Muscles, when given a good workout, get stiff and sore. If the brain is a muscle, then mine will be unusable come tomorrow morning. In fact, it may cease to function well before bedtime. I have never considered myself linguistically “gifted” and today’s studies were a stretch for a large, disused portion of my gray matter.
I started my day with a Living Language Arabic, Platinum Edition tutoring session. My instructor began the lesson in Arabic and made it clear that she would continue in that mystical tongue for the duration. (This was rather surprising, given that my previous session had been conducted primarily in English.) Having never actually conversed with anyone in Arabic before, I almost instantly felt myself overwhelmed. Her speech was far more rapid than what I had listened to in the curriculum’s practice dialogue and, though I knew the vocabulary, my immediate response was one of panic.
It required several repetitions on her part before I let go of my tension and began attempting to respond to her inquiries. That these replies were not “up to snuff” was immediately obvious. My single word responses were not quite what she was looking for and “A full reply, please,” became her mantra for the rest of the lesson.
The next half hour went much more quickly than I’d anticipated and, while I felt that I’d learned a great deal, it was almost a relief to be done. There would be another session next week and I would be better prepared, but for now it was on to my Greek.
I confess that I’ve tried to learn the language on several occasions, but with little success. A few vocabulary words and a distinct sense of my inadequacy is all that I carried away from the attempts.
This time, however, I am learning under the skilled tutelage of a friend who is fluent in the tongue… and who has strange ideas that involve ignoring the grammar books. (I confess that I find this method rather appealing. Despite my skill with the English language, I’m wholly incapable of describing any of the sentence parts which I so ably diagram.) It is his belief that inductive learning is best and, for this reason, he has equipped me with a lexicon, a text to be translated, and his phone number in case I happen to get stuck. (I have used this phone number several times, primarily for the purpose of arranging meetings to discuss my ever growing list of questions.)
My assignment is simply to work my way through the text, word by word, looking up any that I don’t know and double checking my verb endings to ensure proper translation. Thanks to an “aha” moment yesterday afternoon, the endings have become significantly less complicated, but this still doesn’t reduce the amount of labor involved with looking up a half-dozen words for every paragraph. (Or negate the need to insert each stem into the fancy verb chart at the back of the book to confirm my interpretation of its meaning.)
The result is that I begin to feel the “brain strain” after just a half an hour of intense work. After an hour and an half of work, my brain was about to explode. The line between translating and simply checking my guesses with the English-language volume was growing thinner. The temptation to cheat was becoming much too strong. It was time to quit.
Tomorrow will be another day in which, I deeply hope, the Greek will seem less Greek to me. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to an evening steeped in my mother tongue!