Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘German’

Complain + Complain = Drive

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2013 at 1:32 am

Today in our lab meeting, a visiting postdoc from Switzerland gave a presentation on his research.  The title of one of his slides was something like “Gute Results”.

I know a little bit of German – enough to realize that “gute” wasn’t some technical term I wasn’t familiar with, but rather just a relic of a presentation translated from German.

That made me think . . . and I realized that no Chinese speaker would be likely to leave an untranslated Chinese word on an English presentation.  They stick out too much, look too different from English to be passed over or forgotten.

After the success of last year’s resolution to finish Harry Potter in Chinese, I decided to read Life of Pi in Spanish this year.  It’s going well so far!  To finish the book this year I have to keep up a pace just over 1 page per day, and today on the 30th of January I’m on page 42.  My atrophied Spanish muscles are strengthening and I feel like I’m getting faster at getting better, and getting better at getting faster.

I started a Spanish Anki deck when I started the book, and have been adding both the new words I have to look up and old words that I know pretty well.  This helps avoid burnout when reviewing all really challenging cards :)

I’m also still reviewing my Chinese and German decks, plus in a spurt of zeal after I upgraded to Anki 2.0 I made itty bitty decks for all the other languages I’ve picked up words in while on trips . . . I can now say that I know 13 words in Khmer (oh heavens!  10 of those are numbers . . . ), 9 in Korean, 4 in Polish, 5 in Dutch, and 10 in Slovenian.  Not much, but it would be sad to lose those tiny treasures!

Anyway, it’s been interesting having to swtich between languages in a way I’ve never really done before.  When I started learning Chinese I pretty much let Spanish fall by the wayside and never focused on any other language for longer than the few days I was in country.

The other day, I was reviewing Spanish and the English word “complain” came up.  I answered immediately – but incorrectly.  It’s a word that I considered myself to have known before, so I was confused as to how I could have gotten it wrong?

Even more confusing, after a few seconds of consideration, I realized that I knew the true meaning of the word I had answered with – manejar means “to drive”.

But I figured it out.  “Complain” is quejarse in Spanish and manyuan (埋怨) in Chinese . . . My answer, manejar, was a combination of the two.

Interesting how the written languages can be so distinct, but my mind puts all the sounds in the same place!

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Ich lerne Deutsch

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Summer is here at Stanford, which means a break from the toil of classes and a new routine of regular work hours.  (Of course, by “work”, I mean “research”.  And by “regular”, I mean “set-by-me”)  This gives me the time to pick up all those things I barely had time for during the school year – playing the piano and flute, knitting and needlepoint, reading, and language study.

I’m still cranking away at my faithful Chinese Anki deck, which requires about 5 minutes daily to refresh my vocabulary of ~2000 characters.  And some friends and I recently reinstated Viernes Español, a tradition of [trying to] speak only in Spanish on Fridays.  (My lab mate, Adrian, is a real stickler, making me use Spanish even when discussing research.  Sometimes when we’re talking about continuum mechanics in Spanish, I don’t even understand what I don’t understand!) 

But then I overheard Adrian, who is Mexican, talking to another of my labmates, Manuel (from Germany).  They were discussing Spanish and German vocabulary and grammar – and points!  They had just started using a program called duolingo to learn each other’s languages.  Duolingo’s gimmick is that it has you “translate the web”, but in my opinion that feature needs a lot of development.  The real draw of duolingo for me is that it awards you points for learning and reviewing, giving you a concrete way to track your progress . . . and compare it to others’ : )

So I convinced another friend of mine, Martin, to start learning German with me.  Apparently competition is a very good stick (or carrot?) because we have definitely been pushing each other along in the pursuit of knowledge.  Martin, who I am convinced does not ever do work, has 1968 points to my 1162, but I do pretty well in second place keeping him on his toes. 

It’s been fun learning a new language from [almost] nothing.  I’m back in that heady era of high returns, when the words you learn immediately get used in every sentence you speak (“I”, “you”, “to be”, etc.).  When exceptions and, for that matter, all tenses but the present are a far-off threat.  When your mistakes are adorable because you clearly don’t have the skills to be malicious (Adrian recently told our summer student that he ate her instead of that he saw her). 

Also, it’s fun to learn a Germanic language!  It’s fun to struggle with grammar instead of vocabulary (as Chinese is totally the opposite).  Cognates are super fun – oh my goodness, after 3+ years of Chinese I had forgotten how wonderful cognates were!! 

I don’t know exactly how far I’ll go with this program or with this language, but I do know that I will not likely have another time in my life more conducive for learning German.  I have a large circle of German and Swiss friends, including three people I see every day in the lab, and I’m going to Austria for a week in September.  Might as well take advantage of the opportunities and incentives! 

Auf Wiedersehen!