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Published by Richard Iserman

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Published by: Richard Iserman on Jul 05, 2011
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REFLECTION5
EASY,TIGER
Languagelessonsontheroad
BYDAVID5EDARJ5
O
narecentflightfromTokyotoBei-jing,ataroundthetimethatmylunchtray
was
takenaway,IrememberedthatIneededtolearnMandarin."Goddammit,"Iwhispered.
"I
knewIforgotsomething."Normally,whenlandinginaforeigncountry,I'mpreparedtosay,attheveryleast,"Hello"and'Tmsorry."Thistrip,though,
was
atwo-parter,andI'dusedmymonthofpreptimetoboneuponmyJapanese.Forthis,IreturnedtothePimslcuraudioprogTalllI'dreliedonformyprevioustwovisits.I'd
used
itsItalianversionaswell,andhadnotedthattheyfollowedthesamebasicpatte.m.Inthefirstthirty-minutelesson,aman
40ll-IENEWYORKEII,JULYII
&
18,
2011
approachesastrangewoman,asking,inItalianorJapaneseorwhicheverlan-
guage
you'vesignedupfor,
if
sheunder-standsEnglish.Thetwojabberawayfortwentysecondsorso,andthenanAmericaninstructorchimesinandbreaksitalldown."Say,'Excuseme,'"hetellsyou."Ask,'AreyouanAmerican?'"Theconversationsgrowmorecomplicatedasyouprogress,andthephrasesareregularlyrepeatedsothatyoudon'tforgetthem.NotallthesentencesI'velearned
with
Pimsleuraresuitedtomywayoflife.Idon'tdrive,forexample,so'WhichistheroadtogotoYokohama?"neverdidmeanygood.Thesameistrueof"Asfor
gas,
isitexpensive?,"thoughIhavegotsomemileageoutof
''Fill
herup,please,"whichIuseinrestaurantswhengettingasec-ondcupoftea.ThankstoJapaneseIand
n,
I'mabletobuytraintickets,counttoninehundredandninety-ninethousand,andsay,when-eversomeoneisgivingmechange,"Nowyouaregivingmechange."Icanmanageinarestaurant,takeacab,andevenmakesmalltalkwiththedriver."Doyouhavechildren?"Iask"Willyoutakeavacationthisyear?""Whereto?"Whenhe
turns
itaround,asJapanesecabdriversareinclinedtodo,ItellhimthatIhavethreechildren,abigboyandtwolittlegirls.
If
Pimsleurincluded
"J
amamiddle-agedhomosexualandthusmakedowithanieceIneverseeandaverysmallgodson,"I'dsaythat.Inthemeantime,IworkwithwhatIhave.
P
imsleur'sabighelpwhenitcomestopronunciation.Theactorsarenativespeakers,andtheydon'tslowdownforyourbenefit.111edrawbacksarethattheyneverexplainanythingorteachyoutothinkforyourselfInsteadofbeingpro-videdwithbuildingblockswhichwouldallowyoutoconstructasentenceofyourown,you'releftusingthehundredsorthousandsofsentencesthatyouhavememorized.Thatmeanswaitingforapar-ticularsituationtoariseinordertocom-mentonit;eitherthatorbecomingoneofthoseweirdnon-sequiturpeople,thekindwho,whenaskedaquestionaboutpaintcolor,answer,"Thereisabankinfrontofthetrainstation,"or
"Mrs.
YamadaItohasbeenplayingtennisforfifteenyears."Ihadn'tdownloadedaPimsleurpro-gramforChina,soontheflighttoBeijingIturnedtomyLonelyPlanetphrasebook,knowingitwashopeless.Mandarinisclosertosingingthanitistotalking,andeventhoughthewordswerewrittenpho-netically,Icouldn'tbegintogetthehangofthem.TIlebookwasslimandpalm-size,dividedintoshortchapters:Banking,Shopping,BorderCrossing.Theoneti-tled"Romance"includedthefollowing:"Wouldyou
like
adrink?""You'reafantas-ticdancer.""Youlook
like
somecousinofmine."Thelatterwouldworkonly
if
youwereAsian,buteventhenit'salittiecreepy,theimplicationbeing"thecousinIhaveal-wayswantedtoundressandejaculateon."Inmesubchapter"GettingCloser,"onelearnstosay,"Ilikeyouverymuch.""You'regreat."''Doyouwantamassage?"
