My Norwegian Summer

This summer has proved fruitful in terms of language study. The other night I was lying on the floor near where my wife was sitting reading. I reached for the nearest Russian book on my shelf and began reading, just a few paragraphs. Then I grabbed the nearest Urdu book and did the same – at a much lower level of proficiency. Thereby I assured myself that I had many hours of good reading ahead of me, reading the classics in literature and poetry in those languages and a couple of others – Spanish, French, Latin, less so in Italian.
The languages I’m starting on are Modern Greek, Kweyol, and Dutch. The Greek will give me the most trouble but I am very enthusiastic about it. Dutch less so due in part to the cognate-rich vocabulary and absence of morphological complexity. Kweyol will be the easiest since its vocabulary is based on French for the most part though its grammar is entirely different.

With Spanish, I attend a monthly book club, speak to a couple of colleagues at work every day, speak to my friend often, and have my pick of tv channels and radio stations. One thing my friend has done for me is video some guys just hanging out talking, vacilando. I always have a lot of trouble understanding the casual conversation of less educated people and this allows me to hear it several times, at which point it becomes clearer and clearer.

The same is true of French. My school library has the Champs-Elysee series and I played one of the CDs 3x and on the third time I had to wonder why I had not immediately understood the first time. This business of the ear adjusting is fascinating to me.

Languages that I am not following so assiduously are Old English and Old Norse. I do have oral material to listen to – Beowulf by Benjamin Bagby and songs in Old Norse by him and others. But it’s just a matter of reading and grammar study combined. I’ve done Old Norse before many years ago and my recently acquired Norwegian will help.

And that is my triumph of the summer – one of my language “jags” this summer turned out to be Norwegian. I got half-way through a Haugen book, then picked up Klouman’s and finished it. I’m going back to Haugen to finish it and then on to Stokker. It is great to be able to read this stuff. Of course, the cognate status of so many words helps remember them and the general overall closeness of Norwegian to English helps. I also have a couple of sets of tapes that are real helpful with the difficult pronunciation and spelling.

The study of Norwegian also led to a breakthrough in my study in general. I started making 3×5 index cards for each English word in Klouman and its equivalent in Russian, Urdu, Spanish, Mod. Greek, Norwegian, Dutch, Italian, French, and Latin on the back. Because the vocabulary is basic I already know a lot of these words in the languages except for Greek, Dutch, and Italian. I chose the Klouman book to do this with b/c his vocabulary seemed to be the most basic and most useful. I wound up with a little over 500 words, not enough – I think between one and two thousand is necessary to begin basic reading.

I started on Norwegian some time before school was out when I picked up a very old (1916) book called Norse. It was actually on Norwegian, two small, beautifully bound volumes in that old-fashioned book-maker style – you know, people who make books, not book – and I started by reading his motive for calling the language Norse rather than Norwegian. I moved on into the book b/c the spelling of Norwegian had always stopped me in the first chapter of any book I tackled and I liked this book’s explanations.

Once I had worked throught the grammar part in a few months, I went to Haugen to see how he handled it. Haugen was writing in the middle of the century. About half-way through Haugen I jumped to Klouman, written in Norway in the 70s. As I said, I found the vocabulary to my liking, the teaching method even more so – stories glossed and accompanied by brief grammar explanations. I’ll switch back to Haugen and to the “Norse” books and, interspersed, to Stokker, the most up-to-date and most complete book (textbook, workbook, teacher’s manual, glossary, and anthology).

To make it clear, having studied German, Dutch, Old Norse, and speaking English as my native language, little in Norwegian is foreign, but pulling it all together still takes effort. It’s just that the rewards come quickly and I look forward to reading all the literature that comes with the Norse books and the Stokker books.

Now to Latin, my actual job.

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