Climbing mountains

My studies of Czech are progressing slowly. So far I’ve only really got to grips with the first lesson of Colloquial Czech, and am working on lesson 2. Yesterday I had a quick look at the later lessons and wondered whether I’ll ever get that far. I know I shouldn’t let this put me off, but it a bit disheartening to see how far I have to go.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but learning languages has quite a lot in common with climbing mountains. You start off in the foothills where the going is relatively easy, as long as you are physically fit / your language learning skills are up to scratch, otherwise you might find even this stage a struggle. Past the foothills there will be some difficult climbs and some long, hard slogs up slopes of varying steepness.

You might come up against some seemingly unscaleable obstacles, though with time and effort you probably find a way over or round them, perhaps with the assistance of a guide/teacher. When you think you’re not making much upward progress, or are even going downhill, it might help to turn round to admire the view and to see how far you’ve come.

Even when you reach the summit, you’ll probably see further summits to scale. You might also look over at neighbouring moutains (related languages) or distant ones (unrelated languages) and think that it would be interesting to climb/learn them.

As you’re climbing, you might look up at the mountain every now and then and think it looks steep and difficult to climb. This might inspire you to try harder, or to stop and enjoy the view / put what you’ve learnt to good use. If you decide to give up and do something else, then come back to your climbing/learning, you’ll probably find the going easier the second time, as you’ve already been that way before.

With Czech I’m pootling around in the foothills at the moment. When I look up towards the summit, I wonder whether this is a mountain I really want to climb, or whether I should stick to more familiar mountains.

This entry was posted in Czech, Language, Language learning.

7 Responses to Climbing mountains

  1. I like the analogy, Simon! Especially the part about taking a moment to pause and look at the view and how far you’ve come. Keep climbing those mountains!

  2. Ben L. says:

    Quite an accurate analogy, Simon. I’m currently learning Mandarin and am starting to feel my mind turning to “shengci-tang”* Indeed, when I try to think in German, a language I have some practical proficiency in, more oftent than not my Mandarin is quick to sneak in!

    I wonder if there are separate parts of the brain responsible for using freshly-acquired language skills. I tend to think this is too simplistic, but still: what is the connection, if any, between how we use native and non-native languages? N.b. I would guess what these terms really refer to are the stage of cognitive development in which we acquired the languages in question.

    On a point of grammar: does anyone else feel like a period isn’t quite right for ending an “I wonder if…” sentence? I must b reding too much non-fiction, because for the life of me I can’t recall seeing that sort of statement in print “for the longest” (as we say in the US).

    * vocabulary soup?

  3. Simon says:

    Ben – I think ‘cihui tang’ would be a better translation of vocabulary soup.

    I’ve read a number of studies that show that those who grow up speaking two or more languages ‘store’ them in different parts of the brain. Such people also use both sides of their brains for language processing, whereas monoglots use mainly the left side of their brains. People who learn languages as adults store them all in the same places, which is perhaps why there is interference between the languages.

  4. BG says:

    Ben – I would use a question mark for “I wonder if… ” It is a question.

  5. About “I wonder if…” statements:

    Although not a question, this phrase is usually spoken with similar tones as one, often prompting us to use a question mark in writing as if it were. I suppose it would depend on the de facto purpose of the question mark. Is it to indicate questions (presumably), or indicate a specific type of intonation for the sentence? Personally, I prefer the former.

  6. Geoff says:

    It takes some care to decide which mountains to climb. Because motivation is so key to learning a language, especially on your own, you’re not going to get too far if you find the language impenetrable. On the other hand, because every language has its challenges, you shouldn’t just pick a language because it will be easy for you, for in those spots where it isn’t you won’t have the motivation of a sense of past achievement to keep you going.

    An important question to ask yourself is, “What does the summit mean for me?” Is it reading a particular author? Putting a Czech speaker in your own country at ease? Going to Prague and fitting in? Don’t scan your book to see what you still have to learn. Scan it to see what you’ll be able to do. Then summon an image of the things you’d like to do and how hard you’d be willing to work to be able to do them. From there, you can map a course that will make learning Czech exciting if this is a mountain you really want to climb, and likewise help you assess how much you really want to learn if your dedication to Czech isn’t as strong as it might be.

  7. IDK says:

    Do I have to buy the CD to accompany the Book?
    Because I only have the book at hand.
    The CD costs quite a lot for me.
    I’m studying in Czech Rep. for nearly 3 months but only know some words basically…

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