Monday, March 2, 2009

How to get the sense of different languages?

This semester I'm taking Spanish 101 class. Though I took a beginner Spanish class for a year about 9 years ago, I already forgot most of what I learned there. Now I'm remembering the sense of Spanish little by little.

In today's class, the professor explained the sentence "Me gusta la playa" as below:

In English we say "I like the beach."
But in Spanish, it's more like "The beach is pleasing to me." So the subject of this sentence is not "me" but "la playa" (the beach).

"Me" in this sentence corresponds to "to me" in English, "gusta" corresponds to "is pleasing." The infinitive form of the verb is "gustar," and it varies depending on "la playa", not "me."

Let's think about English. You change the verb depending on the subject, so you say "I like the beach and he likes the beach too." On the other hand, in Spanish you say "Me gusta la foto y me gustan las gatos." (Please don't care about the meaning of the sentence, it just occurred to me.)

A little confusing, but it's ok so far. I can still keep up.

By the way, I was thinking about why many Japanese people find it difficult to speak in English, and one of the major reason seems to be the word order.

In English we say "I like bananas."
In Japanese we say "私は(I)バナナが(bananas)好きです(like)."

In English we say "I don't like beef."
In Japanese we say "私は(I)牛肉が(beef)好き(like)ではありません(not)."

And after coming to the States I found that this word order problem affects understanding of English to a greater extent than I thought at first. This is just my opinion, but many of us are too much used to unconsciously try to know what the object is before knowing the verb. In other words, especially when we Japanese listen to spoken English saying "I don't like beef," we unconsciously try to first find the subject and second the object, not the verb.

As a result, we think, like, "Ok, this person said something about him/herself because the subject was 'I' and talked something about beef. But what's the matter with beef?" This is because we easily miss the verb and get no idea about if it was "like" or "hate."

This is kind of an exaggerated example, but this kind of thing did occur when I was listen to a long and complicated sentence or attending a speech for a long time. What was interesting is that it happens less and less after I recognized this phenomenon.

So, based on my own experience, clearly recognizing the difference between the mother language and another language may lead to greater understanding of another language.

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