May 20, 2012 | Review Period

Life With a Grammar Soundtrack

Grammar and vocabulary questions, musings, and observations.

Earlier this week I finished Level IV of Pimsleur for both French and German, and now I am almost done with Italian.

I know it may sound mindbogglingly dull to redo so many lessons, but I don’t find that at all. By the time I finish, I will have repeated Levels II to IV for Italian (70 lessons), and also done levels III and IV for German and French (for a total of 80 lessons). It’s been a great way to wake up in the morning, and also to wander around town, do laundry, go grocery shopping, and so on.

I still haven’t done any for Spanish. Maybe I’ll try, but probably not. I just don’t think Pimsleur will help me that much with my Spanish.

By the way, if I do Pimsleur lessons right before going into my volunteer shift at the Official NYC Information Center, I find it kind of wakes up my brain for whatever languages I review, and I then tend to do a little better in helping the tourists.

Okay, now some random stuff.

I think this is a cool word in French: ancêtre (ancestor). I like the tre sound at the ends of words in French, and although diacritical marks are a pain to type, I am partial to the circumflex. Another cool word is huitre (oyster). I just like saying it.

A Neighborhood Market: Italian Names Are Everywhere in New York

A Neighborhood Market: Italian Names Are Everywhere in New York

I have been continuing with my Italian Verb Tenses book, by Paola Nanni-Tate. I have done this one before. I love this book, despite the fact that it really is not at all well-edited. Lots of mistakes. But it is fun. And the exercise design is quite good overall. I am actually quite partial to books focusing on verbs. I hope that means I am very action-oriented, but in any case, if I don’t have verbs, I feel totally non-functional.

I am not a person who can take simple present tense and substitute it for all my verb needs.

I just love Italian. I really, really do.

I find this observation funny: “In Italian, exclamation marks are used much more often than in English.” I’m sure I found it funny the last time I read it, too, but I have no recollection of that. I do like enthusiasm, and exclamation points are often enthusiastic. 

I just love Italian! I really, really do!

See what I mean?

Also amusing to me is that a few pages later this same book taught me suonare il giradischi (play the record player). We are talking pretty old-school vocabulary here.

Last week while talking to my father by phone, I found out something that truly amazed me: I learned that he uses vos, not , for informal singular second-person in Spanish. (He was born in Argentina, and his Spanish is Argentinian.) I had no idea he didn’t use . I was pretty amazed that I didn’t know that about my own father! I have heard him speak Spanish many times, and I never noticed.

This kind of thing makes me question my powers of observation.

I am realizing that there are many things I never learned about Spanish and its varieties. In general, when you learn in a class, you are given an impression of greater linguistic homogeneity than often exists in the real world.

Okay, here’s an Italian question: farsi la barba is “to shave” in Italian. But barba is “beard.” What do you say if a woman is shaving her legs? 

I have been listening to Gotye while doing grammar exercises. I find Gotye highly compatible with grammar study. He makes me conjugate faster; I simply race through exercises. There has been other music like that over the past three years as well, that creates a good, hyperactive grammar-exercise rhythm. Usually music is too distracting, but sometimes it is just plain right.

Another Italian question: Nanni-Tate writes, “The present perfect of intransitive verbs—those that do not take a direct object—is formed by combining the present tense of essere and the past participle of the verb.”

Soon after reading that, I came across hai pattinato, “you have skated,” so pattinare is being used with avere, not essere. Then I also saw ho viaggiato (I have traveled) elsewhere. Viaggiare and pattinare are intransitive, so this grammar guideline needs further refining, no?

Back to French: I see that surnom in French is “nickname.” How weird. So although “surname” in English came from French, the words ended up meaning something rather different. A linguistic parting of the ways!

The word “name,” however, is very similar from one language to the next: nome (Italian), nombre (Spanish), Name (German), nom (French)…and of course there is “name,” in English.

Comments (4)

Charles • Posted on Fri, July 20, 2012 - 12:18 am EST

Regarding the amazing diversity of Spanish, you might appreciate this song about just that.

Noelia • Posted on Fri, July 20, 2012 - 5:18 pm EST

Just for the record, in most of South America people name Spanish as “Castellano” as they don’t consider it to be the same as “español”. These countries are the same that include a part of their population to use the “vos” instead of “tú” such as Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

Kat • Posted on Sat, September 29, 2012 - 12:37 pm EST

El Salvador also uses “vos” instead of “tu,” although as far as I know, all the other Central American countries use “tu” for the informal “you.”

Katherine • Posted on Wed, January 30, 2013 - 9:41 am EST

Regarding the present perfect and intransitive vs intransitive verbs, I vaguely remember this from French, and being told that there are certain verbs that appear to be instransitive but don’t follow essere/etre and there is a way to describe them but I don’t remember how.  You definitely say j’ai voyage in French, not je suis. You would probably need a really detailed grammar book to describe something this specific. Wish I remembered exactly!

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