Since the beginning of June, I’ve been taking an intensive language class in Polish. I somewhat sent in my application just to see what would happen, and not only was I accepted, but I received some pretty generous financial aid as well. So for the last three weeks, I’ve been learning Polish. Five hours in class, two hours of homework, five days a week in addition to weekend homework. At the end of the period, it’s supposed to equal to about 150 classroom hours, but it ultimately is more with the homework and studying.
I haven’t decided yet whether I’m completely insane for trying to learn that much of a Category FOUR language. For those who don’t know, Category IV refers to a ranking done by the Foreign Service Institute to determine how long it will take native English speakers to learn a language to proficiency. The category Polish is in is listed as “languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English.” Significant…quite an understatement there! I never fully appreciated how many cognates English had with German…and French…and Spanish…and Italian until I had to re-learn my vocabulary with fairly minimal help. All I can say is that I’m glad I studied for some time before the class began!
Then there’s the ever so fun issue of language interference. No, not with English, with German. It isn’t that I actually think a random German word is correct. But sometimes I’ll want to say something easy, like “tylko” and instead “nur” will automatically come out. Quite irritating for me! How some of the 8+ language polyglots learn their languages without having that happen I will probably never understand.
There’s something incredibly humbling/frustrating/exciting about being a beginner in a new language. On the one hand, you immediately realize that you can barely say anything because of the lack of vocabulary, and you’re limited to those awful first-year student beginner texts of asking random people how they are, where they’re from, and what they look like. At the same time though, after a certain point you realize you now know so much more than you did two weeks ago, and actually being able to speak the language seems possible; it doesn’t matter how awkward or unnatural something sounds, all that matters is that you were able to say something. With enough studying though, experience has taught me that this exciting stage where you seem to progress immediately doesn’t last for long. Soon enough, you get to the point where it’s understandable, and yet still so far away. At least in that sense, I’ll enjoy my beginner moments while they still last!