Monday, August 24, 2020

Language Learning in the Pandemic

    To get something positive out of virus hibernation, I decided to learn a second language. But which one? Of the world’s roughly 6,500 languages, the most common by far throughout the Western Hemisphere is Spanish. I figure it’s the most likely to prove useful, especially considering our many immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and South America. It’s also the fourth most common language on the planet behind English, Mandarin, and Hindi in that order. I also like the sound of Spanish and I love the music and food.
    I’m learning on the Duolingo site. It’s going well, except the sentence examples are spoken so fast it’s hard to sort out words. Spanish is second only to Japanese as the fastest spoken tongue. French is third, then Italian, and English is fifth fastest, though as a pilot I think busy air traffic controllers near our big cities ought to get the Blue Streak Award. English, by the way, is the universal ATC language, so pilots the world over must learn it, although a limited aviation vocabulary is all that’s necessary (no pilot needs to order food or dicker for a new car or make a date or engage in a political debate in English to do the job). In my pilot training I had a young Norwegian instructor, and because he was still learning clear pronunciation of English he had me do most of the radio conversing with ATC.

    I find it odd so many Spanish words are genderized. The Politically Correct reformers have not yet tackled that issue as sexist, I guess.

    So far, Spanish seems fairly easy to assimilate, but it strikes me that English must be exceedingly difficult to learn as a second language. Think of all those words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, for example. There are at least 150 of these homographs, including club, bay, drill, file, tap, date, season, and kid. Then there’s a subcategory of homographs called heteronyms, at least 75 common words that have the same spelling but more than one meaning and different pronunciations, like lead, bow, bass, wind, row, and present. Many can be used as nouns or verbs or even adjectives. Then you have hundreds of slang words scattered throughout English. It gets complicated.

    There are roughly 100,000 words in common Spanish use, compared to 200,000 commonly used English words. This is not to say Spanish is any less expressive, because they have ways to be quite passionate and persuasive and erudite in communicating.

    For rudimentary use of either English or Spanish, 800 to 1,000 necessary core words lets you understand up to 75% of the language as it’s commonly spoken, which would serve at least minimally in travels to a foreign land. But to understand movies or TV would require some 3,000 words, and to read a novel in either language you’d need 8,000 or more.

    Which means true fluency in a foreign tongue—up to the level of the native users—is difficult to ever achieve without having been raised in that language from infancy.

    I’ll be happy just to impress Naomi by ordering in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant.

    If we ever go out to one again.
    Hasta luego.

For some good pandemic reading, check out my seven published books on Amazon, or order easily through my website. Money back if you don’t like your choice.

Please mask up and social distance. Together we can beat this virus.

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