 
Onthefollowingpage,
things
heatup.
"1
wantyou."
"J
wanttomakelovetoyou.""Howaboutgoingtobed?"And,alinethatmighthavebeenwrittenespeciallyforme,"Don'tworry,
I'll
doitmyself"Oddly,thewritershaven'tincluded"Leavethelighton,"amustifyouwanttoactually
stry
anyofthesethings.Onepicturesthevacationernakedonabed,andsquintingintohisorherlittlebook
~o
moa,l,l:,
'~OhYC:,a~!n
"Ea~'y~
iger<:
Faster,Harder,Slower,Softer."Thatwas...amazing/weird/wild.""CanIstayover?"Inthefollowingsubchapter,itallfallsapart:"Areyouseeingsomeoneelse?""He/Sheisjustafriend.""You'rejustusingmeforsex."
"1
don'tthinkit'swork-ingout."And,finally,"Ineverwanttoseeyouagain."
H
ghand
1
returnedfromChina,andafewdayslaterIstartedpre-paringforatriptoGermany.Thefirsttime
1
went,in
1999,1
couldn'tbringmyselftosaysomuchas
CutenMorgen.
Thesoundsfeltfalsecomingoutofmymouth,soinsteadIspentmytimespeak-ingEnglishapologetically.Notthattheapologieswereneeded.InParis,
yes,
butinBerlinpeople'sattitudeis"ThankyouforallowingmetopracticemyperfectEnglish."AndIdomeanperfect."AreyoufromMinnesota?"
1
keptasking.Inthebeginning,I
was
putoffbytheharshnessofGerman.Someonewouldorderapieceof
cake
anditsoundedasifitwereanactualorder,
like
"Cutthe
cake
andliefacedowninthatditchbetweenthecobblerandthelittle
gill"
I'mguessingthiscomesfromhavingwatchedtoomanySecondWorldVllarmovies.ThenIre-memberedtheumpteenFassbinderfilmsI'dsatthroughintheeighties,andGermanbegantosoundconflictedinsteadofheart-less.Iwentbacktwicein2000,andovertimethesoundofthelanguagegrewonme.It'slikeEnglish,butsideways.I'vemadeatleasttentripsbynow,andhavegonefromoneendofthecountrytotheother.Peopletaughtmeallsortsofwords,buttheonlyonesthatstuckwere
Kaisersdmitt;
whichmeansCesareansec-tion,and
Lebensabscbnittspartner.
Thisdoesn'ttranslateto"lover"or"lifepartner"but,rather,to"theperson
1
amwithtoday;'theimplicationbeingthatthingschange,andyouarekeepingyourselfopen.Forthislatesttrip,Iwantedtodobet-
421l-1ENEWYOR.KER.,ULY11
s
18,2011
ter,andsoIdownloadedall
thirty
lessonsofPimsleurGem1anI,whichagainstartoffwith"Excuseme,doyouunderstandEnglish?"AswiththeJapaneseandtheItalianversions,theprogramtaughtmetocountandtotelltime.AgainIlearned"Thegirlisalreadybig"and"Howareyou?"("
Wtegeht
es
Ihnen?")
In
Japaneseand
Italian,
theresponsetothelatterquestionis"I'mfine,andyou?"InGermanit'sansweredwithasigh,andaslightpause,followedby"Notsogood."ImentionedthistomyGermanfriendTilo,whosaidthatofcoursethatwastheresponse."Vilecan'tgetitthroughourheadsthatpeopleareaskingthatonlytobepolite,"hesaid.InJapanese
I,
Lesson
17,
theactresswhoplaysthewifesays,
"Kaimonogashi-tain
desu
gal"
("I
wanttogoshoppingbutthere'saproblemandyouneedtoguesswhatitis.")Theexerciseisaboutnum-bers,sothehusbandaskshowmuchmoneyshehas.Shegives
him
afigure,andheofferstoincreaseitincrementally.Similarly,intheGermanversion,thewifeannouncesthatshewantstobuysomething:
"Icb
mxhtelwch
etuias
kat/en."
