Saturday, March 29, 2008
Language Notes Part 3
On Monday and Wednesday nights, I take the #18 bus out to the building pictured above, and attend Swedish A1 for Beginners. The class is offered through Folkuniversitetet, which is sort of like a nation-wide community college, with campuses (or buildings at least) in all major cities. My class of 11 people includes a Spaniard, a Moldavian, a Greek, a French, an Italian, a Chinese, a Japanese, and three Germans. The class is therefore taught in English, of course. How strange it must be for these other students, to learn a foreign language in a foreign language. But everyone speaks English, and most of them speak at least one more language as well.
We have all learned a bit about each other, as we go around the room and practice introducing ourselves ("Jag heter Jennifer, och jag kommer från Michigan," I said on Day 1, so for a brief time the teacher though I was Canadian). Most other students are associated with Uppsala University, and several are scientists. The Moldavian woman is studying law in Stockholm, and had to take some sort of exams for four days in a row over the Easter break ("But Easter isn't really for a month yet, so I don't care," she said, and the Greek guy nodded in agreement).
This last week I managed a fake phone call with one of the Germans, during which we properly greeted each other, inquired as to what each other were doing, and arranged to meet at some later time and place. In a lull, I asked whether German or English was more helpful to her in learning Swedish. "German, certainly," she said. "But they pronounce things so oddly."
I haven't taken a class of any kind for a long time now, and I must say I have a new appreciation for all you community college teachers out there. It is true that we students are, for the most part, self-motivated; however... how shall I put this... we are all individuals, as well, with widely differing personalities and abilities and agendas. Riding herd on such a bunch can't be too easy, but our teacher T. manages with humor and patience. I like her very much, even if she does keep insisting that we try again to make this peculiarly Swedish sound, the voiceless palatal-velar fricative, indicated in Swedish by the letters sj, sk, or skj.
So what does the "sje-sound" sound like? I thought perhaps it sounded a bit like a Chinese "hw" kind of sound, but the Chinese student disagrees and struggles with it as much as anyone. At Swedish in 1000 Difficult Lessons, one commentator described it as "trying to hiss like a cat while gurgling." T. insists quite rightly that we must recognize it when others say it, although we ourselves can get away with just making a "sh" sound instead... "... if we're sissies," is the unspoken end I hear to that sentence. But perhaps I'm the only one who thinks this way. One of the Germans refuses to do it at all.