"Me Talk Funny... So Vat?"
Two guys are eating noodles for lunch.
“Explain to me,” the first says. “Why are these things that we’re eating called noodles?”
“What do you mean?” the second responds, as he pushes another forkful into his
“They’re long like noodles, soft like noodles and they taste like noodles. Why shouldn’t we call them noodles?’”
While the first noodle may have originated in China, the word comes from the German-Yiddish nudel or nutel. There are countless other examples of words that English has adopted from other languages.
Here are a few others: Ballet (French), bureau (French), ketchup (Chinese), yogurt (Turkish), taboo (African), karma (Indian) and whatsamaddahwityou (Brooklyn).
A foreign language seems to be a heaping tangle of illogical pronunciations and pauses. When we hear a conversation in Chinese between two people, we actually get dumbstruck, wondering how they can possibly understand each other.
There’s no doubt that the best way to learn a language is to travel to the country where that language is spoken and stay there awhile. Constant exposure to the ‘natives’ will get you speaking and understanding any foreign tongue before long.It is, however, also possible to learn a foreign language using the trusty memory methods you’re about to encounter. Some people fail to acquire a language because they pressure themselves to be perfect. They’re afraid to make a mistake and "lose face," so they prefer to remain silent. I see that especially in the Far East. When I give seminars in Japan, Korea and China, the participants hardly say a word. They do learn English, but they are too embarrassed that their English is not good enough to use at all.
So here's a directive for those of you who are too timid to give the language you’re learning a whirl: · Talk…and make mistakes! It's the only way to learn.
Language is a living practice. You must talk and accept the fact that you will not lose face if you make mistakes.
Several years ago my wife and I went to Paris. My wife speaks French and one day we went to a metro stop and my wife approached the cashier.
“Je voudrais acheter deux billet pour le metro, si'l vous plais,” she requested in perfect French. (“I would like to buy two tickets for the metro, please.”)
The next day, before taking the metro again, I said to her: "Today, my dear, I’ll buy the tickets."
"No way!" she refused. "Your French is terrible."
"It's really important to practice the language. Let me show you how easy it is," I replied.
With a strut of confidence, I approached the cashier, smiled, raised two fingers and said: "Deux!” (“Two!”)
What can I tell you? I was given the two same tickets she’d gotten for us the previous day.
It takes between 600-1000 words to get by in a language. That's all! 600-1000 of
the most commonly used words will enable you to understand 75.6% of any foreign newspaper! (1 Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, I.S.P. Nation, Cambridge Applied Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pg. 17)
So if you learn 20 words a day, in just one month you can read a daily newspaper and understand the underlying ideas in any language you choose!
Isn't that encouraging?
The real question, however, is how does someone learn twenty words a day in a systematic way that will permanently etch those words into their memory?
That's in our next blog.