On Language and Learning

August 25, 2010

When I first started this blog, I figured I’d aim to cover the more esoteric, introspective topics of my stay here. Up until now, I haven’t covered much of that at all; it’s been mostly updates on what exactly I was doing, not how I felt about it. There will probably be a great deal more of the general status updates in the future, but I’d also like to spill my guts a little for the entire Internet to see. But by the same token, I’d like to avoid the long-winded. By this point you’re probably thinking “Ok, so get on with it!”

A number of recent “discoveries” regarding my mastery (or lack thereof) of the language I’m surrounded by on a daily basis here have come about recently. Not that I wasn’t expecting them, by any means, but actually being presented with them is a little exhilarating. I thought I’d share a few things I’ve noticed so far.

First and foremost, it seems to be all about preparation. Spontaneous communication is very difficult to understand. I’ve gathered that a lot of my understanding comes from context. For example, if you’re ordering food, the clerk is much more likely to ask you whether you’d like it for here or to go than he or she would be to ask what time the train to Bucharest departs. In theory, I’m well-prepared to answer either of those questions, given that the environment is right. With that being said, when approached by somebody whose business you have no prior knowledge of, it’s an entirely different ballgame to decode what they’re saying.

A woman came to my door to and informed me that I needed to pay her 200 dinars (a smaller sum of money than it sounds) for cleaning the stairs of the apartment building. When I saw the unfamiliar woman at my door, I immediately froze up. While I technically understood many of the words that came out of her mouth, it was all I could do to respond with something to the effect of “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Serbian very well” in hopes that she would leave. Not so. However, what that did afford me was a reiteration, albeit slower, of what she had originally said. The woman’s understanding expression led me to believe that I had all the time in the world to respond. This helped tremendously, as I was able to piece together what exactly she wanted and why. While I didn’t close the door feeling particularly victorious, I have convinced myself that small triumphs are worth celebrating, which brings me to my next point.

It’s unbelievably easy to get lost in a rapid stream of unfamiliar sounds. Trying to piece them together into an intelligible, meaningful sentence is even more of a task. With that in mind, I have made it a point to congratulate myself (not outwardly) when it comes to any success when dealing with language, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. The feeling of satisfaction after even the most mundane, yet reasonably fluent and successful transaction is incomparable.

At the end of the day, it seems that “book smarts” don’t mean much. I understand that this idea is a little played, but it makes a lot of sense with language learning. While my grammatical and linguistic knowledge of Serbian allows me a bit of a head start, it also hinders when it comes to fluency. Diving in head-first pays off when it comes to dynamic understanding and eloquent speech, which, after all, are what really matter. Perhaps more of a “speak first, ask questions later” approach.

With that being said, I’ve learned quite a bit regarding readily understanding and quickly producing sentences in the month that I’ve been here. I imagine that more time will simply yield more results.



August 17, 2010

I got my computer today finally, working on getting things set up. Those of you who know my computer habits will be amazed to hear that I’m actually using Windows 7 for the time being… seriously though, it’s a pretty decent OS. It’s taking all I’ve got to not reformat and install Gentoo, but things are looking good so far. I’m going to get Gentoo installed on a virtual within the next few days.

It’s great being able to hear the kind of music I enjoy most again on my own computer, I’d spent a long time listening to whatever was around… I’ve been blasting mid-tempo, glitch hop, and dubstep for the past eight or so hours (since I got the computer).

I posted some new pictures on Facebook of recent happenings around Belgrade, I have a few shots of the apartment in there if you’re interested.

Anyhow, stay tuned for stuff, cuz it will be here.

Back in action… sort of.

August 11, 2010

Holy crap, talk about radio silence.

It’s been a bit since I’ve last posted. I’ve been without Internet access or computer for quite some time. I’m getting a computer within the next few days, and there should be more activity after that.

As of now, I’m all moved into my apartment in Belgrade and having a decent time of it. It will be nice to get my computer and become part of the real world again… rather, digital world? It’s real to me, anyhow. 🙂

Stay tuned for updates of a more cultural nature.