This (to the left) is a screenshot of an email I was sending to myself of things to remember to pick up at the store. For some reason, I still, unconsciously, continue to spell “jogurt” with a ‘j’, Czech style. I do the same with ‘jo’ (instead of ‘yo’). And now that I’m learning Deutsch, other words spelled with a ‘j’ in place of ‘y’ are creeping up again, too! My phone does not give me the option of using all 4 of my language keyboards at once. Ach, jo.
They say that once you learn two languages, learning more becomes easier and easier. Thus far, it seems to be true. Or at least, the more languages I START to learn, the easier they get! I speak a fair amount of Spanish – I can get along (and have gotten along) quite well in Spanish speaking countries. It’s the language I’ve spent the most time learning which started with a couple years of high school Spanish and then I’ve continued to learn and use over the past couple decades.
Many, many, many years ago I had started learning Italian when I thought I might move to Italy. I’ve picked it back up a few times here and there, and again recently to prepare for my upcoming vacation to Firenze. I’ve learned French off and on more times than I can possibly count – don’t ask me to hold an entire conversation in French but I could manage simple things. I taught myself through Pimsleur, children’s books, movies, podcasts, etc and a short time taking formal French lessons but I was off to the next language before getting anywhere near mastering French. I learned Portuguese briefly (I still poke at it on DuoLingo, Portuguese is one of my favorite languages though I have little use for it.) I’ve learned survival Turkish phrases, Polish survival phrases, taken a beginner Japanese class (I still know the alphabet in proper Japanese characters!) A couple of lifetimes ago I learned a little Russian – I had even gotten proficient with the alphabet – because I’ve always though Russian was interesting. When I was 21, I briefly dated a Russian coworker whose family was delighted to help me practice my rudimentary language skills. And of course, there’s Czech. When I knew I was moving to Prague, I immediately started teaching myself Czech via Pimsleur language tapes, a “living language” course book and a Czech tutor I found in Philadelphia months before I moved. Once in Prague, I got myself another tutor, took lessons, learned by immersion, and was able to practice with Czech friends, a Czech roommate, and a Czech boyfriend.
I’d say Spanish and Czech are my two fallback languages. Any time I start learning a new language (I briefly went through a Swedish phase, a Danish phase, Dutch phase, return-to-French phase, etc) it’s either Spanish or Czech that slips in. I still curse in Czech and have other little Czech language tics as well as Spanish.
Most recently, I’ve begun studying German in earnest. This is not my first go at German – it is another of the languages I fiddled with at some point. I had even considered studying German in Prague and found myself a teacher but ultimately, decided I should focus on Czech at the time. For some reason, I always found German to be difficult. I thought it was odd that I could pick up so many languages rather easily, except for the ones that were considered part of the same language branch as English. When I decided to tackle German again, for real, I was nervous. But I dove in head first, obsessively practicing and learning every single day through Pimsleur, Memrise, books, and now a private German teacher through my university. I need to fulfill a language requirement at UW which I could easily do by testing right out of Spanish 103 (the highest level needed for credit.) But I wanted a reason to focus on and become proficient in another language. I chose German because… well, I chose German because of Latin, of all things. (I’ve wanted to learn Latin for the last couple of decades and decided to take intensive Latin – and potentially study Latin further – at UW. Latin does not fulfill the language requirement so in asking around, several people suggested I take German. So German it is. Latin is next Summer.)
Surprisingly, German has become easy for me. I can only assume that it’s because I’ve got so many languages in my head at this point. Pronunciation has become more than manageable, the grammar makes perfect sense and every word I see or hear just sticks automatically. By the time I had gotten to my formal German teacher, she said I was already ahead of where the 101 class was and that my pronunciation was very good. When she told me to go home and learn numbers 0 through 20, I went through them once on a language app and had them locked down within twenty minutes. (I keep testing myself – that was weeks ago and I still can easily count far past twenty.) My hope was to be able to communicate well in Berlin but also to be able to test into German 102 when I return. She thinks I’ll be at least testing into 103 by then. *high five*
Over the past couple of months, I’ve begun to really, really love German. I used to think it sounded hysterical but I’ve come to find it quite beautiful to listen to. I’ve gotten so focused on it that I’m already thinking in German (what little I know) and when I wake up in the middle of the night, German words are in my head. I’ve immersed myself as much as I can while in Seattle. I’ve got friends who speak German who send me texts in German and I’ve been starting to re-watch all my old favorite foreign movies from German.
Even when I was younger, even in my teens, I was fascinated with language. People who spoke other languages always seemed so erudite and well traveled and adventurous to me. So I wanted to learn all the languages that I could and hoped to be fluent in at least two others. In the last decade, I’d been content to know a smattering of a million languages but thought I’d never gain fluency beyond Spanish. In the last few months, it feels like that goal is still well within reach. My problem now is once I study German, what’s next…? If I stay focused on German and Europe, Turkish would be a good option. But I’ve also turned my eye (or tongue) towards Asia. It’s so hard to decide… but for now, I have to keep reminding myself to stay focused, no languages but German for the next year!