How & Why of Languages

Dedication August, 1998

I would like to dedicate this article to my 2nd & 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Eva Perron. She taught us in a one room brick school building built in 1832. When I was there it was the oldest school still in use. I still can remember her reading Mark Twain to us in the muggy afternoons of May in Franklin, Massachusetts in the days of Black and White TV.


   When we think of another language we think of something very different than what we are used to. If we only speak one language we are on emotions automatically linked to the words that describe what we think or how we feel . To become bilingual one eventually will find himself being able to say "I believe" in their second language, ex. (Yo creo in Spanish).

   This will be a bit autobiographical, unlike my other articles. My first experience with something other than English was in the eighth grade when I took a Latin class. I wanted to take a second semester but there was no follow-up class.

   In l976 I bought a Gu Cheng ( a Chinese zither with l6 strings tuned to a C major pentatonic scale) and in having to translate the method book to English with a dictionary I developed the ability to find seven words an hour self taught. One is dealing with characters and radicals which become combined symbols -when the sequence is inverted, which is somewhat rare -that's the one that will take you 45 minutes to find.

   I eventually had so much fun translating that I thought I would translate the "Tao Te Ching" and so went about doing the first few sentences. Five years later I had a guitar student who was studying Mandarin as a part of his own culture. He asked me where I had learned my knowledge of Chinese and I explained my purchase of the instrument and the fascination with translating.

   In l980 I got married to the daughter of a presidential bodyguard to the President of Mexico and learned several hundred words assimilated totally without the aid of a method book in Spanish. My use of tenses was at most times flawed, but I knew when to say "Yo te lo doy , papito" to my young son Byron. It means "I'll give it to you". As I met more and more people that spoke Spanish I eventually understood that they would listen to me from the infinitive and though my incorrect use of a tense was heard I was understood by the overall context of what I was saying, but this was something I didn't know until the '90s when I was l00% fluent in Spanish.

   In l988 I under took learning Spanish for real . I got my toes wetter by acquiring the "Diccionario de Guitarristas Y Guitarreros" by Domingo Prat. It was first published in Argentina in l934 with about l805 copies . I got a hold of a reprint by Matanya Orphee and also now have an autographed first edition. I read it out loud 20 minutes a day, but that still didn't make me fluent. I then turned my attention to Public Broadcasting's "Survival Spanish". It helped a lot with my grammer but I still had to overcome English pronunciation of Spanish words.

   Then I took the step that got me on the road to learning the seven languages I now speak or read. I'll never forget opening my first Spanish method book. It was written by some professor who stated various things such as, oh they only use this conjugation in this part of the world and so forth. Within a year I was aware of how much malarkey some statements were. I practiced out loud all the time (Take heed this is the only way to learn a second language). What are you going to do? Read your French and then go to France and watch people think in that language-believe me I know students at San Jose State University who flunked l out of 4 parts in a French final only because they didn't practice their second language out loud. Why these people get diplomas is still beyond me -the guy with the high school diploma tells the graduating senior how to succeed in something he's struggling with, and is summarily ignored. I advised him over a year and a half before his failure and his reply was "I don' t like to hear myself talk". (No se va a trabajar-that won't work.)

   I practiced my Spanish out loud 5 hrs a day and within few weeks I turned off English in my home-I awoke to Spanish TV. I became accustomed to hearing nothing but Spanish in my home or automobile for the next 5 1/2 years. I probably heard or saw 48 hrs of English programming between l988-93.

   There are probably at least l00 people who are now famous who I have no clue as to what hits they had. They could walk into my store and I wouldn't know if they were in the cast of "Friends" or not . When I lived in Spanish language support for 5 1/2 years I eventually found questionable perspectives over racy advertising during the super bowl in English-(Hey, six year old kids are watching this game). As well, later I didn't know that the Eagles had split up until they got back together again .

   I taped soap operas 1 to 2 hours a day for about 2 1/2 years 5 days a week and music on the weekends . English is not made for singing. Spanish rock n' roll was very attractive in the early days (different sounds over the similar and familiar melodic and chordal structure). English words have just too harsh a sound to be the most musical .

   After a while you try to have your first thought upon waking in your second language -(I did this with my second and my third). A little further on you realize that it only takes a conjugated verb and an infinitive to create a lot of sentences we normally hear. I studied l4 method books in 11 months out loud. I didn't play guitar in my home for many months-I already knew how to do that. I began to understand all the titles of the Flamenco songs that I had acquired in the previous two decades.

