Tag Archives: language learning

Exchange Student

This morning, Judi got up early (6ish) and worked from home for a couple hours. I slept until 7:30 and lolled around on the couch until I took Judi into work. Did I mention I can drive a car again? It’s one of the many benefits of getting this  sleep therapy done.

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Hebrew Language and Zipf’s Law and–Gawd I’m Exhausted.

I feel like a giant aleph is sitting on my chest. This isn’t a good thing, mind you. I’ve been struggling today with my Hebrew vocabulary which is mostly hook-free. By hooks, I mean those cognate terms that would help me to recognize (and ultimately remember) the stack of Hebrew words.

Rich Israel did it, the stinker, but in Biblical Hebrew which has traditionally had a graduated approach.  First you learn the words that appear 5,000 or more times in the Bible. Then  1,000 times. Then you tackle the ones that appear 750 times or more, and so on. Before you know it, you can recognize huge chunks of the Bible, in Hebrew, with a little grammar and syntactical practice. I was a 50%er in my Hebrew studies; that is, on any given page, I could cobble together half the text thereupon without a lexicon. That is probably good enough for my 9 units of Hebrew study, and most people would salute that as an accomplishment. According to Zipf’s law (it’s amazing the crap I’ve learned in the last 20 years), the most frequent word in a language will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.  I mention this because, well, 50 percenters are practically worthless, or at least not anywhere near a level fluency that will get them a job at National Archive.

But being a 50 percenter doesn’t put bread on the table. The job I’m angling for requires the following: I need to have “demonstrated the ability to perform, supervise, or direct the cataloging of Hebraic and archival materials; cataloging and providing metadata for Hebraic books and documents; translating bibliographic data in the collection materials in Hebrew.”

This is the text of the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew, twisted up and superimposed on a background of clown vomit. It just about describes how I feel right now.

Okay. I am good with that. I’ve spent my life fiddling with languages, but, ok, I’ll say it: I’m scared. What if my Hebrew isn’t good enough when it comes time to interview (if I make it that far)? The Hebrew government requires something called an Ulpan–it’s an intensive study of the Hebrew language, culture, and geography–designed for immigrants. The first year Ulpanim are required to learn roughly 500 words. I want to have these words memorized and be able to read at least substantial hunks of vowel-less text from a website, say Hebrew Wikipedia, before I face the forum and they inevitably slap a copy of Ha-Aretz on the table in front of me, and, with a glare, say “Read, yankee!”

I know it’s silly. Can I learn a year’s worth of Hebrew fundamentals in 3 or 4 weeks? Yeah, I think I can. But I’m rather insane that way. It’s been taking up large amounts of my time as I compare verb tenses and struggle my way through nouns and noun phrases. Hebrew isn’t at all helpful, throwing road blocks up at every turn. I recently found a more “academic” course that was free. This has helped substantially. Most free online stuff is geared toward travelers. If I want to say words like fare, taxi, suitcase, hotel, and airport I’m all set.  But I doubt I’ll be cataloging travel brochures. I’m equally certain I won’t be cataloging from the corpus of Biblical Hebrew words, which, I recall, focused heavily on words like guard, and hearken, manservant, and chariot. There’s gotta be a happy medium that I am missing, and I’m just demoralized and feel like I’m forgetting every single word that I come across, and needed someone to talk to.

Also, I forgot to take my antidepressants this morning. No surprise there. Thank God for my wife, who pointed out that learning a language in 4 weeks nothing short of phenomenal, and I shouldn’t beat myself up over my mistakes. Yeah. I’m a perfectionist. Beating myself up is what I do best!

Well, back to the grind. Maybe a good eight hours’ sleep will do me well. As they say in Hebrew, laylah tov, and lehitra’ot.


The last few days, I’ve been practicing my French vocabulary. I don’t get much chance to actually use my French, but it would sure be nice if I had somebody to converse or write with. I suppose I could write my blog in French, but that wouldn’t be very nice for anybody, other than my one Francophone Canadian friend, who could then make fun of me.

Continue reading Studying.

History of a Language Learner

The word "love" in several languages. Why not?

I’ve always been interested in learning other languages.  It may be the mystical properties that words have, or how words unravel the unknown. When I was quite young, my great grandmother began teaching me Czech words and phrases. She was born in northeastern Nebraska around the turn of the last century, but raised in a Czech community. I learned the very basic vocabulary: words like boy, please, city, thank you, “I like…”, Good morning, good, bad, dirty, clean, blue, green, red, mother, father and (of course) grandmother. I remember being quite young (small enough to sit on her lap, so this was literally 40+ years ago) and Grandma would sing children’s songs to me in Czech. Because of this I remember thoroughly-useless-for-21st-century-living words like “blacksmith shop” and “millpond”, and also slightly-off-color things like “put your finger in my belly-button” (I have a Spike Joneslike Czech singer called Špinavý Pepik (Dirty Joe) to thank for that one) and “take me to bed with you” Grandma had no problems singing folk songs depicting young maidens, who were about to become NOT young maidens. They were apparently fairly popular in the 1800s. Continue reading History of a Language Learner

And the Resolution Goes To…

I’ve never been one to make New Years Resolutions. Somebody, the other day asked me why not, after she told me she gives them a lot of thought this time of year. I’m not sure. It’s possible I don’t want anyone to catch me failing. It’s easier to slide through life with no goals or objectives–daresay dreams–than to have them crushed?

But in 2011 I made a promise, and a resolution. I promised myself, in the vaguest terms possible, that I’d be a better person, husband, father and friend. In my mind, this meant giving myself to other people, when they wanted me. I suppose my goal was met with varying degrees of success, depending on the person I was interacting with. I’m not one to judge whether I was a better person to others. I can only try, and hope. Continue reading And the Resolution Goes To…