Saturday, April 4, 2009

One month, five languages

The past month was probably the first time in about 20 years when the number of natural languages I used was greater than the number of programming languages I wrote code in. I've never thought of myself as much of a language person, but here I am actively using five different languages! Here's a list of the languages in order of my fluency.

Finnish

FinnishOf course. I was in Finland twice in the past month and every other day or so I spend a lot of time on Skype talking Finnish with Kikka. I read Finnish news every day, and keep in contact with my Finnish friends mostly through various Internet channels.

My main concern with my Finnish is that nowadays I don't do much serious writing in Finnish. Of course I write letters, postcards and email to friends and family, but that's about it. I used to be a fairly good writer (grammatically, etc., not so much artistically), but now I think my skills are rapidly eroding.

English

EnglishEnglish is currently the language I use most actively. I speak it daily at work and elsewhere. I read and write piles of email in English every day. All the code and documentation that I read and write is in English, just like the various tech and world affairs sites and blogs I follow.

Even though I understand English well and can get myself understood with little trouble, I still don't think I'm particularly good with the language. As they say: The universal language of the world is not English; the truly universal language is bad English. The last time I actually studied English was in high school 15 years ago, so I believe I would really benefit from taking some more advanced courses on the finer points of the language.

Swedish

SwedishLearning Swedish is mandatory in Finland, so I spent ten years studying the language at school. Thus I have a reasonably strong theoretical background in the language, but since I very rarely use it anywhere my practical skills aren't that great. Prodded by Kikka to do something about that, I recently bought and started reading Conn Iggulden's book St├Ąppens Krigare (Wolf of the Plains) in Swedish. The first 20 or so pages were a struggle, but then it all came back to me and now I'm going strong at around page 200 and can barely set the book aside.

The funny thing about the Swedish I've learned is that it's not really what they speak in Sweden, but rather a dialect spoken only by a small Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. I have a feeling that I'm going to end up with something similar, just on a larger scale, also for German...

French

FrenchI've never been too enthusiastic about learning languages, so in high school I dropped French (that I had studied for two years earlier) in favor of more math and physics. I did some more French courses at the university to fill up the mandatory language studies, but I've never really mastered the language. However, I have relatives in France and Morocco, so I do have a "live" connection to the language that I've lately tried to keep up through occasional visits.

My latest visit was a few weeks ago when I took the TGV train from Basel for a quick weekend visit to Paris. During the visit I tried to speak as much French as I could, and was able to keep up reasonably well when people around me were speaking French.

German

GermanLast but not least. I started actively learning German when I moved to to Switzerland about half a year ago. First I used an online course, and after finishing it I've now been taking an evening course with a real teacher and a group of seven students. It's hard work, especially since the Swiss German I hear around me every day is quite different from the Standard German I'm learning at the course.

I can increasingly well manage simple shopping and restaurant interactions in German, and I try to read (or at least browse) the local newspapers every day. I've also started using the German Wikipedia as my first source of any non-technical trivia. I go there a few times a week and only switch to the English counterpart when I can't figure out some specific details.

I guess my studies are starting to take effect, as my first germanism already found it's way to a tweet I posted yesterday. Earlier this week I also had my first dream in German! In my dream I continued doing the German exercises that I had been doing when I fell asleep...

What's missing?

All the languages I'm using are (originally) European. I'd really love a chance to brush up my Japanese (I studied it for a while at the university) or learn the basics of Mandarin (and Arabic would be cool too), but I guess that for the next few years I'll be too busy getting up to speed with German to even consider doing something new.

2 comments:

  1. I've studied spanish, swedish and french but don't think I could use any of them for any real purpose now. So I envy you!

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  2. LOL, love the "the truly universal language is bad English" quote!

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