Herhusbandaskshowmuchmoneyshehas,and,aftersheanswers,heresponds,coldly,"I'mnotgivingyouanymore.Youhaveenough."There'snodiscordinPirnsleur'sJapan,butitsGermanyisamoodyandoftensavageplace.Inoneoftheexer-cises,you'reencouragedtoarguewithabellhopwhotriestocheatyououtofyourchangeandwhoendsupsneering,"Youdon'tunderstandGerman.""Oh,but
1
do,"youlearntosay.
"1
dounderstandGerman."It'saprogram
full
ofoddsentencecombinations."Wedon'tlivehere.Wewantmineralwater"impliesthatifthecouple
did
liveinthisparticulartownthey'dbegettingdrunklikeeveryoneelse.Anotherstandoutis
"DerWeinistzuteuerundSiesprecbenzuschnell."
("Thewineistooexpensiveandyoutalktoofast.")Theresponsetothiswouldbe"Anythingelse,HerrAsshole?"Butofcoursetheydon'tteachyouthat.
O
nourlasttriptoTokyo,HughandIrentedanapartmentinanonde-scriptneighborhoodafe\i\TsubwaystopsfromShinjukuStation.Arepresentativefromthereal-estateagencymetusatthefrontdoor,andwhenIspoketo
him
in
Japanese,hetoldmeIneededtobuymy-selfsomemanga."Readthoseandyou'lllearnhowpeopleactuallytalk,"hesaid."You,you'realittletoopolite."Iknowwhathewasgettingat,butIre-allydon'tseethisasmuchofaproblem,especiallyifyou'reaforeigner,andanyperceivedrudenesscanturnsomeonenotjustagainstyoubutagainstyourentirecountry.HerePimsleurhasitalloverthephrasebook"ofmyyouth,wheretheUglyAmerican
was
stillalive,and
kicking
peo-ple."Ididn'torderthis!"he
raged
inGreekandSpanish.
"Think
youcancheatme,doyou?""GoawayorI'llcallthepolice."NowforthetravellingAmericanthere'slessofaneedforphrasebooks.Notonlydoweexpecteveryonetospeakourlanguage;
we
expecteveryonetobefluent.IrarelyhearanAmericanvacationersaytoawaiterorashopkeeperinEurope,"YourEnglishisso
good."
Rather,
we
actas
if
it
werepartofhisjob,
like
carryingatrayormakingchange.In
this
respect,thephrasebooksandaudioprogramsareanalmostcharmingthrowback,asuggestionthat
thetraveller
puthimselfoutthere,that
he
openhimselftocriticismandnottheper-sonwho'sjust
trying
toscrapebysellingmeatballs
in
Bumfucchio,Italy.Oneofthethings
1
likeaboutTokyoistheconstantreinforcementonegetsfortrying."YouareveryskilledatJapanese,"everyonekeepstellingme.IknowpeoplearejustbeUlgpolite,butitspursmeon,justasIhopedtobespurredoninGer-many.Tothisend,I'veaddedasecondaudioprogram,onebyamannamed
Mi-
chelThomas,whoworkswithacoupleofstudents,amaleandafemale.Atthestart,heexplainsthatGermanandEnglisharecloselyrelatedandthushavealotincom-mon.Inonelanguage,theverbis"tocome,"andintheotherit's
"kommen"
English"togive"isGerman
"geben."
Bos-ton's'Thatisgood"isBerlin's"
Dasistgut."
It'sanexcellentwaytostart,andleavesthelistener
thinking,
Hey,
Ichkanndodis.
U
nlikethenamelessinstructorinPimsleur,HerrThomasexplainsthings-thefact,forexample,thatiftherearetwoverbsinaGermansentenceoneofthemcomesattheend.Hedoesn'tgiveyouphrasestomemorize.Infact,heactivelydiscouragesstudy.
"I
owwouldyousay,'Giveittome?'''heasksthefe-malestudent.SheandIcorrectlyanswer,andthenheturnstothemale."Nowtry
 
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