Learning the Language

For me, one of the big challenges about this trip is the different languages in all the places we’re planning to go. Neither Becky nor I have great had much success learning foreign languages, so I suspect we’ll be getting by in English.

I do want to learn at least a few words in the major languages we’ll encounter, and I have been gathering up a list of resources. The list of languages is pretty long, but at least we have some long freighter voyages to study. I’m planning to start with Turkish and Arabic, and then move on to Mandarin. We’ll be spending a bunch of time in countries where other languages are spoken, so I hope some of this early study will help loosen up the corners of my mind dedicated to language.

  • Our local library has a variety of Berlitz CDs and phrase books which should be helpful. So far we have a couple in Arabic and Mandarin. I’ve copied the CDs to my iPod for easier rewinding when I miss something.
  • I also found some recommendations on ask.metafilter for free podcasts from Open Culture, including a series on Jordanian Arabic from the Peace Corps.
  • According to another ask.metafilter post, getting comfortable with the alphabet is critical for Arabic, and likely for Chinese as well. I think that will be my biggest challenge.
  • Folks on ask.metafilter also recommended a Mandarin podcast subscription called ChinesePod and Clavis Sinic, a method for learning the script.
  • For Turkish, I’ve requested a Teach Yourself Turkish course, which doesn’t have great reviews on Amazon, but we’ll see how it works for me. If I’m struggling, I may get Conversational Turkish instead.
  • There are also various versions of the U.S. Foreign Service Institute language lessons available online. Since these are government-produced, they’re in the public domain, so some kind souls on the Internet are digitizing them and making them available for free. This looks like a good option for Cambodian, Lao (text only), Vietnamese and Thai.  There are various other paid versions of the FSI lesson plan as well.

There are lots of other options out there, but this is more than enough for me to get started with.

1 thought on “Learning the Language”

  1. I hope to spend some time practicing the art of drawing in the native scripts for the languages we are visiting. I am hoping that by learning to “write” the characters, I’ll learn to recognize them when I see them.
    When I was working for Nortel, I spend 5 weeks in Hong Kong. In that time, I did not manage to learn to recognize a single character. Reflecting back on it, it might be because I never tried to draw them. I’m a kinesthetic learner, so “doing” certainly makes it easier for me to learn.

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