Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Norwegian: Or, Yes, I'm Learning Another Language


I am a bit language-crazy.

I speak English as my native tongue. However, I also speak Mandarin quite well. My Hebrew and French are competent – my speaking is stronger in Hebrew, but my reading is stronger in French. I can survive in Spanish. I know basic Afrikaans and Cantonese.

I like languages. My grandmother, of blessed memory, spoke eight fluently and a ninth to a basic degree. I aim to imitate her.

I also like being able to switch my identity as I switch languages. I go from my normal, crazy Anglophone self to a chatty, laid-back Mandarin speaker, to a good Hebrew-speaking Jewish son…as I speak a language, I develop a part of my soul. It’s a form of spiritual growth, to embed oneself in more communities in the most basic way: learning the language.

And yesterday, as if I didn’t speak enough tongues already, I started Norwegian. I’m auditing Norwegian 101-102-103 this year, although I may end up taking one of the quarters as a credit class.

There’s a nervousness you have before you start a new language. “Is this the right thing to do?” “Why the hell am I doing this?” “Is the pronounciation devilishly difficult?” (For Norwegian, yes).

And then you take your first class. You learn the alphabet and basic phrases. “God dag! Jeg heter Jonathan. Jeg bor i Chicago. Jeg kommer fra New York. Hva heter du? Hvor bor du? “

(For reference, as I wrote this on Word, my spell checking switched from English to Norwegian. Win for Microsoft.)

And then you relax. You realize that it’s going to be awesome.

Norwegian is the first language that I’m learning for specific reasons. I learned Hebrew and Afrikaans as a family affair, although I did buy grammars and textbooks to improve them. Chinese was something that just happened, and pulled me in for what is now over seven years. French and Spanish happened in high school – there was no specific reason, I just wanted to learn them. Cantonese happened for similar reasons.

Norwegian seems awesome. But I know what drew me in. Years of Scandinavian mystery books definitely played a role (you get written Danish and Swedish for free with Norwegian, and a good understanding of spoken – dialect continuums rock). The quality of life in Norway is a bonus. The sheer amount of amazing and diverse travel opportunities in Scandinavia are an attraction. But most of all, my continued interest in the changing Arctic necessitates the knowledge of either a Scandinavian language or Russian. I’ve chosen the former. As the Arctic grows more important for so many reasons, Norway, Iceland and Denmark (by virtue of Greenland) will grow more important as well. Whoever thought thirty years ago that Chinese-Norwegian and Chinese-Canadian relations could have such complex manifestations? How do we take what we learned before elsewhere and apply them to the unique problems of the circumpolar world?

Norwegian is a doorway to a world for me, and I hope that I can learn enough to go through that doorway well. This is a language I’ve looked forward to learning for a long time. Here we go.

The Norwegian alphabet in sign form. The three extra letters are basically unique to Scandinavian languages. Copyright deafblind.com.
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Addition to the blogroll:

Semester in Londontown: My friend Lisa, an amazing and intelligent student at Hampshire College, is spending a semester abroad in London. She has a blog to document her experiences in the UK, and she’s a terrific writer. It’s up in the blogroll.


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