A few days ago, a colleague and I were laughing about how we used to think we were good at learning languages. That was before we started to learn languages here, though. It was true for Spanish and French! But, they’re not tone languages like the ones here. And, even though we say in linguistics that no language is any more difficult to learn than another, that’s just not true.
See, when I pronounce things wrong in French, people can still usually understand what I’m saying. But, when I get the pronunciation wrong in mmm-BELLY-may, I’m saying a totally different word. The only difference between the word for stranger and broom is how high or low my voice is when I say it-that’s tone. When I first got here I wondered why people talked about brooms all the time when I was around. Really!