Well, more specifically the variations between learning curves and my recent experience with them.
I find that mental things have a much steeper learning curve than physical things, depending on previous experience with similar physical things. For example, if you’ve played a woodwind-type instrument, it’s probably easier for you to switch to a brass instrument and pick it up fairly quickly, even if you haven’t ever played one before. On the other hand, although there are some similarities between the various romance languages, you probably can’t go from French to Italian with the same sort of ease as going between similarly-fingered instruments (though I imagine there’s somebody out there for whom this is contrary).
In my case, I have lulled myself into a false sense of security about learning. Point the first – I am a knitter. Point the second – knitting and crochet are very similar. Point the third – crochet and tambour are very similar. (Point the fourth – tambour and Kevin Bacon are very similar, natch). So while I am somewhat amazed at the speed at which I picked up the tambour embroidery, I am not all that surprised, since I’ve been doing similar things with my fingers and knitting needles for several years.
This led me to believe that I can do anything this quickly. I somehow forgot that it took me four years and roughly 12 college courses (one of which was an intensive graduate-level reading and discussion class) to get me to the level I’m at with French. And on top of that, I spend over a week in France (not ideal, but it’s something) speaking primarily French with native speakers.
So when I started Hindi, I was really upset to find that I am slow at learning it. Well, not completely slow. There is some knowledge of conjugation and whatnot, but I can’t remember vocabulary to save my life. And so I got really frustrated.
Last night, the CG and I had a really tiny, stilted conversation in Hindi (we are both abject beginners) and it rocked. And then today I logged on to my LiveMocha account and did some higher-level coursework in French, and I felt better. Tonight will be the test of whether or not I have retained any of the Hindi. Maybe if I did some little muscle memory thing at the same time? It might work, but I’d have to be so twitchy to speak properly that I probably will take a pass on that idea.
It is, however, in the realm of navel gazing to contemplate why it is that some things are easier to learn than others and why languages seem to be easy for some folks and not others. I heard somewhere (real legitimate, I know) that people who are good at pattern recognition are also good at languages, which sort of makes sense and sort of not. I am decent at math but good at languages. My husband is really good at math (he’s a physicist) but pretty ok at languages (lie: he took ancient Akkadian in college). Weird.
And if anybody figures out how to add friends, other than emailing them, that would totally rock. I can’t find anybody on there.