Como Se Dice?

21 May

As I prepare for my two week visit to Brazil, I’ve been studying Brazilian Portuguese for 15-20 minutes each day.  Sarah is pretty tired of hearing me repeat “Onge fica o hotel?” Where is the hotel? But you know what, it is working? I have a bit of an aptitude for languages, to be sure. But I do feel this method I’m employing (Pimsleur Language Learning) is very effective. When I arrive in Fortaleza in three weeks, I’ll be able to make short conversation after only two months of study.

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It proves a point made in this article from Forbes. That memorizing verbs and vocabulary are really not the most efficient means of learning a language.  Rosetta Stone figured this out years ago. So has Pimsleur, the software I’m using. If only they had told my old French profs at Sonoma State.  I’ll never forget Madame Fallandy hewing to old-fashioned teaching methods.  It seemed to me the only thing missing was for her to beat my knuckles with a ruler! She’d have loved that, I think.

But she beat my brains in to memorize the subjunctive tense and use it correctly.  20 years later, I still cannot effectively use that tense in French, or English, really.  But because of my many months of living in France, immersed in the language, I’m still quite fluent conversationally. Sure, I mismatch noun genders and verb tenses.  But the French understand me. “Je me debrouille” the French might say. I get along well in French.

And isn’t that the point of learning another language? To get along? To find understanding? So why do we focus on verb tenses and conjugations we’d only ever use 1% of the time?  It turns out, if you master about 200 words and sayings, you can pretty much make it through any language pretty well.  Because most languages lean heavily on the usage of a limited amount of words.

It is only in writing or reading that your other vocabulary and verbs come into play.  But think of your own day to day conversations.  More than 80% of what you say on a daily basis is a combination of questions and answers and thought words you use all the time.

Hope our Middle schools and High Schools will learn from this. It would help America in so many ways to be more open to Spanish and Mandarin.  In the long run, it will certainly be difficult for us to continue down this monolinguistic path.

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