Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Anthropology and an Intro to Rosetta Stone: French

Why study a language?
Intro to Anthropology is the one course that has stuck with me despite having left school years ago. Okay, one year ago, I finished graduate school last year, but there were no social studies courses. I can't think of a single course in high school or elementary school that really "touched" me. Or maybe it was those three hour, 6:00pm lectures in a massive hall with a few hundred other students. This was the only anthropology course I took, regrettably. And it was taken in my fourth and final undergraduate year, which had the perk of allowing me to appreciate it more, but it also meant I couldn't take anymore related courses.

Regardless, as you may or may not know, anthropology is the study of people. Included under this broad umbrella are subjects such as biological anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. Each sub-field helps to shed light on the development of humans and society. The study of language was important enough for an entire month or two of classes to be devoted to it. Ideas discussed included denotation, connotation, the basic structures of words, various technical terms, etc.

However, the most important takeaway I still remember is that language is a window into a culture. By this, I believe it was meant that certain cultures place an emphasis on different things and see the world differently. How you curse, praise, describe, and discuss things varies from one language or even culture to the next. As some who speaks 1 + 0.5 + 0.5 languages, this point is very much appreciated and respected.

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would go straight back to college and major in anthropology for fun. Since that has yet to happen, I'll have to settle for books and learning languages. The ability to speak to a person in his or her native language, or just to jump between two languages seamlessly to better describe something is an immensely fun pleasure. Unfortunately, I only speak English and half of two languages -- one better than the other.


Being Canadian though, French, one of my "halves", is more useful professionally and in a certain part of the country. French is one of the official languages of Canada, and it is often (always?) taught for at least one year in the elementary school system. I actually had to take it from grade 4 through 9, and I volunteered to take it in grade 10. This has given be a pretty good foundation with an understanding of the language and somewhat of a vocabulary.

The sad part is that I didn't really appreciate school when I was there: I just memorized stuff and tried to get good grades, completely ignored the "learning" part of it. Couple this with the fact that I do not live in an area with many native French speakers. The only French I heard was deliberately misspoken by schoolmates and people on the television mocking others. There were two or three dedicated French channels on the television, but I didn't see any cartoons I liked. And watching a puppet or grown adult dressed weirdly without knowing what they're saying is not cool when you're young.... People start asking questions.

Remember, I do speak another language at a conversational level. It's funny actually: I speak but can't read/write this one, whereas I read/write French better than I speak it. This whole conundrum has shown me how important it is to actually use a language on a regular basis and to study it formally.

What I've Tried So Far

After graduating from college clueless, I spent a summer unemployed. As a bored and unemployed young adult, I decided to try to brush up my French through reading, exercise books, and watching French television -- no money for classes. In short, the exercise books were useful, but boring and I skimmed through most of it. The books were children's level (youth, not kindergarten) and still too advanced, which required excessive skimming or use of a dictionary. And people talked too fast on TV, so I ended up reading the caption more than I tried to listen. If it's not clear, I kind of gave up. A lot of blame landed on me for not having the discipline or the willpower. However, I could not have been the only one considering most of my classmates have worse French than me, and we went through the same schooling system.

Meanwhile, the Rosetta Stone commercials ran regularly during the day time during my unemployed months. Maybe the marketing brainwashed me. Who knows? One job, a graduate degree, and a few months of boredom later, I finally decided to buy a copy of Rosetta Stone for French late last summer (2012). And I impulsively picked up another language pack for shits and giggles. I'll put up a review focusing on French to summarize my experience with it so far after getting through one of five levels.

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