We would like to introduce our guest blogger, Bret Calvert. Bret works as a television comedy writer in Los Angeles, California. He has become a big Mango fan over the year. Originally from Texas, he has lived all over the US and has seen the way different cultures have contributed to his home country. Let's see what he has to say...
I've been spending the holidays with my best friend and her family, who are Russian. She (my friend) moved to the U.S. when she was 8 and has pretty much mastered the English language. She has the slightest hint of an accent on a few select words, but for the most part could easily pass as an American. Her, family, however, is much closer to the roots of their language and communicate with my friend primarily in Russian. I'd say about 75% of the conversations in the household take place in their mother language and I find myself not understanding most of what is said around me.
However, I'm still able to follow most of the back and forth. The rhythms and cadences of Russian are much different than English, yet it still has it's own specific sound and variance which make the basic premise of the conversations decipherable, even though I don't speak the language. I can tell when someone is frustrated, loving, concerned or curious. I can pick-up on interest levels and dynamics. I may not understand the exact specifics of the exchange, but I can absorb the overall feeling.
At first, to be honest, I thought most of the conversations sounded angry. Russian is a fairly abrupt language, full of hard consonants. Add to that the brusque nature of it's delivery and it's not hard to see why it took me off guard. It took a few days to settle into the specific sound of the way they talk in their native tongue. But once I did, I found that not only was I mistaken about the anger level, but that there was a unique arc to the spoken words that gave clues to their meaning.
I have found the same to be true of most languages. The have their own unique sound, that fluctuates with the feeling behind the words. I think observing and becoming familiar with these patterns is an important step in the learning of a language. Along with the definitions and assembly of sentences of a language, it's important to learn the flow. The intent of the words comes through the pattern in which they are presented as much as it comes through the selection of the actual words.
I am new to trying to learn a second language and, admittedly, have no basis for this other than my own observation, but it's definitely helping me on my way to comprehension and the ability to express myself in a new way. Even though I am pretty sure I can sense the feeling of what's being spoken, I'm looking forward to learning the vocabulary to go along with rhythm, so I can finally understand what the heck these people are actually saying!