All I Ever Wanted to Know – Language

When I was a kid, about age 12 or so, my lifetime goal was to be a polyglot.

I checked out books from my Junior High library on how to learn Russian. I remember writing “DOM TAM” and “BOT TIM” in Cyrillic cursive, painstakingly, in my notebook. (For the record, the sentences mean “The house is there” and “Here is Tim” respectively.)

In High School, I took French. Loved it. I still remember bits of a drinking song our teacher taught us – for the French Club.

In college, when I was at Mills in Oakland, I wanted to continue with the French, but to also take German. My college advisor wouldn’t sign off my schedule to take two languages at once.

I’m still irritated with her to this day. Who says you can’t learn two languages at the same time (over the course of a semester)? I challenge that presumption, even now.

But eventually I took a semester of German, and then a semester of UC Berkeley Russian.

Later, when I enlisted in the military, I took a language aptitude test called the D-LAB. The D-LAB is a test where they start by giving you a “made up” language. Bit by bit. You try to figure it out as you move through the test. It was fun. Kind of like learning pig latin. (Ig-pay Atin-lay for your reference!)

At the end of the test I got in the elevator with two other people. The other young woman in the elevator looked as happy as I felt. The guy in the elevator looked glum. After enthusing for a moment about the test, the woman said something to me in the new “language”. I was able to respond in the same language.

In the service I was trained to speak Russian. Many of my friends were studting Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Vietnamese, and Korean. I had a roommate who was studying Spanish (Cuban), and a roommate later who studied Hebrew. It was a veritable smorgasbord of languages on the barracks floor.

Photo by on

I’m still a language enthusiast, having taken classes here and there during my adult life. I still speak Russian, pretty much daily. I still have a lifetime goal of becoming a polyglot. I’m a lot closer to that goal now than ever.

The last year has been challenging. But what has been really exciting has been the opportunity to study tons of different languages using the Duolingo App. (I know, another App!) The App is free, with the option for a paid subscription.

They keep improving the App. Adding various exercises, fun dialogues, speaking, and tips. And I have been working on a variety of languages this last year. French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, some Arabic. It’s fun. I’d rather be doing that then scrolling through some nameless toxic social media. And, bit by bit, the languages are sticking.

My stats for 2020

I wonder how far I can get in the coming year with this. And where I’ll be able to use the stuff I’ve learned. Maybe I need to work a little more on Italian, so I can check out the Compagnano di Roma, where many of my maternal ancestors used to live (and some relatives live there even now). Or perhaps I’ll touch up my German for a trip to see the Rhine. And there’s always Spanish. In California, it comes in handy. Especially in the Napa Valley and on the state border with Mexico.

At the very least, I will keep my French fresh, and invigorate my Russian.

Languages are cool. I still geek out when I learn something new. Obviously these languages are far more practical than the D-LAB. But the excitement continues.

Do you speak any other languages besides English? (I assume you speak English, because you got this far in the blog!)

Meanwhile, off to get my daily language practice. And dream of using the language in a real-life scenario. The world is my oyster. Language will crack it open to get to the prize inside.

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