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Posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

Dave!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.

Categories: News - Politics 2005, Travel 2005Click To It: Permalink


  1. Ben says:

    Ich liebe Deutsch.

    I also want to speak Latin.

  2. Rob says:

    Funny. The Wife and I were just talking last night about taking some language classes. I want Japanese, she wants French. So we settled on German.

  3. Kevin says:

    It is really sad how quickly you can lose language skills without practice. I actually have a BA in Spanish and have practically lost my skills because I have no one to practice it with save for the occasional member of the cleaning crew where I work (I swear I’m not trying to sound like its a stereotype; it just happens to be the truth). I wish I could get back in to it, I just never have time. I can still watch Telemundo and catch about a third of what is being said which is a start, I suppose.

  4. delmer says:

    I have three years of HS French and two or three years of college French.

    About 15 years ago I had the opportunity to try some of my French out on a French gal and was amazed at how much came back to me. She finally stopped me and said, “When you’re going to speak French to me, let me know so I can listen for it.”

    Well, so much for that.

  5. Michelle says:

    I’d been learning French since the Primary 6 (aged 10) and carried it on until I left 5th year at high school (aged 16) – in that last year we were helped by a French classroom assistant. By the end I was really fluent and could carry out a conversation with her and write letters etc in French too. Since I left, it’s almost all gone and can only remember a handful of sentences and phrases! All that hard work too!

  6. melina says:

    the swedish blog and the flash earth link was way fun! thanks!

  7. Patrick says:

    Always nice to spread joy and happiness, Melina 🙂

    As a Swede right in the middle of odd languages, I must say that Danish has got to be one of the ugliest in this world. They speak as if they hav one hell of a big, hot potatoe in the mouth. Makes no sense whatsoever…

    As a half-finn I also have to say Finnish is probably the oddest language on the planet. About 6 million people speak it world-wide and the closest relative is Hungarian (sic!). Why on earth such a small community stuck between Russian and the Scandinavian languages (Swedish, Norwegian and Danish) keep on resisting is beyond me.

  8. maggy says:

    Actually the most popular language on the planet is Mandarin (Chinese). Second is Hindi. English doesn’t comee about until number three.

  9. Dan says:

    Sounds to me like you have a pretty decent ability to learn languages.

    Yes, they do need practice, but even just learning one is good mental exercise. And typically if you become fairly fluent, although you may get rusty from lack of use it will come back if you immerse yourself for a short while.

  10. Jack says:

    speaking and writing 4 languages, I am impressed. Now I am waiting for you to take up Dutch…..

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