09
Sep
08

How to identify different languages – exclusive tutorial

OH MY GOD. Important update: the video to exemplify the chinese language was of EXTREMELY BAD TASTE, and I’M SORRY ABOUT THAT. I thought it was only an innocent toilet ad… I only saw what it’s really about 5 min ago. So, if you give it another try, I made sure it’ll be less traumatizing this time!

Prague, just lovelyHello. If you’re reading this, I must say I already admire you for such a huge lack of something more important to do, that almost (I said almost) gets close to mine.

I should probably be nicer to you for reading this, but hey, it’s just a bad taste joke, as always…

This is hopefully the first of a series that is gonna put some light in a very curious matter: what’s all the food Fernando eats used for? Howcome is he so damn thin given that he’s the worst couch potato, home-seater that I know?

This is one of the MANY theories that are being carefully, analitically and mathematically thought in my head. Enjoy.

Last weekend (means: somewhere in June 2008) I went to Praha, or Prague. It was my first and hopefully not last visit to Eastern Europe, and really unforgettable. And also my first full-immerse experience with a slavic language.

Czech people are amazingly nice, the girls are beautiful and, best of all, almost all of them speak English (phew!). BUT, it doesn’t change the fact that I couldn’t understand a n y t h i n g that was written right before my eyes. Although they use the “normal” alphabet, and not the cyrilic, the words doesn’t have neither latin or greek or germanic or anglo-saxon roots. In other words: it makes me want to cry, not to understand what’s written in the walls.

Along with the first disappointment, came something familiar: when spoken, czech sounds like, sounds pretty much like… russian, to me. And then I could introduce this new category of language in my database. And, while taking a walk in a “zahrad” (park!) I got the idea of maybe making a video tutorial. Turns out I’m too shy, then I’ll just write.

Enough blabla. Let’s get to what matters.

JAPANESE – KOREAN – CHINESE
It seems very complicated, but it’s actually very simple.

Chinese people simply can’t say the sound of “R”. It simply doesn’t exist in their language, and therefore is not known. Other than that, the intonation is very, very important and modifies the meaning of words and sentences completely, instead of only stating a question or an affirmative sentence.
If you watch this stupid video you’ll also notice, the abnormally high occurrence of “tch”, “sh” and what not. No toilets this time, promise!!!

Japanese people, on the other hand, simply can’t say anything with “L”. And they tend to reinforce the strength of the “replacing” sound, “R”, rather enfatically. My name, for example, would be pronounced “Ferunando”, and Elaine, for instance, would be “Eraine”. Actually, I was thinking right now: if you’re a native english speaker, you won’t be able to make the right sound of “R”. To understand what I mean, please refer to this stupid video. As a bonus you can see that brazilians also have a typical accent when speaking English (I’m not alone in this world). Intonation is also important, it’s even possible to mean “yes” with a simple “hmm” or my favorite “OSU!”.

As of korean, let’s see… I’m sorry, I’m able to differentiate when hearing because I know a little japanese, so, when it sounds like japanese but I can’t understand a word, means it’s korean :P. But maybe you could notice, that the korean writing is very distinguished (lots of little circles and little vertical lines), while japanese and chinese characters not only look a lot alike, they also have many characters in common.

By the way the korean video I’ve linked is a very sweet story, I bet you girls would like it. You can also like it if you’re a boy, I’m gonna allow that for now.

PORTUGUESE (Brazil/Portugal) – SPANISH
Well I’ve heard a lot in Europe that Portuguese sounds more beautiful and sweet than French. I appreciate that a lot, mainly because it’s not a secret that I find the French language really gay at times (and I’m learning it anyways).

But this idea is generally about brazilian Portuguese; portuguese Portuguese is spoken A LOT faster and with very different intonation. Ok, in this video, they’re speaking kinda slow, but you can notice something interesting: they speak some words unbelievably fast, while the rest of the sentence is more “hearable”. Yes, it’s difficult also for me to understand.

