Category Archives: Reader Participation

What Languages Do You Know?

This post will mostly be for commenters to comment and let us know what languages they speak, read or write and to what proficiency.

I will start it off by discussing myself:

English: native language.

Spanish: Read, write, speak and hear well, but not as well as English. I don’t really enjoy reading, writing or speaking Spanish, but I can do it, just not as well as I can in English, so it’s not that much fun. But I can hold a conversation in pure Spanish with a Spanish speaker for hours on end with the use of effectively no English at all. It might help if I had a dictionary though.

I started studying Spanish at age 6. We lived in LA, and my Mom said, “I’m putting you in Spanish classes.” I asked, “Why?” My Mom said, “This is the future.” It was only 1963 but the writing was already on the wall. We went to a park and this nice older Spanish guy taught the kids. I’m told that’s why I have such a good accent for a gringo. I later had 2 years in junior high and four more years in high school, followed by another 1 1/2 years at university.

I took a semester at the local community college but the teacher tried to throw me out for knowing too much Spanish. Listening to Spanish radio or watching Spanish TV is a drag and I can’t make out much of it. After studying Spanish for 45 years off and on, I’m still not that fluent. If anything, my history shows how hard it is to learn a foreign language.

Portuguese: I had a Brazilian girlfriend here in the US for a while. I started out speaking Spanish and English to her and she responded in Portuguese, Spanish and English. I bought a Portuguese dictionary the first day and always had it with me. Within a week or two, I was already using a lot of Portuguese when I spoke to her.

Then she dumped me. I still can’t read Portuguese very well, but I can read a bit of it. I can only write it in the sense of throwing in a few words here and there. I can’t really hear it well at all, and I can’t speak it either. I’m still learning Portuguese.

French: I took a semester in college, then I had a French girlfriend in college who was 17 years my senior, so I picked up some words from her too. I’m learning it again lately, but it’s so different from the rest of Romance that it’s hard to figure out. I can sort of read French a bit, but it’s pretty hard. I can’t hear or speak it worth a damn, and I can sort of write a sentence or two in it, but that’s it. I’m still studying French.

Italian: I’ve started learning this language lately as I had an Italian friend. For a long time, I looked at it and looked like Greek despite my other Romance knowledge so I just screw it. After about a week or two of getting into it, things start jelling in this huge way and you can sort of start to make sense of things. I can sort of understand Italian movies partially. I can read it to some extent, but not that much, and worse than Portuguese. I can’t write or speak a word. I’m still learning Italian.

Out of Portuguese, French and Italian, they all suck, but I get Portuguese best, then Italian, but French is just horrible.

The rest of Romance: Once you have as much background in Romance languages as I do, you can understand other Romance languages to some limited extent, sometimes spoken, but more often written. But you can’t really get that much of what’s being communicated; there’s just sort of this general familiarity there. I can figure out Aragonese, Asturian, Galician and Catalan to some extent, but Occitan is harder. Romanian, Romansch and Sardinian are nearly impossible.

Chukchansi Yokuts: A California Indian language, I worked on this language for a while on a government grant. I learned some vocabulary and I can say some of the words that I learned. I can understand those words in isolation spoken back to me. Reading or writing it is impossible and listening to it in sentences is hopeless.

I invented an alphabet for them that kicks ass on the English alphabet, but any good alphabet designed by a competent linguist can do that. If you think it’s easy to invent an alphabet for a language, think again. Many world languages, not written down much have had repeated poor and failed alphabets designed for them.

German: I know some words, and I can say them, but German speakers don’t understand me when I do that, probably because I pronounce them wrong. I can pick up a bit of written down on occasion, but I can’t write a word. I can’t understand a word when it’s spoken.

Dutch: A few isolated words. I can sort make out written text to some extent, sometimes.

Russian: A few words here and there. Can’t read it or hear it at all.

Arabic: I know a bit of vocabulary, but not much. Can’t read it or understand it.

That’s basically it. Learning languages is really a total drag, but I do it because it’s one of the most hardcore forms of mental exercise I can think of.

Feel free to let us know you language history and competence in the comments.


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