Friday, August 01, 2008

Learning a Language

I love the French language. I loved it before I went to France and then I fell even more in love with it when I was immersed in it. One of my favorite things to do in the village just outside of Bordeaux was to go out in the courtyard in the evening and sit on a lounge-style chair, book in hand, the crisp evening breeze sweeping away the heat of the day, the village church bells tolling the hour, and the soothing chorus of voices from the neighbors and passers-by on the street filling the air as they went about their business in the village. It was one of the most beautiful, harmonious I have ever heard. I never once heard a French person raise their voice. They can say so much more through a look or a slight tonal inflection than through any hard, loud words we Americans love to throw out at the people who make us mad.

Anyway... so I've been (not too diligently) studying French for a couple of years now, but have often wondered if I'm not studying the wrong language. After all, isn't Spanish a more useful, practical language for an American to learn? I know lots of people who claim Spanish as their native tongue. I can't say that in regard to French.

On this website it would seem as though my doubts are correct, as the French language is introduced as such:
French is highly useful for any activities involving travel to France: whatever great minds the French have, they are poor polyglots. If you go to France and want to understand something of the country, speaking French is a must. Speaking a few words will help considerably, but don't expect people to applaude just because you mumbled a heavily accented Bonjour Monsieur. The French can be extremely demanding and even rude, especially in Paris, to people who do not speak French well.

As opposed to the Spanish intro:
If you are looking for a useful language, Spanish will definitely be on your short list. You can speak Spanish in more than 25 countries and with 330 million people who often speak nothing but Spanish. The language is spoken in a very similar way all over the world, and each hour of study you put in will bring you closer to all 25 countries.

The time estimated to learn French is somewhat discouraging when you compare it to the time it would take to learn Spanish.

For French:
If you study an hour every day there is no reason why you should not be able to read a newspaper with a dictionary after a 12 months of study. Speaking and writing simple texts without errors should be reachable after 18 to 24 months.

For Spanish:
If you already speak another Romance language,
6 months of regular one-hour-a-day-sessions or 200 hours should see you fluent in Spanish. This is what it took me and I had absolutely no prior knowledge of the language. Adding advanced vocabulary and getting to speak with great fluency will get easier and easier as you progress. Once you have assimilated the few but important differences between Spanish and the other Romance language you speak, the rest is very similar.

If Spanish is your first foreign language and your mother tongue is not a Romance language, you should be reasonably fluent with 300 hours of study. In my opinion, an hour of serious study every day for a year is more than you need.

That said, I'm still learning French. But I think that studying two languages at once would be a challenging, ultimately rewarding thing to do. French for fun, Spanish for practicality. Let's just hope I don't mix up the pronunciation though... ;-)


rockingchair said...

How about you teach me French and I'll teach you Spanish?! This is interesting info...

Shelbi said...

Sounds good! :-)