"Open sesame." "Presto Chango." "Abracadabra."
We're all familiar with the power of magic words.
It seems to me, though, that every word is magical. A squiggle on the page, a tickle on the eardrum, can convey a complex meaning. Every word is freighted with connotations and somewhere, deep in the recesses of our subconscious mind, we've all been programmed by words. The language we speak colors the way we see the world.
I've always been fascinated by languages. Before I realized that I have absolutely no talent for learning them, I used to fantasize about becoming a translator. And so I studied Latin and French in high school, more French, Spanish and Russian in college. I tried to learn. I really did, but it seems as if my brain has two compartments: "English" and "Other Stuff." So when I'd forget the Spanish word for "rain" I'd just plug in the Russian one . . .
I've tried to learn Greek and Danish before trips to Greece and Denmark. No luck. So why, I wonder, have I now embarked upon trying to learn an even more difficult language?
For the past several months, I've been using the Pimsleur method to study Hindi. Pimsleur is one of those programs that promises you'll learn a language in a week. It's been months. Instead of covering a half-hour lesson every day, I've had to repeat every lesson for at least a week before it started to sink in. I'm only up to No. 14 of 30, and I can't pronounce anything correctly. NOTHING.
Hindi sounds are different from English sounds. Worse, I have trouble hearing exactly what each sound is. Listening to the same speaker on the same CD, it sometimes sounds as if she's saying t and sometimes d, and so I figure that it must be something in between. Same goes for another sound that seems to be a cross between k and g. Then there's the one that seems to be triangulated in the center of t, d, and th. My tongue doesn't work that way!
I'm really not aiming to learn to speak Hindi, though. I'm trying to learn to understand enough that I can watch Bollywood films without having to be so dependent upon subtitles. So far, I've been able to pick up some words. I can comprehend fragments of the dialogue: but, and, or, tonight, eat, and things like that, but it would be a boring movie if the characters spoke like the Pimsleur lessons:
"How are you?"
"I am very well."
"Do you want to drink something?"
"Yes. I want to drink some tea. Do you want to drink something?"
"I want to drink some coffee in the restaurant."
Understanding spoken Hindi is challenging enough. I haven't even tried to learn to read - it's written in an entirely different alphabet, the Devanagari. It looks pretty on the page, but it may as well be Greek to me.* Here's an example - the word Om:
*Actually, when I was in Greece I found that I knew enough about the Greek alphabet to sound out words and sometimes guess their meanings.
At this point, you're probably wondering: What kind of flaming idiot tries to learn an entire language just to watch movies in it?
The answer is: me.