Category Archives: Surveys

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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