I recently read a very interesting article about an Opera singer who is on his 4th language (with pretty decent fluency) in as many years. This is something that fascinates me because for as long as I can remember I have been.. well, completely awful at languages. Here’s a quick history:
Age 5 I’m given one of those book and tape sets for learning French. I remember trying my very hardest. Nothing stuck. Granted I probably had a rather small attention span but isn’t it supposed to be easier when you’re young?!
Age 13 I start taking Latin in school, I’m pretty sure it was a choice between this and German, and I wasn’t really that interested in Germany. Romans seemed much more exciting and the words linked with medical terms and scientific language, at least a little, so I thought it might be cool. It was; I actually quite enjoyed it and my translation wasn’t awful, it didn’t require listening or oral exams because who’s going to be speaking Latin nowadays, really? That ended after GCSE and I had gained a decent mark. On the other hand I was in the bottom set for French and passed the oral by the skin of my teeth.
After University I attempted a few Hebrew classes. This was awesome and really interesting because of the culture and the amount of information stored up in the history of the language, very cool. It was flipping difficult but I liked it, but my time in the class was short.
So all in all my history with languages isn’t so great. Can remember a few random bits of French and can probably get the gist of what someone is saying if they speak slowly. I know a little Latin now but again that was a long time ago, and I barely got started with Hebrew so know… the alphabet.. mostly.
The guy who wrote about language in this article though, he has learnt four very quickly. Is it just intelligence? Is it time spent? Is it effort, or a mixture of all three? I don’t know. What I do know is that English, although a lot of people speak it, often as a second language, it is by no means the majority language of the world. For that I’d need to be fluent in Spanish, Chinese and possibly a little German on the side because to be fair their economy is pretty good right about now. Am I willing to try that?
I think I probably am. It scares me quite a bit but Hebrew at least suggested that I could if I pushed myself, and Gabriel Wyner (such an Opera singers name isn’t it!) seems to have a pretty good strategy. I guess with hubby in tow I’d also have someone to practice with and go on trips with to keep motivation up. It’s still pretty scary.
So I think I’m setting myself a 10-year goal. That seems like an awful long time but I know that actually it’ll fly by before I know it. In those 10 years I’d like to know the basics of two languages: Greek and Hebrew, mainly for the Theology in my life, but also because they are just kinda awesome. Alongside that I’d like to be fluent in another 2 and at least be learning a third.
Now to the choices… I do feel quite strongly that Chinese is faaaar too much for me. If I learn Hebrew and Greek I’ll already have 3 new alphabets so i might stop there.. or at least leave them til retirement and spare time (ha! as if I’m going to have spare time!). That also takes out Arabic (bit of a shame), Russian (would’ve been cool but I’m OK with it) and the many languages around Asia (because lets face it there are a huuuge number of them).
One that strikes me is Welsh. Having married into a Welsh family, learning the language would be great to help our kids feel connected to their heritage. It is also one of the few languages that is so close by it still freaks me out when we drive into Wales only to leave me wondering what the road signs are telling me. I swear they do it just to creep out the English.. jokes!
Although I would say French because of it’s proximity to the UK, I think trying again would frustrate me more than anything. I can just about get by in French, and often the people I speak to are kind enough to come half way (not that they should, or are required to – they are just being gracious and I’m thankful for that). Adding to my sad tale of attempting French is possibly not something I want to do again until I’ve become a little more confident in languages as a whole.
Another that sounds quite nice for the culture is Italian. Going on a trip being able to speak in markets in their tongue, being able to order and travel easier with a few more doors opened due to less of a language barrier would be pretty cool. I’m also pretty sure that the husband would love to talk to Italians about Pizza recipes, favourite cheeses and ice cream. I can see that working nicely, very nicely indeed.
And for the last one, I think Spanish might just cinch it. It was close to Modern Greek but a little bit of me thinks I might be able to translate a little of that myself if I knew of its ancient roots. That might be a little naive but a girl can dream! Spanish has one of the largest mother tongue populations in the world and holds sway both sides of the Atlantic. It would be useful and to be fair it helps that 1. people say it’s a pretty easy language to learn, and 2. I do quite like the Mediterranean.
So lets see about this time scale. In 10 years I will be 33 years old. In the next five years I will probably be studying Hebrew and Greek (both Ancient-) anyway so that one is at least practical. I could probably at least start learning Welsh now and there is easily a decent amount of TV and a number of relatives who would be happy for me to test my skills. That should probably be my first. So.. in 5 years I should hope to have most of 3 languages out of the way and be pretty fluent (as much as you can be with Ancient languages). After that I would probably try Spanish, Spain is pretty close to the UK and it is the simplest… apparently. Then Italian.
Putting it like that makes it sound less scary… but you may have to check back with me then. in the meantime, I may start following Gabriel’s rules myself and see how far I get. I’ll let you all know I find it.
How about you? Got any linguistic goals you want to set? Go ooooon! Join me in the English woman’s revolution, let us prove the stereotype wrong, and journey through untol worlds while understanding! Woop!