   Then in late January l989 I practiced one Sunday from l0:30 am till l2:30 am-l4 hours, and in two years and one day later I appeared on the morning talk show in Spanish on Channel l4 KDTV in San Jose, Ca. from 6 am to 7:30 am the day after the Super bowl in l991.

   I played five songs in between pop videos, the news, and sports. The guitars I used were a l900 Pedro Perez made in Barcelona, a Flamenco by George Peacock from l983 made in San Francisco, and a cutaway requinto by Guadalupe Amezcua Reyes from Paracho. I played a Soleares, an original tremelo transcription of a Luis Miguel hit "La Incondicional", a five finger right hand interpretation of a hit by Yuri "Que te pasa" (Wherein I used my thumb for the bass, my pinky "little finger" for the melody and had three interior fingers-index, middle, and ring to imitate a Vera Cruz harp underneath the melody). I can play Fernando Sor's Study # 17 in E minor as a rumba with the same five finger style-I've got a l000 hours in the little finger since the mid '80s.

   After being interviewed about teaching music in Spanish and facilitating repairs I played "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" . In a subsequent interview we talked about how the l900 Pedro Perez still sounded marvelous and I was complemented on my perfect Spanish-the announcer Raul Colindres told the audience of 20,000 or so "If you need your guitars fixed, call Randy because he speaks perfect Spanish". I then played the Napoleon Coste Etude #22 in A Major during the credits at the close of the show. Months later my neighbors would see me and say "Te vi en el televisor"
(I saw you on TV). I appeared on channel l4 because they saw my advertisement with "se habla espanol" in the Yellow pages or in the weekly entertainment guide Metro.

 I have been teaching musical instruments in Spanish since l989, in fact I was teaching in Spanish during the October l989 earthquake. Five minutes after changing from English the earthquake struck- 2 hrs before I was driving south on the I 80 & Cypress structure that collapsed and also had been driving north on the lower deck at 1 pm- I can remember driving where I no longer can drive. So I went home and taped 5 or 6 hrs of news in Spanish and dealt with my own damage. I've been collecting 78 RPM records for 30 years and I had two metal stands twist and fall with 25 foot thick of discs and lost two dozen- a lot of these are on my G.E. Cassette list.

   If the Gulf War had come 6 months sooner I would have had to tune in to Nightline to keep up with what was going on . My Spanish had come a long ways and therefore I was able to deduce a high percentage of content if not l00% at times. See, news shows in another language are not paced for the person learning that language, but for the person born in that tongue . The last thing you will get good at hearing will be numbers. We don't spend our time building conversational abilities with 2 x 2 or 408-879-9930, we spend it learning "I would like" or "What do you want?" and phrases such as those.

   Part of the learning process is learning numbers but believe me when you hear an address or phone number on radio in your second language at first you can only remember the first couple of digits because the new information is still coming at you . For the first couple of years you will still be translating and rethinking your last conversation "did I say that verb right?" or "did I use the proper plural and gender?"

   I remember when my mom tried learning Spanish she would say "la cocina" yeh that's in the kitchen and I would say "just like 'el perro' is in the dog". My sister Paula who is trilingual (Spanish & Portugese) really howled that day, we must have done the above routine 2 dozen times (What's in the swimming pool?)-I'll bet it's "la alberca".

   I think the last thing I had to do in Spanish to become l00% proficient was to use "to" perfectly as "a, ala, or al". Believe me it means something to you to be that close to perfecting a second language. You will be able to say everything you want to say before you will be able to understand all that is being said to you.

   This article is to inspire the readers to go beyond being monolingual and for those that may take up Spanish as an outgrowth of their love for Flamenco . The soap operas offer a mode to hear the same speaker on a daily basis and the ability to learn vocabulary and sentence structure. Here in North America we have access to Spanish programming and basically what I'm getting at is that the Venezuelan soap operas have the least accent and will be clearer to your ears though we may also have access to wholesome programming from Mexico as well, but the accent will be thicker.There is a rhythm of speech that you will hear in the movies from Mexico City, in fact some citizens in the outlying areas think everybody in Mexico City speaks that way.
No, solomente nosotros del elenco. (No, only us of the cast).

   In l993 I decided to learn French to have full access to my Rene Vanne book in two volumes "Dicionaire Universal de Luthiers", it covers about l4,000 violin makers and maybe l25 guitar makers-with a lot of names and addresses you really don't find elsewhere. So I shut off Spanish TV to take advantage of the International channel and be able to hear French programming, as well as began with my first French method book. Within two months I was responding out loud in French while watching my TV instead of saying something out loud in Spanish as I had become accustomed to be doing for many years. All of a sudden I could understand the titles of a lot of Fernando Sor's music. A little while later I read the biography of Fernando Sor by Brian Jeffery for the second time, but this time I read the French out loud, of which there was a considerable amount. This was beyond being entertained, I was beginning to do research in my third language. I also used the out of print book on the guitar collections of the Paris & Nice Conservatories as a second method of follow-up -no need to be motivated here.

   It was a real surprise to study numbers in French, having already studied mathematics in two languages I didn't expect to find out that seventy was sixty plus ten out loud, or that eighty five was four times twenty plus five. After a while it rolls off your tongue and you don't think about it.

   I found that when shoppers from France came into my store I could communicate with them when we were talking about dates and prices in French faster than in English. Although they were fluent in English they still heard the numbers faster in their native French.


   After about five months I felt the novelty of challenge wear off and so I decided to learn my fourth language. When I started to learn Italian I didn't read the translation for the first six pages----I already had three words for each meaning I was going to learn. The inspirational books that were to be my second and third method books would be dictionaries of Italian Classical Guitarists & Guitar makers. I had the ability to read in about two weeks time more or less; you only have to get a gist of how the verbs work for the six participants only ever involved in doing something, and what the plurals are to be off and running. For those of you who will or already have learned Spanish, if you add French or Italian to your educational belt you will pick up at least a l000 words with just letter and pronunciation changes, not too bad for starters in the environment.

   Not only do I offer in my G.E.Cassette #1 Classical guitar 78's the marvelous playing of Federico Galimberti c. l927 I can also tell you that he used a Luigi Mozzani double sonic chamber Harp guitar. This instrument is also featured on G.E. # l6 Gut String Virtuosos. The basses have a very cavernous sound and his tremelo is sweet and even

   Having seen that it only took two weeks to have access to reading in Italian, I decided to get going on my German. Reading skills and speaking skills are two different things. Speaking skills are more exhaustive of course and one needs an environment be it a class or community in which to practice the fine art of oratory. But reading skills can not be far away from the serious student. Look! A sentence doesn't move but a conversation does not stop. Just like practicing a scale eventually it doesn't need to be thought about because the mind will treat it as a series. Languages are attainable because they are definitive in what is being sought-it means what it means. Also when a multiple of languages is acquired the capacity of the ears becomes fine tuned . Such as the Farsi, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean that I heard in the street earlier today, I probably could enunciate lengthy phrases right off the bat not knowing what I was imitating or saying very well though, just because my tongue is used to several vocabularies-which includes a lot of vocal sounds. When monolingual one only associates a thought with it's word, a thought knows no language, which is why I said at the outset that one is on emotions automatically to the point of not knowing so if not bilingual or more.

   In studying German you find words that we use in English, and incidentally by the time you have learned several languages you will see that every country and language are spelt and refered to differently depending what language you in. Compared to the vocabularies of the Romance languages that I had learned the German words were harsh sounding and a bit tough to get off the tongue at first and the negation of the verbs are at the end. This was my third language in eight months and after a few weeks I became mentally kind of tired and consequently did no where near as much follow-up after my first method book as I did with my French and Italian. For the next month I would not pick up a foreign language book on purpose, but every time I looked at a title in a catalog I understood the title in five languages.

   I mentioned about the ears becoming fine tuned; I had begun to study my German, and a couple of weeks into it I learned a word and in watching a German film I audially recognized a word at random I did not know l0 minutes before. That was a first, I really had not seen anything like that before.


   So I took off a little over a year before advancing forward learning another language, and one weekend my car was in the shop getting a new timing chain and I thought I'm not going anywhere let's go to the bookstore and get a Portuguese method book. I opened up the book in the middle and understood an eight word sentence and thought this must be the right time to begin my Portuguese. I had tried numbers in Spanish with Portuguese clients and was told "Say it in English". Ocho will never be close enough to oito.