Brazilian Portuguese uses exactly the same words, rules and vocabulary (with very, very few exceptions) but is, generally, spoken a little bit slower and more constantly throughout the sentence. Something easy to notice in both is the very frequent “ão” finishing. Just as a curiosity, many words in English that finish with “ation” can be translated to Portuguese by replacing this termination with “ão” and minor modifications: passion – paixão, termination – terminação, institution – instituição. It’s usually really hard for foreigners to speak this thing, and always very funny to try to teach them :).

Spanish: it’s spoken VERY differently in each country of South America, and also in the different regions of Spain (I’m intentionally ignoring the dialects). But my rule is: you don’t really have to open your mouth to speak Spanish. I think it’s kinda ugly, well, figure out yourself and maybe we can discuss it sometime. One thing that you can notice, when comparing with Portuguese, is that Spanish “lacks” many sounds. That’s why, generally, it’s a lot of trouble to eliminate the accent from spanish people learning Portuguese, and easy for brazilians/portugueses/some african to pick up Spanish.

RUSSIAN – BULGARIAN – CZECH – POLISH – SLOVAKI – …
Well, well, well. This is still very tricky to me.

I can currently, with some luck, identify Russian, because I’m trying to learn and every week a friend of mine from Romania teaches me something new (he’s having Russian lectures). Can’t be that hard, after I saw that people pick up the phone and say “alô!” exactly like I’ve done all my life, really can’t be that hard!

But it’s really, really difficult to differentiate between the many slavic languages only by hearing them. They sound absurdly alike, the words have pretty much the same roots and therefore are written and spoken with small differences, in my opinion almost like different accents of one big common language.

Cyrillic characters seem impossible, but they are actually not so many, and it takes no time and very little effort to memorize most of them, so you can read stupid things like “Passport”, “Rachmaninov”, “Dostoievski” and so on. I got started trying to decode the title of a music CD…

I plan to learn Russian in the near future, because it’s a UN language and the plan is to speak them all except Arabic and Chinese (hehe…). I think that, once you speak one of the languages above, you should be more able to differentiate between them. But for us, poor western mortals, it takes a lot of effort.

ROMANIAN – ITALIAN
Well for those that don’t know, people from Romania are all sort of my latino brothers. Yeah, yo, ‘sup Rodriguez, Martinez… hehe, mexican friends, please don’t burn me, you know I love you all and, one thing that you don’t know: I love your food as well, and oh god I love tequila… but don’t tell anyone.

Where was I anyway? Oh. Romanian sounds for times pretty much like Italian to me (I’m so trustworthy on this that I think Greek is like codified Spanish, then be careful while trusting me on anything). Indeed, Romanian is somehow related to the Rhaeto-Romance family of languages, which were spoken in ancient Rome. It’s a latin language in all aspects, even closer to Latin then my beloved Portuguese.

Using my dirty trick as always: I can say it’s Romanian when it sounds like russian people speaking Italian or vice-versa, and I get one or other word (from the Italian part of course). But don’t be disappointed with me so quickly… remember that Romania is surrounded by slavic countries and has Hungary on the left side, so of course there is a lot of influence already absorbed by the locals. The easiest one is to notice that romanians say “yes” exactly like russians do: “da”!

As of Italian, mama mia, è molto facile parlare senza dire qualcoza di troppo. Capiche?
… ok just kidding, I couldn’t resist! Here is a decent example.
… geez I lost all the few friends I had after this, I can feel it!…

This is it for now. It took a lot longer than I thought, but in the end doesn’t look so bad, does it?
I hope you have fun reading this, and maybe use it in your next trip. If you got this far, please write some feedback, feel free even to offend me, it’s ok… mainly after the last update (September 8th).

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3 Responses to “How to identify different languages – exclusive tutorial”


  1. September 11, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Have you seen, My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn…you are starting to remind me of the professor – interesting, none the less.

  2. 2 herrnanditovsk
    September 11, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    That’s not the first time someone sees a professor in me… maybe that’s a sign?
    I have never seen the movie, but I’ll take it as a compliment anyways. At least until I see it!

  3. January 14, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Wow this is really helpful!


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