Foreign Languages

In the recent hullabaloo over all the awards I’ve received, commentators and interviewers have marveled over the fact that I have spoken and worked in seven languages. Their wonder reflects the ignorance and arrogance of us Americans. We are the most powerful nation in the world and expect all others to speak out language. We consider the study of a foreign language extremely challenging and admire those willing to take on such a difficult task.

As a child, I was unaware of the American bias and taught myself French and Italian. I had already learned, due to negligent parents, to be self-reliant: if I wanted something, I had to get it myself—no one was going to do it for me. Foreign languages fascinated me. So I set out to learn the two that I found most beautiful.

It turns out that I have an inborn talent for languages. And I thoroughly enjoy them. That I find learning a language fun puts me at odds with most Americans but very much in sync with the rest of the world’s citizens. In almost every other country in the world, people speak multiple languages, and learning new languages is standard for everybody.

So here I am, now an old man, with a history of having spoken French, Italian, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Latin—the latter of which I learned to read, not speak. Far and away the most intriguing were the two Asian languages, Vietnamese and Chinese (Mandarin). They both showed me an entirely different way of thinking about language. They both lack anything like western grammar—they have no parts of speech, declensions, or conjugations. Meaning is dependent on word order and context.

More next time.

2 thoughts on “Foreign Languages”

  1. I am the opposite of you. I have tried to learn both French and German but failed miserably. OTOH, over the years I was fluent in about seven computer languages.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Dale. I suspect that our successes and failures tell you more about us than it does about the disciplines. My guess is that the computer languages require aptitude in mathematics which learning foreign languages doesn’t. While I’m good at languages and artistic endeavors (e.g., writing fiction), I’m a hopeless loss at math. Always have been. My guess is that you’re top notch at numbers. Does that make sense?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: