A Six Week Hebrew Challenge

After several months I “finished” the Assimil Norwegian course.  As for the results???? Well, I will confess that I am able to read a Norwegian news article without too much difficulty.  Unfortunately, my comprehension and speaking is an entirely different matter.  Despite working through the entire book, I still struggle to understand the most basic Norwegian conversations.  Norwegian is one of those languages where the words all meld together in normal speech.  I am aware that English does this as well   “Howyadointoday?”   so I can empathize with students of English in this respect.  I’m sure that if I had a few good, solid months of Norwegian immersion I could come a long way.  Unfortunately I don’t think that will happen anytime soon unless I stow away on a Hurtigruten ship…..


Most of this summer I have spent reviewing Mandarin Chinese and Hungarian.  I was shocked to find that I had nearly forgotten everything I had learned with these two languages.  Luckily, going through the Assimil courses, up to unit 30 or so, brought a lot of it back.  It was much easier learning these languages the “second time around”.


August brings another 6 week challenge.  I was considering using it as a review for my other rusty languages, however, another language siren drew me in.  I will be spending six weeks trying to learn as much Israeli Hebrew as possible. I am mainly interested in learning how to read the Hebrew script and to study the similarities between Hebrew and the Levantine dialect of Arabic. I’m told that although they are both Semitic languages, they are similar to English and, say, French.  The two languages have many shared vocabulary words, but are by no means mutually intelligible. That being said, I recall seeing a news article several years back where Rechov Sumsum (The Israeli version of Sesame Street) was broadcast in the Palesinian areas using dialogues that would be understood by both Hebrew speaking and Arabic speaking children!


My 6 week plan of attack will start with Pimsleur.  Luckily my library has all 90 lessons! It also has the Routledge Colloquial Hebrew course which teaches the Hebrew script.  From there I might move on to the Assimil L’Hebreu Sans Peine course.  This is a ways off, however, as it is entirely in French and the Hebrew script. לְהִתרָאוֹת. (L’hitra’ot – see ya later!)

Og reven lå under bjørke rot…

I’ve managed to make it up to lesson 60 of the Assimil Norwegian course.  Since lesson 50,  each lesson has gotten noticeably more difficult. Before unit 50, there were only 7-10 new vocabulary words per lesson, now there seem to be 20 or so!  Even though the “method” prescribes spending one day per lesson, I just can’t do it with the more advanced lessons.  It seems that I’m taking 2-3 days for each lesson now.

One of the more entertaining components of the Assimil course is the inclusion of Norwegian folk songs.  The songs not only are a great way to teach vocabulary, but also an insightful window into Norwegian culture. The following is called Ingrids Vise: (Sorry, couldn’t figure out how to attach the mp3)

Og reven lå under bjørke rot
Bortved lynget, bortved lynget,
Og haren hoppet på lette fot,
Over lynget, over lynget
“Det er vel noe til solskinns dag!
Det glitrer for og det glitrer bak, (. . .) ”
Og reven lo under bjørke rot, (..)
Og haren hoppet i ville mot, (…)
“Jeg er så glad over alle ting’
Hu-hei, gjør du slike svære spring( .. .)!”
Og reven ventet bak birkerot, (. .. )
Og haren tumlet ham midt imot, (. .)
“Men Gud forbarme seg, er du der!
– A, kjære, hvor tør du danse her (…)?”

And the fox lay under the birch roots
Over by heather, over by the heather,
The hare jumped on light feet,
Over the heather, the heather
“There is something for sunny days!
It glitters and sparkles on the back, (…) “
And the fox laughed under birch root, (..)
The hare jumped in wild courage, (…)
“I am so glad of all things’
Hu-hey, do such huge spring (…)! “
And the fox waited behind birkerot, (…)
The hare tumbled him opposite, (..)
“God have mercy, is that you?
– Oh, dear, how dare you dance here (…)? “

In my last post, I had mentioned how I was also exploring the Assimil Czech course.  Since that time, I have surrendered to the fact that with my limited free-time, one language is enough at once!   That being said, I am enrolled in an internet course regarding the history of Latin.  (No language learning! Just a history course!)  I highly recommend the Schola Rómáno-Latína  and its courses.  You can find them here: http://scholaromanolatina.org/ . I’m really looking forward to learning more about the mother of all Romance Languages and Latin may just be my next challenge after Norwegian!

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….