Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How gratifying

"Research has confirmed that English is 'the worst' language to learn to read - of those that learn the Roman alphabet." (from the Age, today.)

I wish I'd finished reading that sentence before I rushed to write my opinion of it.

But of course it's difficult. It's so a-phonetic.

As someone who can read the phonetic code, and has learned other languages both phonetic (Turkish, Japanese) and not-really-that phonetic (French), it kind of chuffs me that English is the hardest one. I like it that the hardest, worst one is MY ONE.

It doesn't surprise me. Over the years I've had many a student who was learning English as a second language who has bemoaned the lack of reason, the lack of consistency, the lack of rule.

I once heard it said that there is no more poetic language than written Arabic. Note the word "written" there for it is most relevant. But apparently you haven't known the beauty of the Koran if you haven't heard it or read it in Arabic. I believe that.

I once had a French person say to me "I lurve ze Anglish ak-sont. Eet ees so egg-zotique fer us Franch peeples" for me to then go, "Oh, but we love the French accent" and for her to screw her nose up in distaste.

How can you not love that? There's a whole story there. Are you sure you want me to stop the diaries at Dec 31 1989 Mr PQ?

My first husband was a Turk whose family speaks Arabic as many-generation-before immigrants in Turkey. It was a long time before I realised the Turkish I was learning (mostly the cuss words, I fuck your God, Allahana sikerim, son of a donkey, eŞol eŞek, I fuck your pussy, amanakoyum) was being reproduced by me in an approximated Arabic accent. His thick accent, which he always was self-conscious about, I couldn't even hear. Because it was an accent in another language which was foreign to me. Do you get how many layers of difficulty there are in that? What sorts of linguistic somersaults do new Australians have to deal with?

I love language. Let me make that clear.


I picked Cate Blanchett's sub-par Soviet accent in the recent Indiana Jones movie - the skull one. She rounded her vowel sounds where they should have been flattened. So English, such a giveaway inflection. So wrong.

I don't want to learn another language. I have had my fill. Not interested in Spanish, or Italian or any of the Slavic langues. Russian interests me, but only academically. I don't think I can be bothered investing when there is the Internet to translate what I need. Such as freak =

In 1986 (?) (coming up in diaries) in Bali, I sat in a hut on stilts near the beach on one of the three islands off the west coast of Lombok. For about seven days, I had a guy come and teach me Bahasa-Indonesia in the afternoons. I learnt a bit, which I have since forgotten.

But that rudimentary attempt at language is so far removed from, say, Nabaokov writing Lolita in English first, and then translating it himself into Russian.

That blows my mind. Big time.

When I was at uni, at teacher's college, years ago, I remember a class to do with cross-cultural communication or similar. The teacher was passionate, and oh so knowledgeable. It was maybe a semester course, and I FUCKING LOVED IT. She talked one day about bread. The significance of bread across many cultures. The words for it in different languages, the idiom, expressions like "bread = money" and "to have a bun in the oven." Bread is so highly valued by many cultures around the world. For example in Turkey, you cannot throw out bread, no matter how old, how rock hard it is. I used to get shit from my ex for throwing bread away. So I'd keep it, let it turn to granite, let him try to eat it. It's ok to feed it to birds, mind you. They are Allah's creatures as well.

And there are expressions not just to do with bread, but food.

Apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Apple of her father's eye.
She'll be apples.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Bring home the bacon.

Sugar and spice and all things nice.

What else have we got?

Ah words. You have to love them. I do.


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jo_blue said...

Nice post. I love language as well, but I'm not very good at learning them - it's taken me ages to speak rudimentary Malay.

English is the most frustrating language to teach - just the phonetics are a nightmare - try explaining to a bunch of 10 year olds why we have so many 'f' sounds - ph, f, ff, gh and what the point of silent letters is - kn, wr etc. Drives me crazy, and them, I'm sure.

I've heard a friend say that Mandarin (chinese dialect) is a beautiful language - that you can paint pictures with it. I do not even like the sound of Arabic and I have no idea why!

Another Outspoken Female said...

Oh the Gili Islands, can't wait to read your take on it in the '80s...I don't think it has changed much since then!

squib said...

English is ridiculous. I'm reminded of this each day LittleSquib and I do reading together. A lot of readers are in American which causes even more confusion (not so much because of spelling but because of word choice)

Anonymous said...

I'm kinda proud of speaking such a difficult language. It's edgy.

I learnt Bahasa at high school (the British learn French because that's where they expect to holiday, so we learn Indonesian because we are expected to holiday in Bali), and it's so far away from the exotic mystique of English that it just feels like something someone invented, rather than something that grew over millennia.

[Yes, i know that Bahasa is an invented language; i was being ironic]

Sometimes i watch the Indonesian News on SBS, just for auld lang syne. Tess was watching it with me, and they were showing some flood damage and flashed up a super that read "EKSKLUSIF".

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"Um, 'Exclusive'?"

She laughed so much she rolled off the couch.

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