Looking through more than one window

There is a Chinese proverb about learning languages which goes: “To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world”.

For a few years now I have been learning German. Although I stopped formal lessons some time ago, I have a couple of conversation partners who I meet with regularly, either in person or via Skype. For half an hour they put up with my atrocious German and for half an hour I listen to their almost perfect English. Naturally some of our time is spent searching Google translate but most of the time we can work out meanings of words with hand gestures alone. For me, the biggest hurdle is trying to remember the correct article, gender and case.

In Germany I can get by. I can read signs, order meals, ask for directions and have basic conversations like, “how are you?” or “the weather is hot today”. Most of the time German people will answer me in English, totally defeating the purpose of having the conversation. I have noticed that, especially on trains, people correct my grammar. Train conductors love to hear me repeat the correct sentence after them!

This year I have started to learn Russian. For some unknown reason I have jumped in, boots and all so to speak, and made Russian Studies my major for the Bachelor of Arts I am studying. I was ecstatic when I discovered there were no articles in Russian, less so when I was reminded there are still genders and cases. My head is spinning with all of the words and phrases I have to memorise. Oh, did I mention I am learning Russian online? Sometimes I wonder at my decisions…

There are however very good reasons for wanting to learn both German and Russian. Practically all of the family documents I have inherited are in one or the other of those languages. And, if you have read my previous posts, you will know that there are an awful lot of documents for me to try to translate. I would love to be able to read my family’s history without having to wait for someone else to translate it.

There is another reason to learn languages and that is to keep my brain active. Learning a language is said to be one deterrent for Alzheimer’s. Both my mother and my maternal grandmother had the insidious disease and I am determined to do whatever I can not to succumb to it. If that means I have to scramble my brain trying to work out whether the article for a noun is “der”, “die”, or “das” or the ending is a consonant, an “a” or an “o”, then so be it. If it means I have to attempt to wrap my vocal cords around the “r” sound in both languages, then bring it on.

Besides, I like the idea of being able to look through more than one window!

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