The problem with learning a non-Indo-European language is that you can’t deduce anything from the previous knowledge. Everything has to be learned from scratch. Everything is entirely counterintuitive.

But hey, it’s good to be learning a new and a difficult language because I will be more understanding and patient with my students. It’s useful to remember how it feels to be completely done in by a language you are learning.


6 thoughts on “Kaixo”

  1. Yes indeed! We need to be reminded from time to time how difficult it is to learn something really new.

    Do you have an in-person teacher, or are you tackling this one on your own??


  2. Yes. I had the same question as David Bellamy. How do you learn a language from scratch if you have no prior knowledge at all? Computer programs? TV shows? What’s the first step? (And second and third etc. etc.) 🙂 I’m very interested in this process.


  3. The only non-Indo-European language I’ve studied is Arabic. What made it hard was vocabulary — there was SO much vocabulary to learn. We have some loan words from Arabic in the languages I know so those were available but there were so very many unfamiliar words, compared to other languages. People think grammar is hard but I never have difficulty with any grammar; it was the vocabulary and the handwriting that were challenging.

    It is possible that different languages need different study techniques but I have always found that getting used to the sounds, recognizing them and making them, is important, and I need to start with very simple conversations, in person, and pattern drills (although these are considered passé). I claim I will learn Latvian, although that is Indo-European and should be familiar, but I think the problem will be bad materials; I’ll have to write my own course. I know I’ll want a class to start, I’m bad at doing it all by myself or by internet/phone. Input: hearing, reading, seeing videos, is needed, and the other element is meaningful interaction in the language with a known person.

    First, I like sentences with verb to be if there is one, or with ways to get around it if there isn’t one. Hello! I am Z! Who are you? Who is s/he/they? Where are we? Some version of that would be the first conversation; next conversation up would be something with the verb have; the following probably with the verb go; after that possibly like. I remember that the first day of Arabic we learned “This is a door” (masc.) and “This is a table” (fem.) and “What is this?” … and from there a fair amount of vocabulary (with pronunciation). Then we learned some adjectives to go with those nouns, and how to use them. Next some verbs, so we could say “What are you reading? I am reading the new book.” I find in general that the most important thing for me to do is to take the small amount of vocabulary I have and the small number of grammatical constructions, and say as much as I possibly can with them. In Arabic, I figured out how to write an entire, quite cute folktale-type story with VERY limited knowledge and wowed everyone; they did not realize that the way I had managed to do that much, or do so much while remaining idiomatic, was to let my knowledge of the language lead the plot, as opposed to figure out what I wanted the story to say and then try to say that (thus wasting time I could spend listening, practicing and learning by trying to translate things I wasn’t competent to translate).


    1. “People think grammar is hard”

      Well Modern Standard Arabic grammar is so hard that hardly any Arabs really master it (Arab teachers have told me they often have to think twice in a lot of areas).
      The dialects (colloquials) are much more reasonable but not many people write in them…. and they’re as different from each other as Spanish and Italian…


      1. Yes, and literary Arabic is harder than MSA, and you can study old Arabic, and I don’t experience the colloquials as being as close as Spanish and Italian although that is in part because some people speak in such pidginized ways. STILL, most people, with any language, seem to be totally daunted at the fact that there are grammatical differences from their native language at all, and cannot drop the expectation that things will be the same. This, then is what I would say is the first key to beginning the study of a new language: you have to drop expectations that it will resemble what is familiar. If you find things that are in fact parallel, then great, but you have to drop the a priori expectation that the parallels will be there. Not to do so, or to be unwilling to do so, is the big block to acquistion, I find


  4. “most people, with any language, seem to be totally daunted at the fact that there are grammatical differences from their native language at all”

    And if a person has more or less successfully learned one foreign language they’ll expect others to be just like that. I remember being disoriented in German that the subjunctive (so vital in Spanish) was a kind of minor thing of very limited importance (and then dumbly surprised again when it didn’t exist at all in Polish). Intellectually I realized there was no reason to be disoriented but still….


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