I love languages, even though I pretty much suck at learning them. I'm incredibly envious of anybody who is able to speak beyond their native tongue. But, as I mentioned once before, it seems as though native English speakers just don't care. They already speak the most popular language on the planet, so why bother to learn something else? Everywhere you go, people speak English anyway, so who cares?
Well I do. And it's not for lack of trying that I'm not multi-lingual...
- German (1979): The first language I studied, because my great-grandmother was German. Unfortunately, though I studied for two years on my own and worked up a nice vocabulary, lack of somebody to practice with eventually caused me to forget just about everything except how to say "I love you" and "I'd like a cheese sandwich please." German is not a very pretty language, but sounds really, really cool if you can speak it with the proper accent. Jennifer Garner in Alias is much hotter when she goes on a mission as a German spy!
- Spanish (1982): I took a year of Spanish in High School, but quickly lost interest when I found out that none of the Spanish-speaking people I knew could understand me. Turns out that there is a big difference between Spanish-Spanish and Mexican-Spanish. Because the language is so prominent where I live, I know several phrases, but nothing extensive enough to actually converse. Spanish, being a "romance language" is quite a lovely tongue... though I prefer the Catalan dialect to other variants.
- Japanese (1990): I became hugely interested in Japanese cartoons (anime) and comic books (manga) in the early 90's, and worked really hard (off and on) to learn a very difficult language. By the time I first started visiting Japan in 1996, I was relatively fluent. I could carry on a basic conversation on most any subject, and had a massive vocabulary (so even though sentence structure was always problematic, the fact that I knew such a huge number of words meant I could always make myself understood). The problem is that Japanese is different. Really different. It's not a language that's easy to keep in your head if you don't use it regularly. Now, I have retained only a fraction of what I once knew. A few hundred common words and very basic conversation is all I can manage. Sad really. Japanese is an utterly fascinating tongue, filled with a nuance and subtlety that no gai-jin (foreigner) will ever master. When spoken by a woman, the language is sexy as hell.
- Portuguese (1996): There was an opportunity for me to spend three weeks in Brazil, so I wanted very much to learn Portuguese for the trip. Unfortunately, I barely got started and learned only the very basics before finding out I had conflicting travel plans that killed my Brazilian holiday.
- Italian (2000): I bought the insanely expensive "full" Pimsleur Course (the Cadillac of language study courses, that is recommended over any other) to prepare for my trip to Rome in December 2000. I worked hard to learn as much as I could over a three month period and went to the Eternal City with quite a bit of confidence that I could carry on a decent conversation. I was only half-right. While Romans could easily understand me... I had a horrible time understanding them in return. Mostly because they speak really fast and smoosh all the words together. Of all the languages I've studied, I think Italian is the one that has "stuck" in my head the most. I guess we'll find out.
- French (2000): The Pimsleur course worked fairly well for me, so I ended up buying the French course for a side-trip to Paris I had coming up. French is not the easiest language for me but, like Italian, it does tend to "stick" a little better than other languages for whatever reason (could be the Pimsleur method?).
- Swedish (2003): Knowing that I would be visiting Stockholm later in the year, my 2003 New Year's resolution was to become fluent enough in Swedish to chat up hot Swedish babes (hey, I can dream, can't I?). Using the "reduced" (i.e., "cheaper") Pimsleur Compact Course, I actually got a hang of the language, and could carry on basic conversation without much problem. Or so I thought. Unfortunately(?) everybody in Stockholm I met spoke flawless English and had no patience to let me clumsily talk Swedish with them. I've all but lost what little I managed to learn now, though there are strange phrases that just won't go away. I'd type a few out but, if you've ever seen Swedish, you know that there are loads of accents, diaereses, rings, and other freaky characters that I'd never get right. When spoken by a native, Swedish is beautiful to listen to... much like a song melody.
I think to truly become fluent and really have the opportunity to remember a new tongue... I'm going to have to move to a foreign country for a year and just immerse myself in nothing but the language I choose for the entire time. Sadly, the odds of this happening are quite small. So while I can always hope to one day become comfortable with something other than English, I may just have to be content in my love of languages rather than my ability to speak them.