March 23, 2010 | Korean

Dilemma: Which Languages to Include?

I want to add languages to the schedule, but my eyes are bigger than my brain.

For the first half of the day, I was not entirely functional, as I was still tired from my half-marathon on Sunday, but I worked on more Korean Pimsleur and didn’t do all that terribly. I got through lesson 11 (Level II) and did a couple of run-throughs of lesson 12. I confess I hit the rewind button a lot. 

The past few days I have temporarily abandoned my efforts towards developing my written skills in Korean. I now have only eight days to complete 18 Pimsleur lessons, but I seem to be speeding up a bit (not so many reps per lesson), so I remain optimistic.

Which Languages Most Represent New York?

A couple of language encounters today: I spoke Spanish at Harry’s Shoes (great store; I recommend it) to a cheerful salesman from the Dominican Republic, and a tiny bit of Russian to an eyebrow-shaping expert at a beauty salon. I messed up one Russian sentence by mistakenly inserting an Italian phrase into it (oops), but I did get another right (or at least she understood me): Oh min-YA VAJ-nay-a fstri-ECH-a. “I have an important meeting,” that means. I have written about this sentence here before; Pimsleur beat it into my brain, and it may be stuck there permanently now. It was totally irrelevant to my conversation with her, but that didn’t stop me.

Recently I have gotten some good-natured questions and suggestions about the 13 languages I selected for this project. I myself am bothered by some omissions. I still want to include Dutch, partly for historical reasons and partly because I think it would be fun. Tagalog, Persian, and Polish are others I’d like to add.

At a recent party I attended for the journal n+1, a man—a film director, I think—was telling me with great enthusiasm and animation that I should replace Hebrew, which is currently on my list, with Yiddish. Indeed, according to the Modern Language Association’s list of New York languages, there are more Yiddish speakers here than speakers of Hebrew. And it would certainly be interesting from a historical perspective. As we were speaking, the director called over a friend of his at the party, a publisher, to ask what she thought. She said, without hesitation, “Hebrew.”

Flushing, Queens

I laughed. I would love to do both, but I can’t fit both.

However, at the end of two years, if I have energy and interest and my brain hasn’t exploded, I can add more languages.

Also: some of the languages on my list are currently in play. They could get knocked off the schedule in coming months if I become convinced that another language is a better alternative. I did think my choices through pretty carefully, but there’s a lot I didn’t know at the outset, and such decisions can always be undecided.

Nothing, though—nothing!—is going to knock Spanish off the list. That is next, and I am beside myself with excitement.

In the meantime, onward with Korean! I have been learning days of the week as well as months, and the sounds of some of the words are still mush in my mouth, and my brain. I am working on unmashing them.

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