Tuesday, August 26, 2008

my neural synapses fuse

At the library today as I practiced language skills with the girls, I managed not only to be outdone by the girls but also to lose what meager skills I have in any language.

After we returned the books that were due today, Evangeline and I started practicing our Esperanto. It works like this: I read her a word, and she gives me the Esperanto equivelant. Then I use the word in a sentence, and she has to translate the sentence. If I ask her a question, she has to answer me in Esperanto. (This has all sorts of insidious purposes. Besides teaching her the language, I pass on subversive ideas, like Bonaj demandoj ne havas facilajn respondojn. "Good questions don't have easy answers.")

So we're on a roll, going back and forth, and then suddenly Rachel interjects a translation on her own. An accurate one.

I have given her virtually no instruction in Esperanto. She's drilled me on some of my vocabulary, and she's heard me make simple requests in Esperanto, but otherwise it's stuff she's overheard me explaining to her fratino or she's picked up from our impromptu conversations.

So my brain pops the clutch over that one. I wrestle it back into gear, and then suddenly Evangeline starts correcting my grammar. "You forgot to add the -N!" she wails. (It's true. I keep forgetting to add the -N for the accusative case.)

Then I realize that while I'm using words I've learned from the more advanced lessons that Evangeline hasn't reached, she is having no trouble following me. Demandi is an infinitive; theoretically, all Evangeline should know is the verb forms. In practice, she's already converted it into a noun, demando/n, and doing the same with other verbs.

I used to be ahead of her, mostly because I am the teacher, and so I need to understand it if I'm going to teach her. I now realize that my vocabulary is slightly larger, probably because I'm already bilingual and know a smattering of French and Spanish to boot, but she is rapidly eclipsing whatever advantage I have. Her brain is wired right now for language acquisition, while for me it's work.

So much work that my language center finally seized up and stopped working completely. We were having a little back-and-forth in Esperanto when I said, "Jodia estas los compleanos de your grandfather."

The girls looked at me like I made no sense. Which I didn't -- in four different languages. I had mashed them all together into one coherent statement that made sense only to me.


JJ said...

Language acquisition in children is an amazing and fascinating thing. Their minds are like sponges, and you're right, at that age they are designed for picking up language. Have you read anything about the evolution of Nicaraguan Sign Language? It's a story that was quite big for a while about 5 years ago, about these deaf children who basically invented a language themselves and linguists have been tracking it (seeing as how it is a rare opportunity to watch a language develop from scratch). The thing that interested me most about the story was how it appeared that the younger children's language was actually more sophisticated than that of the older children, because (it is theorized) they are more naturally inclined towards language and grammar... it is a fascinating story. Loads of articles online, but here's one for you.

mankso said...

Not quite sure from all of this exactly what level your Esperanto is at, but have you tried from time to time just playing quietly in the background one of the daily Esperanto broadcasts from e.g. Radio Polonia:
or Radio Vaticana:
http://www.radiovaticana.org/esp/on_demand.asp [select the WHOLE url!}
while the two of you are doing something totally different? Don't make a big deal out of it, otherwise you run the risk of creating antagonism to the language.

marauder said...

Alas, I'm on the wrong side of the digital divide for streaming audio. We have nothing more sophisticated than a Dial Up connection right now, though if my PR business picks up or at least continues at its current level, I'll probably add high-speed Internet fairly soon.

In the meantime, I don't make a big deal out of this. Before we start a new lesson, mi demandas miajn filinojn se ili volas lerni pli esperanto. Se ili diras "Jes," ni komansas. Kaj, se Rachel Angle diras "Parolu la Angla, mi petas," I always listen.

As for where I'm at, I'm trying to figure out the conjunctive pronouns like "who" and "where" and "that." Once I figure them out, I'll start using them in my Esperanto-speak, translating when needed, and thus eroding any final advantage I have over miaj filinoj in Esperanto competency.