By Antonio Graceffo
I love when people make up their own little linguistic rules, not based on any sort of research or significant experience, such as: a detractor on the internet claimed that native speakers of Spanish learned Vietnamese faster than English natives “because of the similarities in the languages.” The ONLY similarity that he was referring to was putting adjectives after nouns. Apart from that, a Spanish speaker would have no advantages at all. And at this point in the world’s history, the bulk of loan words in almost any language are from English. So, English would be better than Spanish as a basis for any non-Latinate language. Another point is that when you start talking about Asian languages there isn’t a lot of data on non-native English speakers as learners. For Vietnamese, there is undoubtedly data on French speakers, but beyond the US and France, which western countries has Vietnam had a lot of involvement with? Apart from US soldiers of Latin extraction how many Spanish speakers have ever studied Vietnamese?
Another one I have heard repeatedly is that Koreans learn Chinese faster because of similarities in vocabulary and because of the Korean government’s Chinese character exam, which a significant percentage of young people have passed. In practice, I have found that Koreans and Vietnamese are the absolute least fluent students at the Sports University. Even students preparing for their graduation speak Chinese at an incredibly basic level. Much of the reason why Koreans fail to learn Chinese, but many Africans succeed, is probably cultural, rather than linguistic. But that is a central theme in my linguistics writing. I believe that with very few language combinations, the bulk of the difficulties or advantages people have in learning a foreign language are cultural, rather than linguistic. Another anecdotal proof would be that 60% of the vocabulary of the Vietnamese language could be traced to China. And yet, Vietnamese are among the worst Chinese learners at the university.
Today sitting in my hotel room, in Phnom Penh, hearing the Indians across the hall talking way too loudly, with their door open, I could catch about every tenth word, because of the shared origin of some of the Khmer, Thai, Bahasa, and Filipino vocabulary. And yet, these guys couldn’t speak Khmer. And when they tried to communicate with the hotel staff, they did so in absolutely atrocious English, rather than broken Khmer. My point, once again, is that people put too much emphasis on words, when it comes to language learning. Since Indians would already have 10-20% of the Khmer vocabulary, you would think they would find it easier to learn the language. And yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Language learning is much more about culture than linguistics.
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is also a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is expected to graduate his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and his PhD in Spring, 2016. Antonio is also a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at amazon.com. His book, Warrior Odyssey, chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army, is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)