a pen, and I didn't know what he was talking about. Before the trip to Portugal, I had also been to church in that language. Back in the 80s, I studied it and had some short conversations with old relatives here.

I have thought of improving at French and actually learning to speak it, but 3 closely related languages starts to become irritating. It's easy to see why scholars ignored Romance languages for so long and stuck to Latin.

If I were ever faced with a trip to Holland, I would watch a lot more TV to understand what people say to each other.

If you're wondering about how to learn Dutch, think of your goals first. If you want to speak the language, emphasize watching TV and listening to the radio. Try to avoid the news and listen to programs that feature people talking to each other. I read that the gulf between written and spoken language in Dutch is greater than it is in English. Even so, reading works such as plays, along with works featuring dialog can help. If you're interested in a book, get a dictionary and start reading. Reading helps a lot in learning a language, but bear in mind that it is not central to speaking. If reading is your goal, start with a few lessons, then read whatever material you find of interest. From there, the possibilities are limitless.

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