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This Language is SO difficult!! Why that might be true...even for the "easy" ones

I was lucky enough to talk to a teacher of Mandarin Chinese at lunch one day. She said:

The biggest difference between Chinese and Japanese is that, with Chinese you cry and then you laugh, and with Japanese, you laugh and then you cry.

She explained that Chinese has a lot of little parts that you need to learn at the beginning to make even the most basic sentence. But, as you learn more and more, you see that there are patterns and you start to be able to guess (correctly!) which little part you need, until you find that Chinese isn't as hard as you thought. You cry, and then you laugh

With Japanese, she said, it's the opposite. You can learn basic Japanese very quickly. Learners almost fly through the first levels. But, as you learn more and more, many details and exceptions start to appear and learning slows down dramatically. Learners often quit Japanese at this point, because an easy language has suddenly become far too difficult and progress far too slow.  You laugh, and then you cry.

It occurred to me that I know of 2 "laugh then cry" languages (English and Spanish) and 1 "cry then laugh" language (German). It is a shame that nobody warns us about this phenomenon when we start a language. They leave us in the assumption that what starts hard or easy will stay hard or easy. 

What are your experiences? Have you ever been fooled by a language, or do you recognize the language you are learning as a "cry, then laugh" or a "laugh, then cry" language? 

Feb 14, 2018 1:40 AM
Comments · 48

English is definitely a laugh-then-cry language.

It's a piece of cake to start with. Throw together a few wannas and gonnas with some familiar-looking nouns and Latin cognates and away you go. You can communicate ( after a fashion) and travel the world.  Articles? Nah, who needs 'em?

It's only later, when you realise how irregular, capricious and idiomatic real English is, that the problems start. When you hear a native English speaker utter a sentence composed entirely of tiny little words like  got put set off on up and down..... you recognise every single word but still don't understand a damned thing of what they're saying. That's when the trouble kicks in.

February 14, 2018

Spangola, maybe that's just me, but to me it looks like the English language is a "make a weak chuckle and then cry, and then cry even harder" language. I do like it but there's something almost masochistic about it. I wonder if this cry part ever ends. I don't even quite remember the laugh part, who stole it from me..?

February 14, 2018

I never had a "laugh" moment with russian, it's always been "cries". Even with the alphabet, because for me learning the alphabet has to come along with the fluency at reading (quick recognition of the letters when reading at a reasonable speed). 

With german "laugh and cry", when I started learning german, it wasn't that complicated as people like to say about german, but then the more you explore, the more lost you get (that's my case) 

Now I am trying to learn Turkish and so far I've only had "cries", my tutors say it'll get better and more logical as I go, I'm hoping to start laughing real soon. 

February 14, 2018
@Kseniia....I felt the same way about Russian. I got a weak chuckle for about 5 minutes with the alphabet and a few phrases...and then I cried for the rest of the year. I didn't make it past year 1 Russian at university. I ran out of Kleenex. ;-) 
February 14, 2018

I mean, there are phenomena that manifest themselves not at the level of 'phonemes', but rather at 'syllable' level (and that's why we have such a notion, 'syllable', it IS here linguistically). And it is different syllabe structure that is responsible for many difficulties with Chinese accents (both for Chinese English learners and listeners). And they don't teach us about this in school, they only introduce "letters" or "phonemes" to us.

We know what is "voiced" and "unvoiced" consonant. But... should they be entirely voiced? Or may be consonants onset can be unvoiced, and then voice appears in the middle and, may be also extends forward to the next sound? It happens. For some reason it is physically impossible for many Russians who start learning English to make the word finale consonants voiced. They struggle for years. And this might be related to 'regressiive assimilation', when consonants preceeding a (un)voiced one aqcuire (un)voicing.
When I say "dva" (standalone) I say "dva....", my voice gradually getting less loud till it gets silent.
My lnaguage partner, when she first spoke Russian, said /dva'/. Abrupt ending with a glottal stop in the end. NO /..../.

So my theory is that - English works differently, while we (English speakers and learners) don't have enough words to describe that.
February 15, 2018
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