Learning languages by Listening

Watching films, tv shows, cartoons and reading novels, comics is one thing. But when you do watch and read material from various parts of world your taste for that language develops. Added benefit is knowledge about that part of the world. But when it comes to watching stuff instead of two of your senses are prominently involved. But many a times we ignore listening when we are watching a film in a language that we don’t know. Instead you can take the opportunity to learn that language a little. I have found this to be an enjoyable exercise and considerably improved my knowledge of languages. It is painstaking and length way of learning, not for those who are seriously into learning languages, but a good one for those who want to learn it for fun. It is also a nice exercise for brain so those who want to waste time it is perfect activity. Although I am an irregular blogger I will try to complete this series.

Before beginning I will tell you a secret. If you are above average in Sanskrit it helps a lot. Sanskrit’s grammar is terrific and if you simply go on preparing analogies with it most of the languages are easy to pick up. If you are more into western languages then Latin is your choice. Again it is not must, just that having learned Sanskrit means you know some of the concepts before hand.

In this post I analyze the song ‘Hyori Ittai’ from the anime Hunter x Hunter (2011). It is in Japanese. You can find the lyrics and English translation here  -> http://hunterxhunter.wikia.com/wiki/Hy%C5%8Dri_Ittai

(I suggest you keep it open in a different tab if you are going to try out what this post is talking about)

Now the translation is just a guideline. If someone has played enough with google translate then he/she must be knowing that how context changes translation considerably. Thus if you are learning by listening you get the subtle differences between meanings that you will not find in books.

First step should be strengthening your listening skills. First try writing down what you listen and then check it with the source. Once you are used to it you may not need to look at source lyrics or subtitles.

It helps when you know some of the words before hand. Obviously one can not begin without any base. So use of google translate is not a bad idea in that case. When you are doing it first time you will feel it difficult but slowly your vocabulary will build side by side and you will be more comfortable later. Now which words to search first? Here we can use reverse engineering. Normally it is easy to search for nouns. Verbs have many different forms and it will be difficult to categorize them in the first try. Even in nouns there is a concept of विभक्ती(case) in Sanskrit which English grammar implements using different tools like prepositions etc. So always choose stand alone names to begin with. Further they also have वचन (singular or plural) so you can add constraint of singular nouns as it avoids addition of प्रत्यय.

e.g. In the song’s first line (ignoring those woos) I would choose ‘nights’ if I had to. Night translates to Yoru. That word is there. So strike out both those words. We can also do the same for mornings. That way we also strike out Asa. Now by reading the translation we also associate devour with Musabori and spit with Hakidashi, but we don’t know what is the parent verb yet. Just for fun try searching Hakidashi on google translate. It means to discharge. So we now know since it is poetic symbolism here nights aren’t actually being physically spit out so a more euphemistic word was used.

Even the tone makes you learn many things. In the fourth line, if you listen to the song singer sings it as if he is questioning. Thus even a kid can tell ka is associated with questioning. Further there are it is repeated twice with different word everytime. So one can hypothesize that it is a yes/no kind of question. Confirming from the translation you also learn that Shiro means white and Kuro means black. So next step could be forming small phrases with your vocabulary. Like Yoru Ka must mean ‘Is it night?’. Also understand all the findings are conclusions which you must verify before entering into your memory.

Now note down every single detail you can list down. It helps. e.g. Notice in first line o was used to link a noun and verb. Find another o in the lyrics. In 8th line you will find phrase me o hosomete. Thus comparing with translation of the same line you can assume me means eyes hosomete means narrowing (squinting). Now one might be tempted to conclude that ni means ‘My’ using the translation. But it is not so. Thus comes the important step of verifying every single conclusion of yours.

Another way to learn can be using statistics. ‘And’ is the most frequent word in translation, appears 10 times. In lyrics though the word closest to 10 times is to which appears 9 times. Thus it is not exactly a bad assumption that sometimes to means ‘and’ while there are other connectors used. In that case we can try matching the ‘and’s with to s. Not everytime they will match but sometimes they have to. When they don’t match it gives even more information. Like in line 21 (again ignoring woo) hikari kurayami there should have been a to or synonym. Clearly for ‘Light and Darkness’ a farily simple sentence there should have been 3 words. Which means it is imperative and. When we write poems or songs we tend to ignore some words in order to fit in meter. So it becomes a straight forward match. Thus hikari must mean light while kurayami must mean darkness.

Now before closing some after thoughts. These are some basic techniques which you may feel anyone can come up with. It is kind of true. But the aim (mezasu tell me if you were able to deduce this from the song) is to look beyond that. e.g. Just now conclusion was kurayami means darkness. We also saw kuro means black. So is there a relation between the ‘kura’ part of kurayami. Is the literal translation ‘black darkness’? The more flexibly you think the more you will be able to learn about a language. Next time I will talk about deducing things in a more grammatical way. In the meantime your suggestions would be most welcome.


P.S. (If you see any ad on this blog then it is due to the Wordads program by WordPress. So I have nothing to do with it. Me being a stingy person am not going to purchase the NoAds upgrade. So it’s upto you to use some adblocker or whether to click on them or not.)


3 responses to “Learning languages by Listening

  1. Even though contextual inference is a powerful technique for languages, you pointed this out quite well that, ‘verify before committing to memory’. The most prominent mistakes in such contextual inferences is “Faux amis” as we call it in French. For example, the word “actuellement” != “actually”, even though they seem to have same word root. It means “right now/currently”. “Je travaille actuellement” is I and currently working and not “Actually, I am working”. Same with attendre/attend, assister/assist, stationment/station etc etc. So they sound same/seem to have same origin but they are different. Sometimes, same sounding words have different meaning too for eg, pronunciation of ‘verre’, ‘vert’, is exactly same in French but one is ‘green color’ and other is ‘glass’. So all I’d say is proceed with caution

    • Could not have said myself better. I have struggled and played with contextual inference for more than 3 years now so I perfectly understand what you want to say. I purposefully omitted such tricky ones for the first article as this post is expected to encourage beginners. But I will definitely cover such examples in the next installments.

  2. Pingback: Learning Languages – 2 : Learning from Translator | πS·

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