No. of Recommendations: 5
Hey, Maryanne --

Taught myself both the Greek and Swahili I know. Greek is LOTS of fun to write! And very satisfying to be able to read street signs and ancient monuments when you're there! It's a pretty language, as well -- but as with German, it declines its nouns, making it in some ways more complex than English (though English, as we all know, tends to have more exceptions to the rules than most languages, making it frustrating for those attempting to learn it.)

I've been teaching myself Kiswahili, as well, because we travel to east Africa every couple of years, and I have friends there now -- and it's fun to be able to chat with people I meet in their own language. It's also a fascinating language -- Bantu-based, with a very complex and sophisticated construction. It uses a verb base to which are added prefixes and suffixes for subject/object/verb tense/negation/prepositions, etc. For example: "-ona" is the verb base for "see." Ninakuona = I see you. Ni="I". Na=present tense. Ku=object "you." Past = Nilikuona. Future = Nitakuona. I see him = Ninamwona. They like us = wanatupenda. She doesn't like me = Hanipenda. She does like me = Anipenda. They didn't like you = Hawakupenda.

Their verbs are easier than the verb construtions of romance languages like English and French and Italian, but their nouns are even more complex than Greek and Russian and German, with 16 noun classes having agreement ramifications that take some concentration to master -- especially learning plurals at first because there are so many different plural prefixes! Fun language!

Learning a new language gives one a genuine window into how other cultures think. For example, in Kiswahili there is no difference between "he" and "she," or "him" and "her." And the most common noun used when talking about a person of either sex is entirely neutral as to sex: mtu (plural: watu.) Only when it's important to make a distinction (as in "I have two daughters and one son) would a distinction be drawn. And women have a very strong position in Swahili society.

Once you learn how to learn a language, I think, it's reasonably easy to teach yourself without having to do classes. People get hung up on accent, when that's the least important aspect of learning a new language and natives are always a little charmed by our own "accent" in their language in the same way we're usually charmed by other's accents when they speak our own language. The real difficulties lie in slang, and in the slurring of words -- a frustration you really can only get around by asking people to speak more slowly or by saying, "I'm sorry -- I don't understand that word," etc. Other than that, reaching a point where you can make yourself understood -- and understand enough of what others say -- may take some time and effort, but it's well worth it when you're there! I ended up, one time, having a screaming fight with a taxi driver trying to screw us out of $10.00 in Athens in Greek, and didn't realize until afterwards how much motivation can play a part in getting one's point across!! LOL.

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