Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Adventures in Language

Language learning (#1 in a series of many)

Language is coming slowly. I’ve never tried to learn two simultaneously before, and it’s proving a challenge. But fortunately they are sufficiently different (ie completely and utterly unrelated), that they are at least not interfering with each other. The biggest problem created by the two together so far has been pronunciation – an ‘s’ in Hungarian for example is pronounced ‘sh’, whereas in Romanian (assuming no accents) it is pronounced ‘s’. So I’ve found myself lisping Romanian, when I should really have been sybillating. Or something.

The other difference with my previous language learning experinece has been the context. As a good Englishman I have previously started by learning the basics of my natural over-politeness – please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, etc. The rest can follow from those important beginnings. In Hungarian, in which language I am at least partly (in truth not very) responsible for a 5 year old child, my language foundation has taken on a different focus. So already I know the Hungarian words for “stop it!”, “be careful!”, “now!”, “enough”, and, of course, “no!” . Passively I have learned things like “Do it again”, “Your turn”, “Put me on your shoulders” and “put me down”. I do know thank you and recently learned sorry, but am still in the dark as regards please and excuse me. The other half of my context means that I also know the words for I love you, sweet, beautiful, wonderful, etc etc. So basically I am learning Hungarian for romance and child rearing. It’s a specialised field of foreign language learning, and one in which I maybe will write a book one day. Or not, as is much more likely. Bogi’s English is progressing in much the same way, with a series of commands such as “Come here”, “Wake up” and “Stand up, please”. She also liberally scatters her commands to me with Romanian, assuming that since I speak some strange foreign language that I will probably understand any such languages. Just now as I was typing this, for example, she wanted me to come and do something with her and said “Andy, hi. Hi!” (I’m not sure of the spelling of “Hi” but it is apparently Romanian for “Come on!”)

My Romanian, so far, remains at the level of menu reading and basic greetings. For example, I know fairly randomly, and unexpectedly for a vegetarian, that “frogs legs” are “pui de balta” in Romanian. Which I am pretty certain translates as “chicken of the water”. I did see a menu item today that was translated into English as “greaves”. As I have no idea what “greaves” are, save that they are quite possibly an item of animal haunch popular at the table of Henry VIIIth, and are probably now referred to more prosaically as drumsticks or shin or something, I was not able to memorise the Romanian original.

My favourite words so far in both languages –
Hungarian: Krumpli (potatoes)
Romanian: Crap (carp) – this leads to such interesting menu items as “fried crap” and most intriguingly “fillet of crap”

More fascinating facts from my language learning experiences as and when I come by them. I bet you can’t wait. (Wait is another word I know passively in Hungarian)

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