Which languages do you speak?

I’ve been wondering about foreign languages and how speaking them impacts your native language.  For now, if you have a minute, I would love if you could answer this survey:

  1. What is your native language?
  2. Which foreign languages do you speak?  How well do you speak them?
  3. How did you learn your foreign languages?
  4. How often do you use your foreign language skills today?

Here are my answers:

  1. English is my only native language.
  2. I speak French, Italian and very bad Spanish.  Last time I was tested in French, I was rated “advanced high” by my professor.  Nowadays, I speak Italian conversationally at best, though I’m best in restaurants.  My Spanish is terrible and pretty much restricted to reading only.  Also, after receiving a Brazilian assignment at work last year, I learned that I can read Portuguese.
  3. Though my dad’s family is proudly French Canadian, I learned French from studying it in high school and college.  I also did a two-week homestay in Normandy in high school and I’ve been to France several times.  I didn’t speak a word of Italian when I arrived in Florence for my semester abroad, but I learned quite a bit after four months there.  I taught myself Spanish I over a summer and took one year of Spanish II in high school.
  4. At work, I’m the designated French speaker, so I get to speak French pretty often.  I use Italian at work occasionally, and Spanish rarely.  Besides conversing in basic Spanish with the guys at Anna’s Taqueria, I don’t use any of my languages outside of work (though my sister and I speak quite a bit of “franglais” to each other).

I’m glad that the state of Massachusetts and areas throughout the U.S. place such a high emphasis on foreign languages, even though English is the language of business these days.  It can make a big difference when it comes to your grammar.

Learning a foreign language strengthens one’s knowledge of his or her native language.  Suddenly, words are organized.  Everything is a reason.  Am, is and are mean the same thing — and boy, is our language confusing!

I’ve always loved books and writing, but my love of language didn’t come along until later.  I think it was the act of learning foreign languages and falling in love with them that taught me to love language itself.

Do you agree?

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13 responses to “Which languages do you speak?

  1. “Strengthens” doesn’t need an apostrophe does it?

    Anyways, English is my native language.

    I speak a little Spanish and very little French. I took them both throughout high school and spent a month in Spain. I also took some Spanish in college, but was a little intimidated by the people in the class who had spoken Spanish all their lives. I could speak decently back then, but I’m not so good these days due to lack of use.

    I hardly ever speak Spanish these days, wish I did.

    I think it’s sad that a large portion of the country looks upon foreign languages negatively. It seems in most countries that being bilingual or trilingual is a common thing.

  2. Crazily enough, I speak almost the same languages as you…
    (1.) I speak English Natively, and I am doing a PhD in Medieval French and Italian, and I have taught those two languages, so (2.) I guess I speak them pretty well.
    I studied Spanish in high school, but now if I understand any, it’s just because of the Italian.
    I also read Latin and Old French (if you count it as a separate language) but there’s no one to speak those with.
    (3.) I learned French first at college with the “French in Action” video series and then I lived in France for a year. I learned Italian in Italy, taking some classes, but mostly just by speaking. And then I studied both languages in grad school.
    (4.) I speak Italian pretty frequently because I have Italian friends and French a little less.

    I totally agree that learning foreign languages makes one appreciate his or her own language. Teaching one’s own language to foreigners does so even more! Did you know there is an indirect passive voice in English (I was given a gift), but not in French or Italian? I sure didn’t until I taught English in Italy!

  3. English is my native tongue, but spending two years as a missionary in Spain taught me Spanish, and a true appreciation for my own language. English just didn’t make sense until I had something to compare it to.
    I spent my entire two years in Catalunya, so I picked up a little Catalan. Portuguese is a stretch.
    I work in Spanish language radio now (not on the air – I still have a bit of a gringo accent) and my language skills have improved considerably. I love Mexicans, and I speak more like they do now. My biggest mistake is that I never spoke Spanish at home, so my kids don’t know the language.

