Week 6: My brain is warped

Learning grammar will be the death of me. Die, der, das. Feminine, masculine, neutral words for “the.” Somehow I’m supposed to know that the TV is masculine (Der Fernseher) and the TV’s remote control is feminine (Die Fernbedienung).

I’ve been staring at yellow sticky notes for a few days. Dominique thought it would help me learn some names of household items. A couple of them are sinking in — the easy ones: Fussball. (Football or Soccer ball) Blumenvase (flower vase). Or should I say Der Fussball and Die Blumenvase.

But the genders have me stumped. I guess it’s something you just figure out as you go along. Or maybe I never really will, since it seems experts think my brain is warped and there isn’t much hope of becoming fluent in German.

According to this 2005 statement from University College London, it’s not that our brains can’t learn new languages, but that the gray matter becomes “warped.”

“Talking at the UCL workshop, which brings together specialists in language, speech and speech perception, Dr (Paul) Iverson said: ‘We see things through the lens of our native language and that ‘warps’ the way we see foreign languages.'”

He gives this example:

“Polish students of English have difficulty differentiating between vowels such as ‘pen’ and ‘pan,’ while German students must learn to hear a difference between the v in ‘vest’ and the w in ‘west’.”

Then there’s this little gem from a story on CNN.

“In terms of starting language learning in middle or old age, the likelihood of becoming truly fluent in a new tongue is low.”

But the same article actually gives a nice little incentive for at least trying.

Bilingual old people’s brains are bigger. Or something like that. πŸ˜‰

“As the human body begins its natural decline in old age, bilinguals seem to maintain better cognitive function, said Ellen Bialystok of York University in Toronto, Ontario. This is the case even for people with dementia.”

While I may never be fluent in German, it seems there’s a bonus for me (in about 30 years) if I stick with it.

There surely is help out there for anyone who wants to try.

I found a little cheat sheet online for my gender issue. To be honest, it makes my head spin. I read it over one time and don’t remember a thing it said. I think I’ll start a favorites folder in my Web browser for German lessons and stick this bad boy at the top. If I read it enough I’m sure it will sink in. I believe there is help for the warped. πŸ˜‰

Tips for learning a new language:

  • Label things around the house.
  • Take 10 minutes each day or two to listen to language lessons. There are lots of free resources online or for a smart phone.
  • If you’re in country, write your grocery list in the local language. You can take the time to thumb through a dictionary or Google Translate before you go to the store.
  • Find a bilingual friend to teach you a new sentence every week.
  • Type your question in a search engine. There’s no telling what sort of free tips await.


About Tara McLaughlin

I'm a stay-at-home mom to two girls in my boyfriend's hometown of Bern, Switzerland. Life as a new mom in a foreign country has been, in so many ways, rewarding and challenging. I will document that journey here, on Another 52 Weeks.
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3 Responses to Week 6: My brain is warped

  1. To remember the TV, just think of it this way. A man may want to buy a TV, but a woman always get control of the remote πŸ˜‰ Oh and check out Benny the Irish Polyglot. He is in his 30s and goes around to different countries for 3 months at a time learning the local language. He is currently in Taiwan learning Mandarin. He’s already getting together with locals and bumbling his way through entire conversations in chinese. If he can do it you can do it too!

  2. Heather says:

    I call it mommy brains…real technical, I know……

  3. Melanie says:

    I have a hard enough time remembering English. Last week I needed band-aids. While out and about for lunch I remembered that “I need…oh um, what are those things called…oh yeah BANDANNAS…wait, what? No! Bandannas? what the heck?” (That was my exact thoughtline by the way) So then that’s all I could think of…the word bandannas! “Come on brain, think!” So my brain comes up with BANANAS instead! Not until I’m standing in front of the actual Band-Aid product, could I think of the word BAND-AID. So yeah – you are doing superbly in your quest for higher learnings. (Don’t know if you can click on this link – but it pretty much wraps up the way I’ve been feeling lately.)

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