Today I made a quick stop at an ATM in DC and noticed a new language on the screen - Hmoob! What's this? I had no idea. I came home, googled it and discovered it's an Asian language spoken by a sect of people scattered in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Americans, we're not known to be linguists, though language study is required in both high school and university. At my high school the only options were French and Spanish. The choice was easy for me because I don't like the French language and don't consider it romantic at all. There's no appeal for me when a man speaks French - to my ears it sounds very pretentious and effeminate. So I studied Spanish in both high school and university, but rarely use it and am not fluent. Language - it's a very touchy subject for some people.
For Americans there's no real incentive to learn another language except for the intellectual pursuit of study, or a unique job in another part of the world. I frequently attend conferences with lawyers from all over the globe and the common language among all of us is English. It's the international language and in this way Americans are very spoiled. I've never denied this, even in my first Russian post where many attacked me for suggesting that English language signs should be displayed in main cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. I don't make the rules of the world, I simply live in it and for business English is the common thread. And tourism, well it's big business and a major source of income for many countries, including America. Notice the Russian language option on the ATM? :)
1. A few years ago I started studying Russian, mainly because I had a crush on a Russian speaking guy. That infatuation quickly passed but I kept studying in anticipation for my Ukraine trip. My friend's father didn't speak English and I was staying in their home during the trip. Personally, I think it's rude to stay in someone's home and not learn basic phrases in their native language. So I learned how to introduce myself, say hello, goodbye, thank you and other common phrases. When I returned from Ukraine, I enrolled in official classes and studied the language for six months. My instructor was great, a beautiful Ukrainian woman and there were about eight students in the class. Here's one of my lessons:
2. In class the first objective was to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Then we started reading Cyrillic words which are very similar to the English equivalent. At the end of each lesson, we wrote sentences putting all the words together. Each lesson built on the other, with repetition of vocabulary.
3. I'm a very visual person, so I have hundreds of flash cards with Russian words that I would flip through at night when sitting on the couch. Continually seeing phrases and words over and over again, it's the only way I could retain the information. Our study book also had an audio component where you could listen to a native speaker pronounce the words.
Everything was fine at first. I learned the Cyrillic alphabet very quickly and had no problem with pronunciation of short words or phrases. But then lessons became more complicated with introduction of gender for nouns (male, female, neuter!!), tenses and longer words. I lost focus because I didn't have enough time to devote to studying, and I was only doing it for fun. Russian plays absolutely no role in my current business life as a lawyer. If I decide to take this blog more seriously and continue writing on a mostly Russian platform, then there will be more incentive for me to focus on mastering the language.
4. I can still say basic phrases in Russian, read it okay, but cannot construct or formulate complex sentences in the language. For me, it's a very difficult language to learn. But anytime I need a good laugh I pick up this book - "Dirty Russian" - given to me by a friend. It teaches you all kinds of useful information. For instance, how to pick up or seduce a man or woman in Russian, how to buy drugs in Russian and how to win a profanity war. Some of the Chapters in the book are "Party Russian," "Angry Russian," "Horny Russian" and "Sporty Russian." When I show it to native speakers they find it very amusing.
I'm always amazed at Europeans and others who speak multiple languages. In some ways, America is too accommodating. Many immigrants working in public restaurants or other service jobs barely speak English. It's totally unacceptable. I'm one of the most immigrant friendly Americans you will ever meet, but if you're working in the service industry you must speak the native language. No exceptions.
My readers - most of you are very intelligent and your command of the English language is exceptional. Sometimes people will apologize for their poor English in comments when in fact it is almost perfect. Never hesitate to communicate with me for fear of bad English. I'll probably understand you fine and, if not, I'll ask for clarification.
What other languages do you speak? And did you find English a difficult language to learn?