  4. Native tongue: English
    Languages: Basic French and Japanese, and can read basic Latin
    How I learnt: French I learnt in high school, my Japanese and Latin are both self taught just because I’m interested in the languages.
    How often: French and latin, very rarely. I have friends in Japan though and often attempt to talk to them in their language (badly, but I’m still learning)

  5. My native language is German, and I grew up in a German dialect. In Germany, a great variety of dialects are still spoken that are quite different from the standard language. It wasn’t until grammar school that a teacher told us the local dialect was “bad” if not evil, so I stopped speaking it (but didn’t lose the ability, of course!).
    I started learning English at the age of 10, three years later I took French, too. After graduation I spent three months at my (crazy) aunt’s in St. Louis, Missouri, and went to a language school there, which was a great experience: English language lessons several hours a day, Monday till Friday. I guess I got “infected” then, at least I couldn’t stop eating peanut butter ‘n jelly sandwiches for years after that. (No, I’m not fat.)

    During my university years I spent a semester abroad in Wales, Great Britain, and after that two months in Cyprus, which you may know was once a British colony.

    Despite the five years of school French, I don’t speak the language well because I’ve never really used it, although France is one of Germany’s neighboring countries! Let’s say, I can just about communicate.

    I my late twenties I started to learn Portuguese because I simply love Brazilian music and I always wanted to understand the lyrics. I would have liked to spend more time studying, but the work load of my job wouldn’t allow that.

    Nowadays I work as an English teacher with adult learners of English from a variety of countries. Unfortunately, the teaching situations are my only opportunities to speak English, and I sometimes wonder if meanwhile I have unconsciously invented some special kind of English that cannot be understood outside of this little eco system called the classroom – think of Darwin’s birds on the Galapagos Isles …

  6. Christina – have you ever read any of Leo Rosten’s books about H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N ? I was just curious if your teaching experiences bear any resemblance to those of the long-suffering Mr. Parkhill…

  7. 1. English
    2. French, can read very well, write OK, and converse OK. Spanish, reading & writing fluent, speaking a bit rusty, but would be fluent once I warmed up.
    3. French learned in school (11 years) as part of the Canadian school system. I think it was only optional for 2-3 of those years. However, I have never used my French in day to day life, so it is rusty. It’s definitely in there, though, and I can read any french on packaging. Spanish learned in university (3 years) and via a 5 month exchange in Mexico during which I became fluent. Also rusty, but comes back quickly, even within a short conversation. Plus, there are still phrases that I say in Spanish in my head first before translating to English!
    4. I use French constantly since all packaging and much signage in Canada is bilingual, so I unconsciously read both most of the time. If a package is turned to the French side, I just read that. But I nearly never use it conversationally. Spanish I use with friends trying to learn Spanish and to listen in on people’s conversations on the subway.

  8. 1. English
    2. Hebrew – fluent
    3. Home and school
    4. Very often since I now live in Israel and work as a translator.
    Although I see how knowing another language can make you appreciate English more, when you live in another country or are constantly using another language, it can totally mess up your English. Every native English speaker I know here complains about it and when I’ve been back in the U.S. people have told me I sound different. You basically start thinking in messed-up syntax or directly translating phrases that just don’t exist in English (like ‘don’t build on it,’ which is the translated Hebrew way of saying ‘don’t count on it,’ or ‘i want or pizza or felafel,’ because Hebrew sticks in an extra ‘or’ at the beginning of the phrase), and often it’s hard to notice because everyone around you is doing it too. It’s an effort to think in one language at a time.

  9. Here goes:

    1. My native tongue is English, and British English at that. Yes, there is a difference, albeit a minor one.

    2. Which foreign languages do you speak? How well do you speak them?

    I speak French, Spanish and a spattering of Italian.

    3. How did you learn your foreign languages?

    I studied French from the age of 11 all the way through to university level. I took summers out to go and work on campsites there and did a couple of 10 day French exchanges when I was a teenager.

