Do you want to learn another language?
As some of you faithful readers know, for nearly five years now I’ve been studying Spanish. I’ve progressed from setting my iPhone and ATM to Spanish to actually conversing with my tutor.
And just recently, I’ve found myself having to grope for a word in English—a reach that sometimes, startlingly, eludes my grasp. Fortunately, my brain’s synapses are not misfiring (at least, not over this). Some scientists now report that for bilingual speakers, both languages keep up a lively buzz in the brain. Where once there was one, now there are dos.
It turns out that all that buzzing is good for you: it gives your cognitive muscles a workout. And though it seems counterintuitive, given that bilingual speakers are more acutely aware of what’s going on around them, bilingualism helps your brain stay focused and better resist distractions.
Multilingual learning, anyone?
I doubt that I will ever seriously venture beyond Spanish…and yet. Languages exert a force-field attraction. Language begets other languages—at the very least, an interest in them.
This holiday, then, if you shop around Levenger for brain boosters of a bilingual nature, you’ll find quite a number of languages ready to tease you and teach you and, we hope, please you.
Our popular Crossword Picante Spanish-English crosswords game, which sold out last year, is back, and this year we’ve added a French-English version, Crossword Santé. Since the games are set up so that you can spell a word in either language, proficiency is not a requisite. We also encourage players to use dictionaries. ¿Por que no?
We learned a lot while developing our Multilingual Learning Blocks. Each block spells the same word in six languages: Mandarin, French, German, Spanish, Latin and English.
We gave each language its own color and design. And how did we choose which six languages? We put on our research hats and selected those languages most commonly taught in American schools today. (Latin? A pleasant surprise.)
Next, how to choose the words? We turned to our friends at the Long Now Foundation, who spearhead The Rosetta Project, a critically important effort to preserve the world’s endangered languages.
Laura Welcher of The Rosetta Project turned us on to the Swadesh List, named after the linguist who compiled the most commonly used words across different languages. We then winnowed the list to 28 words whose meaning in English was limited to one definition.
I find it fascinating to turn these blocks in your fingers to see not just how different the words can be from one language to the next, but how similar some of them are. It made me rethink the idea that Latin is a dead language when I saw cor (heart) beating strongly in the Spanish corazón and the French coeur (and in the English coronary).
The price for these multi-language blocks is higher than the single-language blocks we offer (Chinese, Hebrew, Greek), but there’s good reason: they’re a custom-made set, made just for Levenger customers.
A written language with no alphabet
One of the many languages UNESCO has marked as endangered is Cherokee. We were intrigued by these Cherokee language blocks because the written Cherokee language has no equivalent of our A, B, Cs. Instead of an alphabet, Cherokee has a syllabary.
These are characters that represent syllables, and a Cherokee named Sequoyah created them in the early 1800s. Until then Cherokee, like most world languages, was not written but oral. Sequoyah recognized that having a written syllabary would give the Cherokee a chance to communicate through writing. They called their syllabary “talking leaves.”
How to learn 10 languages as easily as uno, due, très
For a fast and fun survey course of ten languages—Arabic, Danish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish—pocket a pouch of our ten-sided dice, each one with 1 to 10 in one of ten languages. It comes with a cheat sheet of simple phonetics (compiled with the help of native speakers), while listing the spelling of each number in the language. Seeing these spellings side by side helps to show the similarities among several of the languages.
The number six in English is the Danish seks, German sechs, Swedish sex, French six, Portuguese and Spanish seis, Italian sei. The same ribbon of familiarity runs through the word for nine: ni, neun, nio, neuf, nove, nueve, nove.
H’mmm. Maybe multilingualism isn’t as daunting as I thought.
How admiring I am of people who are fluent in three, four, and more languages—people like Steve Kaufmann, who helps so many others learn. How lucky they are—just imagine how toned their cognitive muscles are.
Are you one of them, dear reader? Or is there another language you’d like to learn? I’d love to hear. Just click on the Comments link below with your submission. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you'll connect to Comments).