My 2015 Language Goals

I know it’s already February, but I barely had time to breathe in January to post my language goals for the year.

First of all, I’ve started a German class on the weekends. Late last year I asked if anyone wanted to take a beginning language class with me; any class. S stepped up and said she wanted to take German, so I said great!

I took my first German class in the summer of 1994 in Ann Arbor; it was a German for Reading Knowledge course, and there was no attempt to make us into German speakers. I don’t remember how I felt about the language or the people back then; I just remember that the class itself was pointless. It was a requirement for my program because a lot of the scholarship in diachronic Romance linguistics had been in Germany.

German is a super cognate language with English, but the case system is robust (more robust than I’m used to, at least) so the relationships between nouns in a sentence is pretty opaque to me, which just means it’s going to take some getting used to. Pronunciation and reading doesn’t seem to be all that difficult. I’m doing my best to speak every day at work and to keep a summer in Germany within my sites.

My major language goal this year is Tagalog, and I’m planning a long six weeks in Metro Manila, studying with a tutor and hopefully talking my face off. I have some huge heritage bonuses with Tagalog, but at this point I still have problems making sentences with more than one noun. Tagalog grammar monster is the “trigger system,” which teachers call “focus” and linguists refer to as “topicalization,” basically it means that a verb in a given sentence is going to agree morphologically with the noun that you’re trying to stress.

This “trigger system” is the one thing they didn’t teach us at SEASSI in 2002, and it’s the whole punchline of the story. Teaching Tagalog without teaching the trigger system makes as much sense as teaching Spanish without verb tenses, or Chinese without word order; it’s the MAIN EVENT. I’ve had time to wrap my head around it intellectually, but I’m taking the summer to wrap my mouth around it

My biggest worry about Tagalog is trying to get Filipinos not to speak to me in English. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has switched into pure English on me and then denied it when I pointed it out, and then screamed with laughter when they realize that I’m right. The level of bilingualism is so high that the line between Tagalog and English is often invisible to them. It’s not like in China or France when people look at your shoes and decide to speak English to the Gringo because they don’t like your pants; in this case, it will be me, a native speaker of Filipino English, asking other native speakers of Filipino English not to speak to me in Filipino English, and instead be uncomfortable as I struggle to match verb morphology to noun topics.

The other thing is that most Filipinos I know have never had to be language learning allies. I once had a phone conversation with my mama, explaining to her how she didn’t have to give me English translations; how she could do things like offer me options when I get stumped on a word. Now my mama is a great language learning ally… unlike my dad, who enjoys trying to stump me. This is exactly why I have an English-only policy with my dad, and that’s just fine.

There are other kinds of native speakers, besides the Allies and the Stumpers. There are the DAMMIT JUST SPEAK ENGLISH people, who are worthless to me. Also there are the Horror Movie Victims, who run away screaming. I don’t expect any Filipinos to be Horror Movie Victims, but I saw plenty of those people in Mainland China.

When I get back to Seattle after the great Manila adventure, I’m sure I’ll be back to concentrating on Mandarin Chinese. Here are some other places I’d like to spend time learning language: Korea, Japan, Brazil, Germany, ASL. The list of languages I will need a refresher trip in: Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese. The list of languages I’d consider someday, if I had the time: Arabic, Swahili. I’ll probably give up before I get to those, though.

2 thoughts on “My 2015 Language Goals

  1. Horror Movie Victims, ha! Yeah. Here in China I had one when I was at a low elementary level in Mandarin. Waitress gave me a long memorized speech about the salad bar which I understood very little of. I wasn’t concerned, I wasn’t planning to order that anyway. I waited for her to finish, shrugged, cheerfully said 听不懂 and was about to tell her my order when she lost it. Started panic-laughing and couldn’t stop. She just stood there laughing (and she looked terrified while she was uncontrollably laughing) louder and louder until some of the other staff came and gently led her away by the elbow to the back room, where we could still hear her screaming with hysterical laughter for another ten or fifteen minutes until someone managed to calm her down. I think she panicked and thought she needed to repeat the speech in English. Not sure if that’s a Horror Movie Victim response or what to call it!

  2. Pingback: Some iPad Magic | you don't have to read v2.0

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