I'm taking a break from Italian with the intention of picking it back up once I'm on leave, minus Pimsleur. In the meantime, I'm giving in to a wanderlust bonanza.
I have free access to the Pronunciator language learning site through my library. It covers a massive list of languages and I wanted to try it out with a language that isn't covered by my usual favorite resources, so I picked Afrikaans.
Pronunciator First Impressions
I don't love it, but I think it's useful for the languages and dialects that have few other resources.
They have a course for Canadian French. I was hoping to use it to learn Québecois French, which I have a very hard time understanding. Unfortunately, the voice for this course has a fairly standard Metropolitan French accent, so it's no help to me.
They also have a Latin course, but unfortunately they use Ecclesiastical pronunciation, not Classical.
Pronunciator sadly has a Rosetta-Stone style flash-card system where you need to remember a word or phrase based on a vague image. It's pretty obnoxious, to be honest. But it's better than nothing, and it does seem to be the best resource available to me for Afrikaans.
Here is the full list of languages (taken from Wikipedia):
Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Basque, Belarusian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Cebuano, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Pinyin), Chinese (Xiang), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (American), English (British), Estonian, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hiligaynon, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Japanese (Romaji), Javanese, Korean, Kurdish, Lao, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malagasy, Malay, Malayalam, Maltese, Marathi, Mongolian, Nepali, Norwegian, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sindhi, Sinhala, Slovak, Slovene, Somali, Spanish (Latin America), Spanish (Spain), Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Welsh, Xhosa
I'm assuming that the "Chinese (pinyin)" course is Mandarin without characters, which is pretty cool. I'm also pretty excited that they have Javanese.
They also have have a few dialects that are not on the above list: Algerian Arabic, Australian and Canadian English, Canadian French (not a Québecois accent), and Mexican Spanish (which is a separate option from "Latin American"). They also have American and Mexican Sign language. I took a look at ASL and unfortunately they only have the alphabet.
They have Scottish Gaelic too, which is also not on the above list.
I am fascinated by South Africa and I have briefly dabbled in Xhosa. I know there are better resources for Dutch than for Afrikaans, but I'm not nearly as interested in it. Afrikaans has simpler grammar than Dutch so I've heard it's harder to understand Dutch from Afrikaans than the other way around, but since I also speak German I should be able to figure out conjugated Dutch verbs if I know the Afrikaans version, for example. So I'm anticipating a better-than-expected passive understanding of Dutch if I learn Afrikaans. I don't know how far Pronunciator will get me but we'll see.
My first impression is that Afrikaans may be the easiest language I've ever studied. I think it even beats Danish and Norwegian.
- Grammar: These languages all conjugate verbs only for tense, not person. And there are no cases. But Afrikaans wins because there is no grammatical gender; Danish has two and Norwegian has 2-3 (depending on dialect).
- Pronunciation: Afrikaans is very easy for an English speaker to pronounce. The Scandinavian languages present some difficulties: For example, Norwegian has a pitch accent and retroflex consonants, and Danish is... Danish.
- Syntax: The Scandinavian languages win this one. English syntax is much more Scandinavian than West Germanic. But I'm cheating because I speak German, so Afrikaans syntax is easy for me anyway.
I briefly dabbled in Irish last year after having brunch in an Irish restaurant. There was an Irish poem on the wall and I couldn't fight off the urge to finally wrap my head around that impenetrable spelling system. I bought the 10-lesson Pimsleur course and did just under half of it, and I also used Duolingo. I'm doing the same now, and a lot of it is coming back to me.
One difficulty is that Pimsleur uses the Munster dialect while the Duolingo audio is spoken by a Connacht dialect speaker. There are some major differences, and even the name of the language is different! It's called "Gaolainn" in the Munster dialect rather than "Gaeilge". I suppose it can't hurt to have a knowledge of different dialects but it's confusing for a beginner.
I'm hoping that some knowledge of the Irish language will give me some insight into Hiberno-English. Unfortunately I don't know of any resources to learn Irish English as a foreign language, the way there are for US and UK English, and for Scots. I'm working my way through the canon of Anglophone literature, and sooner or later I'll need to tackle James Joyce. I'm sure a knowledge of Hiberno-English will help. In the meantime, I'm watching Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
I ordered the book Luath Scots; I read a bit of the introduction in a free preview and it seems to be based on the Doric (North-East) dialect. I've always been interested in Scots, but my interest grew after a trip to Edinburgh, for two reasons. One, I got a copy of The Eejits, a translation of Roald Dahl's The Twits into Scots (not Doric, but I believe the author suggests that the book will help the learner to understand Scots in general, not just Doric). Two, I could not understand the Glaswegians I met at all. Barely a word. Hopefully a knowledge of Scots will also help me to understand heavily accented Scottish Standard English by proxy, and on my next trip to Scotland I won't have to blankly smile and nod as much.
There is a CD as well but that needs to be ordered separately. I'm waiting until the book arrives to order it because there are multiple editions and I want to make sure I get the right one. Also there's a discount available if you buy the book, but depending on the shipping cost from the UK it might be cheaper to just get it from Amazon.
The name "Luath" is not Scots, but it means "quick" in both Scottish Gaelic and Irish.
UK Standard English with Received Pronunciation
As a speaker of American English, I struggle with hearing and pronouncing differences in vowel length. I think I do okay in German but sometimes I mishear the vowel length if I'm not careful. One thing that might help is to systematically learn Received Pronunciation as though it's a foreign language, taking great care to internalize the prosody.
Learning UK Standard English will also help me to use Assimil and Teach Yourself, which both use UK English. I can generally understand it just fine, but formal study would take out the guesswork.
All of the other languages and dialects that I mention here also happen to have vowel length contrasts, but UK English with Received Pronunciation is by far the most familiar to me.
I'm using BBC's pronunciation videos to learn the phonemes of RP. I may also want to go through the Pronunciator course for British English, and I'm also considering buying a copy of Assimil L'anglais, which is based on UK English.
Pronunciator was a bust but there seem to be some good videos on YouTube, and I could start listening to some French Canadian radio via CBC. I also own some movies that I think have French Canadian dubs available.
A real course would be nice though, so I can really wrap my head around the pronunciation rules, rather than just trying to get it through osmosis.
I've mentioned this in other threads, but to summarize: one of my goals in learning foreign languages is to read classic literature, but I haven't read most of the greats in my native language, English, so I should start there. I was a poor student in high school and I didn't read most of the books that I was assigned. Now I'm trying to make my way through the Anglophone portion of the Western Canon.
I've been making very good progress since I started reading ebooks on my phone, and especially since I uninstalled Reddit. Now I read books when I'm bored instead of mindlessly browsing oddly specific memes and manipulated spins on news articles.
I finished Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. They were both quick reads, and very enjoyable in a soul-crushing way. I'm trying not to get tempted into dabbling in Igbo.
Now I'm reading Beloved by Toni Morisson, and it's a much more challenging read than the last two because the language isn't as direct. Sometimes she will abruptly mention a glimpse of something new and it won't be fully explained for another few pages, so reading it becomes a juggling act and you piece things together simultaneously across several pages. I haven't read much non-genre modern literature so I don't know how common this is. I've heard Joyce described as stream of consciousness, so maybe his books are similar.
Despite this more difficult style, it does have the more compelling page-turner pacing that you see in most modern novels, so I'm still going through it faster than the Victorian stuff.
Catch-22 is up next. It's a long one but I think it will go by quickly.