Sound vs. Meaning

The other day a friend of mine confessed that to him spoken French has no meaning. He finds French mastery a hopeless endeavor and has no ambition whatsoever to continue studying the language. I know what he means. Compared to Italian, which can be broken down into smaller chunks for digestion, the French melody of seamless sound represents a challenge—where does one word end, and a new one begin?

Still, I chose to pursue the language of love. For years I’ve listened to French radio in my car in the vain hope that eventually the melodic flow would begin to reveal meaning. I bought a few audio courses and visited France a handful of times. But my ability to communicate has been limited to uttering simple phrases that, luckily, sometimes resulted in the transference of ownership of a bottle of water or perhaps a crêpe.

sheet musicPersistence turned out to be the key. As years went by, something began to happen. I sensed microscopic pauses within the sound, and here and there meaningful words became discernible. Not that I can say I understood—far from it. But this experience kindled a flame of hope in me that one day I’d be able to get past the sound barrier and climb the francophone wall. I sensed it could be compared to learning to appreciate a polyphonic piece of music—repeated listening will reveal more of the composer’s intention, and the enjoyment transforms as the musical landscape widens.

This experience gave birth to Petter’s Law, which dictates that observation of sound and comprehension of meaning cannot occur at the same time. Either you hear the sound—or you get its meaning.

Alas, listening to French radio continued to be more sound than meaning to me. I needed  stronger means to bridge the language gap. I therefore chose to buy yellow-boxed language software. Compared to my previous approach this felt like being on steroids. I am now in the final stage of Rosetta Stone French Level 5. The outcome? The sound of French has practically ceased to be. Now there is meaning.

I just came back from a visit to where Polish is spoken. Now there’s a language of complex sounds. Imagine if the yellow box of magic plus persistent practice could transform Polish sound, paving the way for meaning? I know from experience that that sort of dramatic change can happen. It’s all up to me.

Find more posts about:

Petter Amundsen

Petter Amundsen, living in Oslo, Norway, is a church organist come treasure hunter. Around Christmas 2009 almost ten percent of Norwegian television viewers followed his quest for the Rosicrucian Treasure Island as shown in a four-hour mini series. It was Petter’s interest in languages that put him on the right track. One of the oldest tricks of secret writing is substituting Greek characters for Latin letters, so that f.i. H becomes E (eta), and this knowledge helped him establish what he believes is a genuine treasure map. Petter has become a language-learning addict since experiencing the power of knowledge that most people don’t care to harness. His only regret is that he is in his late forties, which means that his brain is slower to absorb new words and grammar. Nevertheless he finds comfort in that the alternative to learning is less desirable. Working as a church organist means attending funerals several days each week, something that on a day to day basis inspires him to cherish every minute above ground. In the winter, this means skiing–Petter is a certified ski instructor and works at the famous skiing-cradle Holmenkollen, where the church in which he works is located . In February 2011 the Nordic World Championships will be held at Holmenkollen, and Petter will have his hands full giving post-competition concerts every day during the championships. This will also mean great opportunity for him to practice communicating in different languages. For the time being he studies three languages using Rosetta Stone Level 1-5: French, Italian and Spanish (Spain). Petter also knows some Latin (completed Cambridge Latin Course I-V) and German (studied for two years in school), and of course, English. His ambition is to be moderately fluent in the major European languages. Dutch and Polish are also on his list.
blog comments powered by Disqus