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backing talkwards

so, it appears that i've finally met my linguistic match: i cannot figure out a way to learn hebrew or arabic. yes, these languages are known for being difficult for english speakers to acquire; their alphabets, vocabulary and grammar are completely alien to begin with, and on top of that, they're written backwards. ok, not backwards. the languages are written from right to left, the opposite of how english is written. [no, i take that back. far more languages are written from left to right, and in every human society, norms are designated by the majority. your languages have every right to exist, but they are fucking backwards.]

although they can be daunting at first, i'm no longer frightened of different scripts. in my limited experience, i've found that russian is easier for me to master than polish. i was lucky enough to be selected to alpha test the forthcoming japanese course from duolingo and, while i can't quite get the hang of the kanji yet, hiragana [which isn't even a goddamned alphabet, but a syllabary] is something i'm getting through cautious progress.

the stumbling block is partly based on the backwards construction, but it's weirder than that.

i know that i need to move my eyes from right to left, and that everything moves as if i'm looking in a mirror. [don't think it hasn't occurred to me to use a mirror in order to ease the learning curve.] it's an act of will, particularly if i have to focus on listening to words and reading them at the same time. but the truly odd part is that i realised earlier this week that i'm trying to read the characters upside down.

for whatever reason, and i truly can't figure out what that is, my brain has chosen to interpret the right to left order as meaning that these scripts are inverted in every conceivable way. i'd noticed that, whenever i worked on hebrew lessons, my neck seemed to hurt a little. i never connected these two things [i often practice a couple of languages in a single "session" anyway] until this week, when i looked at one letter and perceived what i was doing wrong.

like a bolt from the blue

that is the letter lamed, which is pronounced as the english "l". i originally trained myself to remember it by thinking "it looks like a bolt of lightning; lightning starts with "l'". however, when i was practicing this week, i realised that i was thinking "the letter that looks like 'l'". lamed doesn't look like the letter "l", unless you're looking at it upside down. from there, i realised that my interpretations were based on scanning all the letters not just from right to left, but from bottom to top. the reason that my neck was hurting [aside from the fact that i have arthritis in three of my cervical vertebrae] was because i had been unconsciously tilting my head so that i could "get a better look".

i've no idea why this happened, but the programming is proving fiendishly difficult to reverse. i have to focus so intently on the letters that i don't even hear what they're supposed to sound like. i tested my reading of arabic, to see if it was something that it was limited to hebrew only, and i found that, without the reassurance of hebrew's blocky letters, i fared even worse. in arabic, i couldn't tell what was making what sound, and became so frustrated within minutes that i couldn't bear to continue.

for the moment, i'm placing semitic languages to the side, because neither my brain nor my neck can handle the stress. but i am interested in finding out why my brain might be making my effort to learn something new even more difficult than it would otherwise be. more to come, assuming that i can find some sort of theory. 

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