Saturday December 3, 2005
Some languages are more difficult to learn than others. The hardest ones are tonal languages. In English, we have two tones: normal and sarcastic. In Chinese, they have 19 tones, three of which are sarcastic, so it’s a great language to learn if you want to be sarcastic with a billion other people
Once you start learning a language, you really appreciate English, especially the fact that you don’t have to remember whether the word for plank is masculine or feminine. Similarly, our verbs stay the same: I am pissed, I was pissed, I will be pissed. In a foreign language, you would need to include Pisa, Pizzeria, and Pizzicato. No wonder the British find it easier to get drunk.
Finding a native speaker who will talk to you is a big help. A native speaker means somebody who speaks the language very, very fast and who hasn’t yet learned to speak the language as clearly as you have. Make sure this person likes you, otherwise they will speed up rather than slow down.
When you try to speak a new language, you feel as though your brain is in a mild coma, your tongue has swollen to twice its normal size and your memory has been wiped clean. But remember, the natives will always appreciate you making an effort to speak their language – and giving them hours of amusement.
Of course, there is no better way to learn a language than total immersion in the country and culture. You therefore need to travel to the country, find the local expat community and attend evening classes with them.