Road Trip: Day 3

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1220821518|%B %d

Sarah and I are studying a little Hindi in the car, and I have been enjoying it immensely. I think our methods of language learning complement each other.

For me, studying languages has been something of a hobby, without much practical application. I study languages the same way I poke inside a computer. With a little educated prodding, I can get a good sense of how the parts fit together. I like breaking apart the complex system of another tongue and analyzing how it conveys meaning and beauty. I like weaving my way through the thought patterns of other people. It’s a game for me; a very difficult game with only a few players. And my favorite languages are, of course, the dead ones—so that my hobby will never be interrupted by inconvenient tests of practicality.

Sarah, on the other hand, likes learning the languages of the peoples and the countries she is going to. She has, in the past, politely declined my invitations to join in linguistic exploration. And now that we get to dabble together, her emphasis is strictly practical. She wants to be sure she can introduce herself (and her husband, and her brother, and her cat) before she moves on to something more abstract, like the special uses of the articular infinitive. I usually skip the chapter on introductions, moving right ahead to the tables of verb forms and charts of sentence structures.

I like to know how the language thinks. Sarah likes to know how the language speaks. Both are necessary. My carefully cultivated, general and theoretical knowledge of Hindi gives me a framework from which I can teach Sarah, and her instincts for repetition help bring it out of the dusty corners of my mind and into a practiced form of communication. I know that when we get to India, Sarah will challenge me to use my limited Hindi skills, rather than think in the abstract about the way that people are talking.

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