…is hard! 😛
So a little background. My native tongue is a regional language that is widely spoken in the southern part of the country. And like everyone else, I learned Filipino (our national language) and English (our other official language) in school. I learned basic Mandarin four years ago (and quickly forgot it because I don’t use it anymore).
And now I’m taking on Nepali. Prior to this, every other language I learned, with the exception of my native tongue, I learned in a formal classroom setting. This is the first one that I’m doing entirely on my own, just by working my way through a book.
First of all, it’s better to go to a classroom and have a teacher because there’s a structure and you’re accountable to someone. Right now, I just pick up the book whenever I like it, which is not often. But learning style aside, I am having difficulty learning it for reasons that are inherent to the language itself. And these are:
This is obvious. I cannot speak Spanish but I can at least read the words and that makes them easier to learn. Languages that do not use the Latin alphabet are more difficult because you have to learn how to read and write them first. Trying to recognize characters and practicing strokes feels like learning as a 4-year old.
A sample sentence in English is: I am Ellie.
In Filpino, that is directly translated to: Ako si Ellie, which is still “I am Ellie”.
But in Nepali, that is: Ma Ellie hu, which is “I Ellie am”.
It sounds simple enough, but if I construct sentences in my head in Filipino (or English), and I have to say them in Nepali, there are 2 things that need to happen: I have to translate the actual words AND rearrange their order in the sentence.
Low, Middle, and High Forms
This one is really complicated for me. On top of singular and plural forms of first, second, and third person pronouns, there’s an additional layer of low, middle, and high forms according to seniority. And seniority is based on age, gender, family relationships, or social class.
I’ve lived among westerners. I called my professors by their first names. That was disconcerting at first, but I got over it. And we spoke to each other in English, a language where deference to rank is not built in.
Filipino is in the middle. The word “po” is inserted in some parts of the speech, and the plural form of pronouns is used when speaking to an older person, or to your boss or teacher, or your friend’s parents.
I think Nepali is on the other side of the spectrum, with not only 2 but 3 forms! I understand that the low form is rarely used, and that it’s better to err on the safe side and just use the middle and high forms to avoid offending anyone. To be honest, my feminist sensibility is not very comfortable with the wife addressing the husband using the higher form, while he addresses her using the lower form, but I do not think this is a battle that I want to fight. Also, I think the topic of gender equality within cultures needs its own post, but I will reserve it for later.
I just cannot, for the life of me, pick this out. Maybe in time I will. But for now, I can’t. This was like when I was learning Mandarin and I could not pick out the difference between the sounds of zh, q, and x. I eventually did, but the first time I asked my teacher to pronounce those 3 sounds, I thought they were all the same.
These are all for now, but maybe as I go along I’ll have more reasons for confusion. Or maybe I’ll find it easier, who knows. I want to document this journey as I (hopefully, ideally) make progress.
How about you? Have you experienced learning a new language as an adult? What’s easy and what’s difficult? Do you have tips for me?