Thinking in Tongues

So, I’m taking a two-semesters-in-one German class right now. The beginning was easy, as most of it was review of things I still remembered. Now, we’re getting into things where I’m a bit fuzzier.  If I could, I’d be one of the uber-multi-lingual folks who can speak a half dozen languages. That probably won’t happen until the later years of my life.

But it’s interesting to compare notes on the different languages I do know.  English is, of course, my native tongue.  I know all the rules – and the many exceptions – and can speak without even thinking about it.  I can write long papers in mere minutes just by throwing caution to the wind and my hands to the keyboard. I can type this blog. Needless to say, I think in English.

Mandarin, which is hella difficult, is also pretty easy for me, generally. I fumble over the myriad articles (as opposed to our lovely English three) and I need to expand my vocabulary for sure. But, I grew up speaking Mandarin and it works just fine for me.  I don’t spent too much time translating things in my head, which is nice. Readings and writing is terrible for me, because the characters and independent from the phonetic, so I rarely think of the right words. I get the tones correct for the most part when speaking though. I think in Mandarin too.

German, which is way easier than Mandarin, hurts sometimes. Despite having a HUGE number of cognates (guess what Haus, Telefon, Auto, Familie, Universitaet, and Schule are) and some similarities in structure, I keep running into road blocks. Gendered nouns drive me crazy, and add on that German has four different cases. I was trying to help Kim with part of her German homework last night and I just stopped because of confusion – hopefully we can help each other more when we’re in class together next semester. On my way to German yesterday I talked to Joey about exactly this. No matter how easy or difficult a language is, the important thing is to be able to think in that language. I don’t think in German.

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