12 September 2011

One of my recent posts has garnered a fair bit of attention. I blogged a few days ago that I was going to learn Esperanto in order to further my goal of speaking Mandarin Chinese. I had a few positive comments but a lot of people thought the idea was clearly insane. How can learning a language that “no one speaks” help you with a tonal based language that has probably the least in common with a romance language?

Missing the point

Well, I think they’re missing the point somewhat. Despite all the good reasons to learn Esperanto, the driving force for me is to learn Mandarin. That aside, I will be over the moon when I can hold a conversation in Esperanto and consider myself at a conversational level. Why is that important?

Because at that point I will be bilingual.

This is a big deal. I’ve said before that my attempts at learning other languages have been a huge failure. Oh sure I can say a few choice phrases and I know a few words, but truly understand the language to the point where I can really use it and make it mine? Nada. No chance. I can take a taxi to the airport, I can order at McDonalds, but I can’t communicate with my family. This sucks and it isn’t a happy place to be.

This isn’t new for me though. I am very lucky that my school didn’t have corporal punishment else I dread to think the vengeance my French teacher would have inflicted on me for five years. During the mock GCSE exams, a good friend of mine proudly told our French teacher that he had ‘blue’ for breakfast. When irately prompted for perhaps a different repast, my friend thought for a moment and came back with ‘green’. The teacher was not impressed with his creativity.

The reason I mention this is because I think my mock exam actually worse. Although I did get the food section right, the rest of the exam is somewhat blurry which I’m pretty sure means it got much worse from there on in.

So, me and languages, we do not mix well. Like many of my fellow Britons I can only speak English and the only words I can speak in another language are “a little” when I’m asked by someone if I can speak their language.

Note: Answering “a little” is asking to have your ass handed to you. The person you’re speaking to will then naturally assume that you’re not lying and will proceed to say more in their native tongue. You will then look a complete muppet and the conversation will drag to a painful embarrassing silence when you clearly have no clue what they just said. If you on the other hand are the one speaking the other language and your new friend says “a little”, take that to mean “No I don’t I’m afraid”, smile at them and switch back to English. Everyone will be much happier this way.

Being bilingual

Being bilingual is not only pretty cool, it’s something of a mindset change. For a start you can express yourself in more than one language. You can speak to other people who don’t speak English. And, most importantly, you have just proved to yourself that you can in fact learn another language and you aren’t quite as stupid as you thought you were.

This is pretty much what I’m shooting for here. I’ve been learning Esperanto for maybe ten hours in total. It’s sticking. I’m remembering words. I’m sitting on IRC and I’m understanding a decent amount of what’s scrolling past. This is fricken’ incredible. Hell, I can even join in with some (very) simple conversations.

This is a great feeling. It boosts confidence._ Esperanto estas facila kaj ĝi estas tre interesa_. Now, I haven’t checked that but I reckon it’s pretty close - and sure as hell it’s not bad for a few hours of study.

So, it’s the confidence, the feeling of achievement that will make Esperanto the perfect language to help me learn Mandarin. It has nothing to do with its similarity or lack thereof to Mandarin. Instead it’s all about the mental and attitude enhancements that take place where a monolingual mind becomes bilingual. This is what I believe will give me the edge…

I guess we will soon see whether I am right or not won’t we?

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