Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Loving Learning Languages

My mind turns to language learning now that I have an opportunity at work to dust off my old Hebrew. I spent 10 months of 1974 in Israel, studying Hebrew half the day in a classroom and working on the kibbutz the rest of the day. After my six-month program, I stayed four more months as a volunteer, using the Hebrew I'd learned to run a granary and get to know the kibbutzniks (residents).

My foreign language study actually started with Hebrew--something that Jewish kids learn at least a little bit at home. But that Hebrew was prayers over bread and wine or Chanukah candles. In Israel, the language is alive. When I arrived I saw it splashed all over signs on buildings, on every newsrack, phone booth, and you heard it all around you. I absorbed the language by osmosis, supported by the classroom work.

I studied foreign languages in school: French in 7th grade, Spanish in 8th through 11th grade, and German in the 10th. I may have been the only kid at Concord High taking (and passing) two foreign languages in the same year!

In college I took a year of Japanese to fulfill my language requirement, along with a calligraphy class. I had dabbled in martial arts briefly and was fond of sushi, so it seemed like a good idea. I also hoped to meet a nice Asian girl (but never did). Interestingly, I did take the young woman who became my first wife to a Japanese Club party on our first date, so I guess it did help.

Since college, I've studied American Sign Language (ASL) for a few years through my job. I really enjoyed it, but the classes and tutoring I was taking were getting harder to manage, and, like every other language, it takes a long time to get enough proficiency to really enjoy speaking.

Except Hebrew--because of the immersion, I did have times when it felt natural. I can still hear some phrases in my head. But, I've forgotten a lot (I can hear the Hebrew words for this phrase in my head right now). With some Israelis at work now, I am going to dive back in.

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