    I started Spanish ab initio at university and studied it for 4 years total. During that time I did a study abroad year at university in Granada, Spain, and 3 week immersion course in Santiago de Compostela.

    My Italian basically comes from a combination of French and Spanish knowledge and one decent reference book. My Italian is far from perfect but still probably better than tourist Italian. I just learned the conjugations for some of the most common verbs, most nouns have similar roots to their French/Spanish equivalents, you just need to get a feel for how nouns normally end in Italian. The downside is the fact that certain words occur to me and I have sometimes have trouble deciding whether it is the Spanish, French or Italian version.

    My French and Spanish were once at quite a very advanced level but sadly no more. My written language is now really quite rusty although I can still handle a good level of conversation, and business language, telephone calls etc.

    4. How often do you use your foreign language skills today?

    I am lucky in that I get some opportunity to use languages in my line of work, but it can certainly take a lot of effort to maintain a decent level in a foreign language once you have left the country where it is spoken. My mission for this summer is to join a language group and dig out my old grammar guides!

  10. Zaxxon, I can’t believe I did that! Will change.

    Thanks, everyone, for your input. It’s nice to know that you are as into languages as I am!

    Shoshana, I never thought about that! Learning another language hasn’t affected my English, but when I hopped over to France after a long time in Italy, I started speaking “frataliano” — I would even say “si” instead of “oui,” and it was purely unintentional! It was terrible.

  11. 1. English

    2. French and Italian

    3, 4 & 5. I studied French beginning in grade school and continued through college. I was fluent at the time I stopped using the language regularly about 10 years ago. I am rusty, but it comes back quickly, particularly when I “switch” my thinking to French. I love that I can still do that so easily! Unfortunately I don’t have the opportunity to use French at work and don’t have many French-speaking friends.

    I began studying Italian three weeks ago so I speak very, very little. I was inspired to learn because I love opera and want to understand the lyrics, and because I just fell in love with the language and the accent during a trip to Italy last fall.

    I had to laugh re: your comments on Frataliano, because I am already starting to experience it in my Italian studies. My lessons emphasize conversational practice, and I repeatedly have to catch myself from using a French word when I don’t know the Italian word I would like to use!

  12. Read only: Latin, German, Spanish. Speak: English (native); French, while scared stiff because the French are such snobs. Learned all (except English) in high school & college. Medical English, which I learned on the job. Wish I knew: Gaelic (one or more varieties), Morse code, Romansch, American sign language, Hawaiian pidgin, Finnish.

  13. 1. What is your native language? English

    2. Which foreign languages do you speak? Tsalagi (Cherokee), Spanish, French, Greek, Arabic.

    3. How well do you speak them?

    English, Tsalagi&Spanish=fluent

    French=Enough to have a basic conversation, get directions, and order food.

    Greek&Arabic=Minimal

    4. How did you learn your foreign languages?

    Tsalagi= My Elisi is full blooded Cherokee, and speaks minimal English, so I learned growing up.

    Spanish=11 years of school taught language, and two years of Study Abroad in Spain.

    French=2.5 years of middle school instruction.

    Greek=My mother worked at a Greek restaraunt for 8 years, and I basically spent most of ages 4-12 listening to the Greek. I cannot read or write in Greek.
    My aunt married a man from Morocco when I was nine, and I understand what is being said, but I only have a vocabulary of about 400 words. I can read small words, and cannot write at all.

    4. How often do you use your foreign language skills today?

    I often find myself thinking in a jumbled mix of English, Tsalagi, and Spanish, so it is always interesting trying to listen to me talk if I’m really tired or stressed, so a lot of my friends have half learned Spanish, and a bit of Tsalagi over the years. I also have a habit of saying what I want to say in English, then repeating it back to myself first in Tsalagi, then in Spanish, to keep myself practiced.
    I use my French and Arabic mixed in with English whenever I am with my aunt and uncle, and I use my Greek with a few of my college friends who speak it.

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