Friday, April 15, 2011

Polish vs French

I've been learning French this semester for several reasons, with work and career the primary concern. Spanish would be much easier to learn - I took three years of it in high school, and in New York, like many other places in the US, Spanish is heard and spoken widely, providing the learner with some immersion, certainly more immersion than one would find with many other languages, French included (although there is no shortage of French in New York either).

But I chose French not just for work, but also because of my obsession with Europe, living a fantasy of someday residing in France, Belgium or Switzerland. There's nothing really stopping me from going to either one of those places. The question becomes, how does one find work in a new country where one isn't a citizen? By work, I mean substantive work, not just teaching English, which many in Western Europe are learning from a young age anyway.

Comparing French to my year of Polish study, Polish is clearly easier to pronounce. Slavic languages are phonetic, so as long as a person knows how the letters sound, they never change no matter where they are in the word, unlike English, where non-native speakers can become frustrated when confronted with short and long vowels, and the letter c, which in a word like 'concern' sounds like a 'k' and an 's'. French on the other hand, is quite different, and without hearing the word pronounced the first time, a person can do quite well in embarrassing oneself. The silent letters, coupled with the nasal sounds combine to make the uninitiated look, well, uninitiated. Both languages are pleasant to the ear - Polish can be described as "flowery," while French just seems to flow from the tongue and when spoken fluently, might be one of the more prettier languages to listen to. French is also nice, in that one can see the relationship it has with English. I don't know which language came first - that would require doing some genealogy research on England and France to reach a conclusion.

Slavic languages, in the majority of cases, do not translate when given a simple look-over. Outside of words like mleka or woda (milk, water; ironically, in French, milk and water are not even close to the English translation), it's a completely different way of thinking, and where definite and indefinite articles do not exist.

I also now understand why Spanish and French are often mentioned in the same sentence. As romance languages, they are very much alike, and in my time learning French, when I look at Spanish words around New York, I see the similarities. One would assume that learning Spanish becomes easier once they grasp French and vice versa, just as learning Polish helps a person learn other Slavic languages. Stating the obvious, language families makes learning a bit easier and expedites the process of going from one language to another. The real challenge is immersion and becoming accustomed to hearing the words to bring about fluency.

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