My new challenge: 6 languages in 4 years.
Languages has always been a weak spot for me – high school Spanish was tough, and going to classes in Hebrew was no picnic – but with the advent of technology there are really no excuses; anyone can learn almost anything. So I’m making the leap! By October 2020 I want to speak 6 new languages fluently: Italian, German, Greek, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic.
I say October 2020 because I started casually learning Italian in October 2016. Italian is a Romantic language, so a lot of its grammatical structure and vocabulary is similar to English. The alphabet is the same, and learning Spanish (however badly) gave me a good infrastructure. Italian also helped me figure out whether I was in over my head with this whole language thing. (So far I think I’m okay. Keeping my fingers crossed!)
I’m still in the process of learning Italian and I started German a few weeks ago. Both languages have actually given me a better grasp on English. Italian grammar reflects that of English, and the German vocabulary seems similar. I love lexicology, so now I get to see what specific contributions each language gave English.
I think these 6 are diverse and fun! They all have distinct structures and vocabularies. Hopefully after these , other languages will be (relatively) simple.
After six months, I can piece together a conversation if I analyze each word separately. I still can’t understand full sentences unless they’re spoken artificially slowly. There aren’t many Italians in Israel, so it’s difficult to practice, but I started listening to podcasts and that helps a lot.
Every time I meet Italian speakers, my brain feels fried and I think I’ll never learn! But after a few hours I have a mindswitch and I can piece together a basic conversation. Each time this happens anew, maybe because it’s so long between conversations.
Learning German was always my dream. It’s sometimes considered graceless, and in Israel especially it’s distastefully associated with recent Jewish history . But, like German literature, the German language is raw and forceful. I’m struggling a little with the pronunciation, which is rich, complex, and unfamiliar, and with the grammar, which is confusing.
I’m most nervous about Chinese, which is totally unrelated to the Western languages and possesses intimidating written characters. But I’m charmed by its tonality (I guess because I’m a musician and from a family of musicians.)
Arabic is powerful. You feel it in your gut almost more than you hear it in your ear. It’s an intriguing challenge for native English speakers, since English is a soft language without much intonation. Spoken Arabic resembles Hebrew, but written Arabic is a bigger challenge. I also think it’s important that Israelis make an effort to learn Arabic because it sends a powerful message about trying to understand and connect. Language contains more significance than the technical ability to communicate.
My grandparents are from Yemen, and Arabic is their native language. Here’s hoping Arabic will connect me to their fading background…
I chose Russian because of its importance, its predominance, and its richness.
Greek isn’t a practical language, and I can’t exactly catch its tonality. I like that, because I think random elements are a conduit for serendipity. It’ll be fun, and interesting to see the connection to English words.
This is how I define fluency:
- The ability to converse easily, excluding very complex thoughts.
- Decent grammar (not perfect).
- The ability to understand a newspaper.
- The ability to express at least quotidian thoughts in writing.
I liked my approach with Italian, so unless I notice that something isn’t working, I’ll stick with it:
- Starting with Duolingo.
- Finding people who speak the language to practice with.
- Listening to podcasts in that language. (I use app ‘Podcast Addict’.) I try to listen carefully and detect words I know and understand the sentences if possible.
- Vocabulary Trainer to boost your word bank. (This app even plays words while you sleep, though I’m not sure how effective that is.)
Wish me luck everyone!
Read my first update here: