Back to school in a virtual classroom
By Ryan Taylor
For the Capital Press
This year, as we packed up the backpacks and sharpened the pencils for our kids to go back to school, I went back to school, too.
I didn’t have to board the yellow school bus with our youngsters in the morning, or even drive to a college campus, I just had to make sure the Internet was working and remember my username and password to log in to my virtual classroom.
What subject could be so necessary that a fella who finished his college degrees 21 years ago would be driven to humble himself by re-entering the college student population? It’s a language. It’s my effort to break out of the ranks of monolingual world speakers and become, at the least, partially bilingual.
Now, there are a lot of languages to choose from when going back to college to take a foreign language course. I could have chosen the language of romance, French. Or Spanish, the loving tongue as they say, an important and popular language here in the western hemisphere. Or to get away from the romance languages of Europe, I could have looked to the Slavic “manly languages” like Russian or Bulgarian to toughen up my lingo.
I could have attempted to learn the most widely spoken language in the world, by sheer numbers, Mandarin Chinese. Or Hindustani, spoken in the world’s second most populated country, India. Or I could have gone old school and picked Arabic, one of our planet’s ancient languages.
Nope, none of those dialects were deemed worthy of my valuable learning time. Instead, I chose to study Norwegian, which is the language of, well, Norway. It’s a language spoken fluently by at least seven-hundredths of a percent of the world population, but they’re a darned important 4.9 million people because they’re my relatives in the home country where three-fourths of my blood originated.
Norwegian was the first language of my mother when she grew up in the Norwegian immigrant home of her parents, whose roots were in Hallingdal and Gudbrandsdal, Norway. It’s my heritage and I yearn to touch it by speaking the words that my grandparents and great grandparents spoke. To heck with the practical value of it all.
I reckon it’s the same yearning that a young person growing up on the lands of the Standing Rock tribe might have to learn Lakota. We just need the schools and the language’s fluent speakers to learn the words of our ancestors. My classroom is a computer screen linked to the campus of the Universitetet i Nord Dakota.
No tapes this time
I suppose I could have bought a set of tapes like I did when I was going to learn Spanish 15 years ago. They’re still in near mint condition if you’d like to borrow them. I guess that’s why I chose to pay tuition to be in an actual class. I needed deadlines and expectations and encouragement. Otherwise, it’s another set of tapes gathering the dust of good intentions.
So I’m laying it on the line to snakke norsk lik mora mi, morfar min og bestemora mi (speak Norwegian like my mother and grandparents). I’m putting in time to get up early and study before the kids are awake, investing treasure to pay for the books and tuition, and risking reputation to earn a respectable grade hopefully.
And I’ll have to swallow my pride and face up to my waning years when the university sends me the emails targeted to “non-traditional students,” which means several things but, to me, it means I’m now the “old guy” in class over analyzing test questions and fretting over the homework.
Make that the old Norwegian guy. En Nordmann olding (I think). Ha det bra!