   So I spent till way late Saturday night and then all of Sunday working on my Portuguese out loud. Once again there are a l000 words that are only a change of letter or two . I went on Monday to get a magazine from Brazil as a follow up and I found at times I had 85% comprehension third day in my new language, reading medical articles, entertainment and even stories about middle class school age children worried about getting to and from school while having to travel through districts that are poverty and crime ridden. You'll never know what Brazil is like until you can read what they say amongst themselves in their own language . I was expecting it to take two weeks to create reading skills and it took two days to have research access. John Travolta learned his Portuguese in twenty minutes in the film "Phenomenon", but I did it in 15 hrs without the aid of a Hollywood script. I had a guitar student at the time who was learning several Brazilian pieces many weeks in a row, and I made an effort to translate the title of the piece we reviewed and the new song that we started.

   So the whole world is just fifteen hours away from reading capacity of their sixth language-you only have to study five to make it that easy to begin with.

   I have talked to two people whose wives have learned in one case 20 languages and in the other 28 languages. With only two days for the learned it may be something that would be achievable for more than those that are aware. I have a fear that maybe in only two or three generations there maybe few if any multilingual people about. Esperamos que no (Let's hope not).

   When I began teaching guitar twenty years ago I only played guitar and electric bass. The management would ask from time to time if I played banjo, mandolin, autoharp, ukulele-by l987 I was teaching seven instruments a week. I have taught l2 instruments in English and 7 in Spanish of the 26 I have sight read in the last two decades. In l990 I renewed my driver's license in Spanish-I told the gentleman at the DMV that I had "se habla espanol" in the Yellow pages and needed to learn every word in my second language-I passed and learned three words in the bargain.


   This is the first column I've written using a word processor, the others were all done on an electric typewriter. I've become multilingual while watching the computer community become so involved with itself that in most cases people are staying mono-
lingual, except for the bilingual high tech workers that come from all over the globe to Silicon Valley where my shop is. For years people would ask when I was going to get a computer. Maybe I've missed out on l000's of hours on the net, but when I get there I'll be able to extract info in six vocabularies.

   I recently purchased a first edition of "Die Geigen und Lautenmacher" by Willibald Lutgendorf published in l904. Awaiting arrival from the rare book store of this book about violin & guitarmakers I decided to jump start my German which was the weakest of my additional languages. When you study something you already know, it's much easier the following instance. What was what was more automatic this time. But the surprise of all was the numbers-after 20 minutes it was if it was downloaded with great depth. I could count from 1 to 85 on the way home from the shop at the end of the day. I couldn't have done it 48 hours before off the top of my head, but currently have the ability until some other important book needs to be dealt with.

   Readers of this column are aware that til now I've put info on the net derived from three languages, English, Spanish, and French. A little secret about the Villa-Lobos interview. I translated the first 1/2 page right away, and as the dictionary became used more and more I decided to jumpstart my French-although I speak and read l2,000 words of Spanish I don't live in French like I do in the language of my children.

   I spent the next l0 days practicing my first French method book out loud. I started my French 5 years ago and although I have translated lengthy articles and read from time to time I still can lose my sharpness but always rebound with an even greater ability to do so. It was obvious to me if I jump started my French I would be able to acquire a much more natural and smoother translation which would be much more enjoyable and certainly truly more representative of the emotion and character of the great Heitor Villa-Lobos. So l0 days later with some l5-20 hours of practice invested I approached the typewriter to share what I was able to decipher.

   8-12-98 A month ago I got a Mac G-3 and have really done nothing else but discover the world of computers and the internet. I don't know how I could have lived without a computer--after all when you go to the museum in Barcelona you can read Catalan (a great cognative exercise for someone like myself-the word city is cuidad in Spanish, ciutat in Catalan). I hit a Dutch flamenco web site and noticed German words. The German word for with is mit , the Dutch spelling is met, and hitting a Swedish classical guitar web site the next day I saw the spelling is med. Not bad for having a computer just three days-you too can be in this driver's seat. It just depends on what you do after you click file quit. Those that apply themselves may surprise themselves.


   I went and got a Dutch method & tape and quickly found out that it's more difficult than German. German is more say what you see, much like Spanish pronunciation. The Dutch language has soft g's that sound like h's and double ee's that are like long a's. Though one understands the meaning he is slowed down by the necessary pronunciation changes that need to be memorized. I was able to pronounce "Wie is er ann de beurt ?" perfect the first time . It means "Quien es la proxima?" or in English "Who's next?"
Well, I better let you folks go -you don't want to be arrested for loitering, do you?

