Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Too Old to Learn a New Language?

There are many things I wish I could do. Playing soccer again is one of them, but that’s a story for another time. I wish I had more money, I wish it were a nice day out, but above all I wish I could speak Hebrew, the language of my people.

Learning a language is hard though, and very time consuming. Especially a non-Indo European language. That’s why I envy little kids for their language ability. Who cares if you can’t cross the street or tie your shoes, when you’re four years old you can learn a language in mere MONTHS. Even more, a four year old will learn to speak with a NATIVE accent, that’s almost super human. Oh, to be young again.

When I was 17 I spent a month touring around Israel. Upon returning to beautiful exotic New Jersey I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a Hebrew language text book. I was going to learn the language of my people. Yet here I am lamenting years later so there’s little need to recount the outcome of this noble endeavor.

But six months ago I decided to take a Hebrew course at the 92nd Street Y. The class was relatively small, we met once a week, and the teacher was a Sabra, a native born Israeli. Yet the class didn’t go so well. We moved though the material very quickly. I was still struggling with the alphabet when we were reviewing past tense verb conjugations. Moreover, due to personal issues I was having, I didn’t have time to study the vocabulary or do much work on my own.

Now I’m thinking of ordering a Hebrew Rosetta Stone program. This (quite pricey) computer program is supposed to be highly effective in foreign language acquisition and is what the U.S. State Department uses with its Foreign Service Officers. Click here for a free demo

The program takes its name from the Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artifact (shown right). Egyptian hieroglyphics had long baffled western archaeologists when Napoleon’s army invaded Egypt and in 1799 uncovered the stone. It was engraved with an ancient Greek text, along with translations of two different sets of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Archaeologists of that era were familiar with ancient Greek and used it to break the hieroglyphic code. This proved to be a watershed moment, archaeologists then used the deciphered text to make sense of other hieroglyphics which had been prior deemed undecipherable. The computer program is supposed to work the same way and be an invaluable tool in learning a new language. We’ll see.

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