My Crazy Multi-Lingual Day!

A few posts back I wrote about the virtues of a century-old language method called the Assimil Method.  I am currently using the Assimil course for Norwegian and it seems to be going pretty well.I came across this article on the Freakonomics blog the other day:


The article praises the Assimil method and goes into much better detail about why it works than my brief post was able to.  He goes on to propose that students should be doing a similar method for math and physics.  I can’t say that I disagree with him!
I am currently on Lesson 40 of the Assimil course.  I had my doubts about how much material I was actually retaining until I went back and listened to lessons 10-20.  Unbelievable. I could understand everything perfectly.  It was a nice confidence boost as the dialogues are getting much more complex. The sentences are more like “You won’t be able to make it back to shore. Don’t you remember last year when I had to schlep your mother back to shore and I didn’t even want to swim!” (no joke – lesson 37!!)  I need to work on my verbal skills very badly, but I think this will come in time.

Many people have asked me how I am learning Assimil from a French course when my French is only at a VERY basic level.  The great thing about Norwegian is that it is probably the closest language to the “Germanic-side” of English that I have studied.  I have heard that around 60% of English words come directly from French.  Thus, 60% of Assimil is fairly easy to figure out from French/English cognates.  As for the remaining 40%, most of these are the Germanic words which remained in English.  So even if I can’t figure out the French, by going to the Norwegian side I can almost always figure it out. Example: the French word elan. I have no clue what that is.  But then, I see the Norwegian word is elg, AHA! ELK!  (moose, actually, but close enough).

So back to my crazy, multilingual day.  At work, I spoke some Lao.  What?  You speak Lao? Heck no!  But I do know some survival phrases in Thai, which is closely related to Lao.  There was a Lao gentleman who spoke very little English. I walked up to him, smiled and said in a loud, unapologetic voice “SABAI DII!!” (which means “Hi, good day!” in both Thai and Lao). He looked up, completely shocked with a huge smile and started laughing while vigorously shaking my hand.  He then said something that must have been “Do you speak Lao?”, (I have no clue whatsoever…). I said back in Thai “ I only speak a little Thai, very badly…”. He then tried to teach me some Lao (which, unfortunately,  I immediately forgot).  He said in the years he has in in the US, that was the first time any non-Lao had shown any interest in speaking Lao to him. The experience was fun for me and I’m sure I made his day!

The day continued with me going through my Assimil lesson for the day in Norwegian.  This was followed by listening to some “easy-Norwegian-news” with the Klar-Tale podcast.

Norwegian was followed by some German. My 10 year old daughter has shown interest in learning German so I’m doing a little experiment.  I have the Assimil German course so the two of us are going through the course together.  We are only spending 10 minutes a day on it and we shall see how far she can come in 100 days.

Later that evening I read several pages of Marjane Satrapi‘s Persepolis which had been translated into Spanish. Among other things, I discovered that hijab translates to pañuelo (who knew?)

The evening ended with another Assimil lesson; but this time it was Czech.  Czech?!?  Sigh…. I know, I know.  I got the Assimil Czech course for an absolute steal and it was looking really lonely sitting on my shelf … So I’m taking 15 minutes a day and going through the Czech course in addition to Norwegian.

…I know, I’m a hopeless language geek….
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3 thoughts on “My Crazy Multi-Lingual Day!

  1. I loved the story of saying hello in Thai/Lao! Those kinds of stories are one of the reasons I’ll never stop learning languages. I love East African languages partially because my face would say I’m the last person to know those languages. I always get to be a pleasant surprise 🙂 I hope you learn more Lao and Thai just so you can brighten even more people’s days. And I hope your daughter sees the delight you can bring to others by learning languages.

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