Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Où est tu?

Here's my accomplishment for the day, sent in an email to a few friends:

"Où est tu? Je suis à Seoul, Corée. Il fait froid et beau. Il ne neige pas (??). --David"

This after a few hours spent with the Entre Amis textbook. I'm basically at the end of chapter 1, having looked at conjugations for the verb être, expressions for the weather (temps), explanations about using the negative "ne + conjugated verb + pas", etc., and being able to actually write just about nothing. I suppose it'll get easier? There are so many cognates that look familiar way out there in the distance, where the grass looks green, but it's "the basics" that I need to get.

And those basics as they're written, and as they're pronounced, are what stand like an immense wall in front of me, a wall that is immersed in fog and only reveals itself when I actually start working at this, only when I actually start busting my butt a little and studying. Writing and sound together since this learning project is about learning another language using the Roman alphabet, where letters look familiar but those visual similarities are only enough to really trip me up, it feels.

Like the layout of the keys on the keyboard: one of my big discoveries today was the mac keyboard viewer function, where I can see the different keys light up when I'm typing in English, and gain a little bit of guidance when I'm trying to peck a few letters out in French. Why are there letters up there in the numbers, where letters 'shouldn't' be? Why are periods hidden behind the shift function? There are just enough similarities to make it look like the U.S. and the French keyboards are basically laid out the same with just a few critical differences, just enough to make fool me into thinking that I can actually type. Was it easier to learn to type Korean? Certainly not, but there's something intuitively satisfying to learning an entirely different distribution of sounds on the keyboard to 'completely' rerouting the eye-hand neural connection. This feels like a game of trying to remember what's different and what's the same. How is it possible, and is it good in the first place, to learn it 'from the start', to learn the "t" and the "y" and the "u" as if for the first time, even though they're in the same place as they are with the U.S. keyboard?

And like this with sounds as well. I feel as if I'm walking on ice when I pronounce words, faltering between vowel sounds, sliding back and forth, never sure when I'm getting it close to right, especially with the diacritical marks that I don't even know the names of yet...

There are a few beacons of hope, little bright spots in the words that I've actually heard several times and then see in print, so I have my memory of sound to fall back on when looking at the word as it's written. This makes me realize just how text-mediated my whole learning process is going to be, how necessary it'll be for me to learn the verbal language together with the written...I know several people who, and think it's common to just read French but can't really speak it. That's what's required in many grad programs, and that's where so many people seem content to stop.

How far will I go? I don't want to stop there, and maybe things will be different when I get back into the fray in Berkeley, but as I learned how to write today,

je suis a Seoul, Corèe...

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