Monday, March 30, 2015

365 True Things: 2/Language

These are the languages I'm conversant with, in descending order of fluency:

German : because I attended tenth grade in Bavaria—and 15 is still a good age to acquire a second language
Dutch : because I lived a summer in Holland during graduate school, and English is halfway between German and Dutch—with a lot of Latin thrown in
French : because I've spent quite a bit of time with francophone Belgians
Spanish : because junior high, plus it's all around
Norwegian : because I seem to go to Norway with some frequency
Italian : because I love Italy and the sound of Italian
Russian : because mushrooms and the Soviet Union and a trip in August 1990 that combined the two (and a short-lived Monterey Peninsula College Russian class)
Japanese : because I lived in Japan when I was ten and went back for a three-month honeymoon, not to mention a summer-session fast-track course in Japanese—three quarters in one
Hebrew : because for a semester in college I thought I wanted to become an archeologist and dig up potsherds in the Negev 
Arabic : because if I was going to go to Israel . . .

I can speak German, more or less. The others, through Italian, I can read with varying degrees of ease (or dis-ease). Russian, Japanese, Hebrew, and Arabic are pretty much lost to me now, though I still have some of my old textbooks and dictionaries. Hard to let them go completely.

I also have tiny pocket dictionaries for Finnish and Turkish, and teach yourself Irish, Greek, and Danish books.

I love languages. I love funny alphabets. I love grammar with all its rules. I love verb tenses, aspects, and modalities. I love word order, and how changing it can change meaning. I love beautiful words. I love the different musics of spoken languages. (Most of them. I do not consider Chinese lovely to listen to.)

At the moment, I have five books in other languages on my stack: Flaggermusmannen by Jo Nesbø, or The Bat (Norwegian); Het Diner by Herman Koch, or The Dinner (Dutch); In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts by Eugen Ruge, or In Times of Fading Light (German);  Sulla sponda del fiume Piedra mi sono seduta e ho pianto by Paulo Coelho, or By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (Italian); and El inocente by Michael Connelly, or The Lincoln Lawyer (Spanish). I wouldn't say I'm actively reading any of them at present. Not so as to follow a story, at any rate. But sometimes I'll pick one up—along with a dictionary, and for when I'm really stuck, the English translation—and read a page or two or three. I figure it's good for my brain. It's like solving a puzzle.

And every Wednesday I sit down and do what I call Norwegian language torture with a friend. It's good to share the suffering! And the fun. And slowly by slowly, we agree that we're getting somewhere.


  1. Så jenta leker med ord, ord og språk fra hele verden. Som et spill hun utfordrer hennes sinn. Du er full av moro!