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Back to School

I am terrible with languages.  I know that sounds strange since I have a translation degree, but my brain moves like a seven-year-old computer; still functioning but annoyingly slow.

I am helping the twins prepare for their B’nai Mitzvah by translating their Torah portion with them, going through the etymology of each word and how they’re connected to other words.  We sit at the kitchen table with five dictionaries fanning out across the table.  It is painful watching me translate.  Once upon a time, I skipped through short stories, nimbly transforming them into English.  We now focus on maybe three words per day.

It’s their work, but because they’re still learning this, it’s also my work.

They’re starting French in the fall.  I’m also supposed to help them with that, so I downloaded a language app so I can review intro level French.  They’re also using the app, absorbing all the vocabulary and spitting it back out at me while I’m trying to chop lettuce for a salad.  My brain spins like the cursor on the computer, buffering buffering buffering, trying to remember conjugations so I don’t tell them the wrong thing.

I am dreading being the person linguistically in charge when we travel.  I’m mostly fine reading French.  But people expect you to speak it when you enter their country.  They don’t want to help you by writing out everything they’re saying so you can read it from a piece of paper, and then wait until you write back.  I’ve always been terrible with organizing my thoughts verbally, whether in English, Hebrew, or French.  It doesn’t help that I haven’t used two of those languages in the last 20 years.

It is hard to switch back and forth between three languages in one day when your brain has so little RAM.  My brain is like a computer that still has a slot for floppy discs.  That has a dusty modem on the side that sputters to life, tying up the phone line.  That is my brain.

Wish me luck.


1 Beth { 06.25.17 at 7:44 am }

This is me and my chemistry degree. The knowledge is (probably) there but I haven’t used it in such a long time. I graduated from college and used my other majors in my career and now I stay home with my daughters. I am nervous for the day when the science they learn in school gets advanced and I’m expected to access all I allegedly know.

2 Jodi { 06.25.17 at 8:35 am }

Michael is starting French is the fall also. I find it interesting that all these children are picking French. Michael picked French because his goal is to be a professional chef and he thinks it will help with the cooking terms.

3 a { 06.25.17 at 8:58 am }

I have a decent ear for languages (after a week in Italy, I could understand the gist of most conversations I was overhearing), but I am terrible at learning them formally. Like you, I came out of (high school) French able to read it, but not speak it or understand it. I guess that’s why immersion classes are so popular.

Much luck with all of your translating! (Although I’m not sure why you have to relearn French because the twins are learning it. At some point, you’re not going to be able to help them with their homework, and it will be fine for them to be responsible for their own learning.)

4 torthuil { 06.25.17 at 10:04 am }

Ugh, I studied French in university and it mostly put me off learning any other languages. I wish I’d studied anything else. The only languages I enjoyed since were antiquated ones like Old English and Gaelic (but never became proficient in either). I hope your software starts to run better with practice!

5 Mali { 06.26.17 at 5:38 am }

I love languages, but I find that switching between two foreign languages can be confusing. I’ve concluded that my brain has just one foreign languages section, and if it doesn’t find the right word in the language I’m trying to speak, it will access the appropriate words in any of the other foreign languages nearby. So if I’m trying to speak French (also learned at school) and can’t remember the word, I’m likely to blurt out the Thai equivalent. So you have my sympathies!

I’m mainly self-taught, and find some apps are wonderful, and some are pretty useless, especially as an adult learner.

Finally, relax – the twins will be doing all the talking for you soon!

Also, there are good

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.26.17 at 7:40 pm }

What Mali said about having a slot for only 1 foreign language (I never quite filled up that slot with an entire second language, and I’m afraid 3 partial languages don’t add to any kind of fluency at all.

I wish you luck. I get the buffering buffering thing.

7 Stephanie (Travelcraft Journal) { 06.27.17 at 4:14 pm }

B’nai Mitzvah – neat! That must be the plural (?)

It’s so frustrating not being able to recall something that you *did* know at some point!

BTW, Phillip says “la’chaim!” He TA’ed a biblical Hebrew class earlier this year. Ancient Hebrew texts are kind of his jam. 🙂

8 Mina { 07.09.17 at 2:59 am }

I’m good with languages. I speak six of them, three on a daily basis. But as I get older, I find myself losing the ease with which I used to switch between languages. And improving also takes longer (but I’m also not bothered to try). I hope it’s just a phase, and my brain recovers from this sluggish phase.
What is perplexing to me is learned French back in school, was really good at it, but had gotten to the point where I hated it. Stopped using it for some years, until we moved to France and hit the ground talking. I’m very good at spelling and grammar (won an orthography and spelling context where I was the one of the foreigners) and somehow my vocabulary reached mammoth size by now, but all this is based on what I studied whe I was a teenager. Now, even though French is not one of the languages I use daily, whenever I hear it, I instantly commute to French, and start replying in it, even when I’m with the kids and they don’t speak it (yet). It doesn’t happen with English, or German, just French. I’m not aware of the switch, I don’t do it on purpose, and this makes it even more bizarre. We only lived one year in France, and ten years in Germany, yet my French is still stronger than my German. Personal preference plays an important role in how we learn languages.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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