[Marxism] Re: Engels Gives Up on Arabic and Struggles to Learn Persian

Brian Shannon brian_shannon at verizon.net
Wed Aug 16 08:00:37 MDT 2006

> I did NOT need to read this at this particular delicate time.  The  
> discussion on Iran had already led me to a familiar point - the  
> point where I say, "In order to really understand what is going on  
> over there, I am going to have to actually learn Farsi."  However,  
> I had mostly talked myself out of it, telling myself that I really  
> couldn't realistically spend the time on it.  But now Engels comes  
> along and tells me how EASY it is...! That settles it, I guess I'll  
> have to pick up an English-Farsi dictionary and start translating  
> Ahmadinejad's blog (or Khamenei's site)
> you won't see me around here much for the next couple months
> Lou

I envy those who have the unique ability and joy of learning a new  
language. My enthusiasm for a new language (German and French) lasted  
about two months. Then I began feeling like a swimmer who is still  
plowing ahead, but becomes worried about how far the distance is and  
whether or not he or she has left too much energy (memory in my case)  

My father, who could remember the phone numbers of numerous friends  
from 10 or more years before, could never understand why, when he was  
trying to teach me Spanish, I couldn't remember words that we had  
gone over together 20 minutes before. Years later, I learned that my  
father's gift of memory was special and not something that one could  
duplicate by will power.

Total immersion would have been the answer for me. I went to France  
for six weeks in the mid 1970s where I spent a month at the Alliance  
Française and spoke and read nothing but French. My preparation was a  
year of French a few years earlier and persistent listening to tapes  
before I went. When I returned home, I found that I could read Le  
Monde reasonably well. My memory was fair and I had a slight musical  
talent, which would have helped. However, what helps most of all in  
anything of this type is a continuing passion--perhaps even a need.

*     *     *
Those of us from the SWP know of Gerry Foley and his skills, of course.

I once roomed with George Myland, another SWPer, whose ability may  
not have matched Gerry's but was probably close. He knew Russian  
fairly well, so one weekend -- starting on Friday -- before he needed  
to work on a Polish translation, he sat down with a Polish grammar  
and a medium-sized bottle of Jack Daniels.

Both were finished by Monday. He didn't worry about how far one had  
to go or whether he might forget something while learning something  
knew. He enjoyed the task and then moved on.

Brian Shannon

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