Thursday, March 6, 2008

The raw power of language

I have a thing about words. I like 'em. I like to think about them, say them, read them, speak them, play with them. I am verbal person. I think out loud. (or I write and that is still expressing thoughts.)

L is learning to read. For real. She has been "reading" for years. She loves books. She sleeps in bed with a pile of books and has for some time. She carries books around the house. She lines up her small zoo of stuffed animals and reads to them.

But now - in this moment she is learning to read the words. She is collecting words the way one would collect sea shells on the shore. Building her site vocab and her list of "high frequency" words.

She is learning to write. She is making up some wild spelling and her penmanship - yep she got that from H - yeah buddy we need work on that - but again the raw power of her discovery. She can write a story now. Just like mommy she will say. The other night she made me a book about the new clothes I had bought her at the store. It was so powerful. Pictures and words working together.

Now I learned a foreign language as a young adult (high school and collage.) and I suppose it was the same process. I remember building my vocabulary slowly and over time. My vocabulary grows every time I go to Germany. The way our brains soak up language is amazing to me.

I was sharing tea with a friend one afternoon and we were discussing vocabulary and the missing pieces of it that we each have. She speaks Arabic and French in addition to English and I speak German. I had been trying to help her look for an apartment in Germany and had had to consult the dictionary a few times because I have never looked for an apartment in German and I had some holes in my vocabulary.

As we drank out tea we where talking about the missing pieces in our vocabularies and we decided that it was so much about experience. Children begin to soak up their mothers language, virtually in utero. They just hear it and somehow the mind catalogs it for them and starts their mental word list even before they say their first word. When learning a language later in life the work is harder, there is some catch up and it is so dependent in many cases on experience.

I knew nothing of German baby speak, like diapers and bottles and all of that until I actually had had a baby and needed to talk the stuff of babies.

My friend and I also came to a startling discovery that afternoon. I knew very few "romantic" words in German - that part of my life experience has been in English while she knew a fair amount about the power of romance in French and understandably none in Arabic.

Language is dynamic and our experience with it is a daily adventure, if we open our minds and take in the power, we just might learn something.

1 comment:

IHateToast said...

have you thought about getting one or two used romance novels from germany?

i remember being at the goethe institut in prien. the russians used to write home to their wives/husbands/lovers in english. they preferred that to their russian for love letters.