On May 11, 2004 I began to learn Japanese, here is an update from my home page of July 22, 2004 and an update from August 21-2004.

   In the midst of all this (working on my book "Annotations for the History of the Classical Guitar in Argentina 1822-2000") I started learning my 7th language, 10 weeks ago. I was inspired to learn Japanese by initially being enthralled by the beautiful voices of the two best female ballad singers from Japan. They are Mika Nakashima and Chihiro Onitsuka. All Americans have heard the voice of Chihiro Onitsuka, because in 2001 Applied Materials used her vocal as a soundtrack for the 30 second TV commercial.

   Curious? Check out Mika's "Yuki no Hana" and Chihiro's "Infection", those songs will knock anyone out that loves big voices. There are mp3s on the net, before you buy the CDs.. I listened to Chihiro's "Infection" 50 times in 3 days while working on the book. It's the only song I've ever heard where the vocalist might elevate 30 decibels in the song.

   Checkout Fuji TV's "Pop-Japan TV" 9:00-9:15pm (with English subtitles) and "Hey, Hey, Hey" on Sunday 11:10-12;00pm both on KTSF Channel 26 (Cable 8 in San Jose, CA.) in the San Francisco Bay Area. These artists and many others appear weekly.

   If you speak Spanish or Italian, you will have an advantage in being able to learn Japanese easier. All the syllables in those languages are resequenced into Japanese. When I started listening to the pop music shows mentioned above in February of 2003, nothing sounded like gibberish. The more languages one learns, the faster ones ears can hear.

8-21-04 Japanese language update: On Wednesday August 18, 2004 I began to learn how to read the Hiragana (phonetic spelling of Japanese syllables that are combined to make words), Katakana (phonetic spelling of foreign words) and Kanji. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, I hand wrote my new words for two hours a day while speaking them out loud. Writing will help with the identification and memorization of the syllables. After a couple days of this I thought, "you've written Tanaka-san (Mr. Tanaka) and desu (a form of "is") and arigato gozaimasu (thank you) a dozen times each, let's just read." I was off and running, on my 3rd day I even found typographical errors in a very good method book. Go is Ko with a couple of extra small slashes in the upper right hand corner. They say if a book has no errors, it's an accident.

   My advice to someone thinking of learning this language is:

   Spend 3 months working on conversational Japanese reading the Romaji (English letter equivalents of the Japanese words). This is important because there are "voiceless vowels" (i's and u's) that you won't speak out loud. This way when you start to learn the Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, you won't be struggling with pronunciation and reading and what vowels to leave off the tip of your tongue. Even when you practice reading the Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji you will have to combine syllables and leave out those vowels that only show up in print.

Best of luck!

9-22-04 Japanese language update: After a month of working to learn all 216 Hiragana and Katakana symbols I have succeeded. In the last week it was just write them all out from memory, which takes about 25 minutes. I had a great experience last Saturday. Rico Stover dropped in, and I was able to show him a book that's been on the market for over 20 years. I picked up the Music for Guitar-Agustin Barrios transcribed by Jesus Benites Reyes and published by Zen-on in Japan. I pointed to the title written in Katakana: Ba-ri-o-su Ma-n-go-re Gi-ta. I opened up the book to the back inside page and said look at the titles of 4 volumes in this series: Waltz is Wa-ru-tsu and said "Hey did you know Sila Godoy had a tape available?" It says here at the bottom of the page: Si-ra Go-do-i, Ra-i-bu tee-pu. (Sila Godoy Live Tape). In Rico Stover's book Six Silver Moonbeams-The Art and Times of Agustin Barrios, there is a photo of his colleague Sila Godoy. Sila has been a long time Barrios researcher and due to the possession of many Barrios manuscripts he was able to publish pieces such as "Danza Paraguaya" in the mid 1950's. The cover images of these publications are included in my book "Annotations for the History of the Classical Guitar in Argentina 1822-2000".

   I started to learn Kanji two days ago. They are the Chinese characters incorporated into the Japanese language.

8 / 1 / 05 If you are in the San Francisco Bay area and would like a qualified Japanese language tutor to study with call Kathleen Takeda at (408) 421-3978 or e mail her at: I have studied with her 1 hour a week since May of 2005. She is a University of California at Berkeley graduate, who lived in Japan for a year as an exchange student.

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