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December 8, 2008

The Big Question

Filed under: The Big Question — Francesca @ 9:04 am

Francesca and Plumcake want to know:

What languages do you speak? How did you learn them, and how well do you speak or understand them?


  1. Brazilian portuguese, my mother tongue. English from my american father. French from living in Geneva, Switzerland most of my life. Spanish by reading Neruda’s poetry. Italian because it’s just like in “A Fish named Wanda”. Greek because I wanted a different alphabet. I miss not speaking chinese, russian and arab. Hope I still have time and mind…

    Comment by aliki — December 8, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  2. English, my native language. Japanese in middle school and high school, which has mostly faded from disuse. Spanish from high school and working in a factory full of ladies from Latin America; it’s still very good. Modern Greek from college, because I wanted a challenge; it’s my favorite of my languages. I’m learning German.

    Comment by Mango — December 8, 2008 @ 10:17 am

  3. ‘Merican English, also a native speaker. Spanish in high school, well enough to test out of my college requirements; I can converse somewhat basically but have lost most of my verb tenses other than the present. One night class’s worth of Japanese in high school – I can still count to ten, say please and thank you, and remember an odd phrase or two. Middle English in college, enough to sight-read Chaucer and amuse my friends by reading roadsigns with Middle English pronunciations; can still do that. A teach-yourself-Italian course before our Italian honeymoon; barely enough to get a cabbie or ask for “two of those, please,” and now it’s mostly gone.

    Comment by TeleriB — December 8, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  4. English, my first language. Italian, (not dialect) from living and going to school in sicily as a child for 4 years. Still good, excellent accent but rather childlike vocabulary. French, from living in Brussels all my HS years, with a little Flemish accent. Smatterings of German from 3 yrs study in HS, also smatterings of Spanish from intermittent self study.

    Comment by bookgirl — December 8, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  5. I don’t speak anything fluently, but I took a year of Spanish in high school and remember some of it. I’m especially good with nouns, numbers, colors, and a few other things, but I’m horrible with verb conjugation beyond present-tense.

    I also know bits and pieces of Japanese due to watching a lot of anime. I can’t build a sentence to save my life, but I can introduce myself, ask how someone is, and count to 100 as long as I skip anything involving the number 6.

    Comment by ChloeMireille — December 8, 2008 @ 11:53 am

  6. I have two mother tongues: Hebrew and English and I use them both every day. I’m fluent in both: read, write and can explain math in each of them.

    Comment by Shifra — December 8, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

  7. Czech, because that’s what we speak at home. German, because that’s what I spoke with the other kids on the block (and what I spoke at school later on). Swiss dialect, because that’s what the kids spoke in Switzerland where we moved when I was eight. English, because my parents sent me to the “American Dependents’ School” (aka the school for military brats) for kindergarden, first and second grade. French, because that was the first foreign language you learned in Swiss schools at the time. Polish because I thought it would be fun to study Slavic languages. I’ve forgotten most of my Russian and Serbocroat (and Latin and ancient Greek as well) and never knew more than a few words in Slovenian. I’ve picked up quite a bit of Italian while travelling, though.

    Comment by dinazad — December 8, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  8. Like most here, English is my only fluent language. I took French for most of high school and can still recognize phrases when I read them. In fact, I’ve retained a surprising amount, if I may say so. I am also currently taking ASL (American Sign Language) but I am nowhere close to fluent.

    However, if we are allowed to include silliness, I am fluent in Pig Latin and Ubby Dubby.

    Comment by Olivia — December 8, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

  9. English is my native language. I learned French in high school but promptly forgot most of it, until now becuase I live in Switzerland. I am conversant and can always understand others but have troubling thinking what to say myself. I learned Mandarin in a weekend Summer course in the Annex of a Taiwanese Buddhist temple, but when I got to China everyone just wanted to practice their English on me so now all I can say is “It’s too expensive; I won’t buy it!” and “my building is there, now right, left, here is fine, wait my money is at the bottom of my purse”.

    Comment by Sabayon — December 8, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  10. I’m fluent only in American English, my native tongue. I can hold a functional conversation in French, although I read and listen far better than I write or speak it. I have enough Italian and Spanish to order from menus (I always say I speak “foodie” Italian!) and understand basic directives. And I know enough Japanese to convince people I don’t know Japanese or start a bar fight.

    Comment by TropicalChrome — December 8, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  11. Fluent in English (native language), can get by in Spanish (two years in high school and two years in college) although not as well as I could when I had the opportunity to use it on a daily basis, and am in the process of learning Russian, although I read it much better than I speak it. Also, I lived in Hong Kong for three years as a child and can still say hello and count to ten in Cantonese.

    Comment by Cat — December 8, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

  12. English, native. Majored in English lit and French in college, and lived in France a few times. I’m still fluent, with my slight Canadian French accent- I grew up in New Hampshire and initially learned French from a Quebecois.

    Took a semester of Italian in college, which is enough for conversation on a train but not enough for real fluency. At least I understand what they’re singing at the opera. Based on the French and Italian, I can read Spanish, but can’t speak it or understand it spoken unless it’s quite slow.

    Like many Reform Jews here in the US, I can’t speak Hebrew, but I understand a bit spoken and I can read it thanks to years and years of Hebrew school.

    I know a few phrases in Arabic, from having lived outside Paris among North African immigrants. And I know a tiny bit of Japanese, from watching far too much anime.

    Comment by Mikaiya — December 8, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  13. English is my mothertongue, French is next because I’ve been taking it since I was six, I speak enough German to travel there, a smidgen of Japanese from high school (though largely forgotten), and somehow I can hammer out a few phrases in Spanish (likely from bad movies and knowing French). I can say a few things in Cantonese (having dated Chinese boys) but my pronunciation is bad enough to make a cat laugh.

    I wish I was a fluent polyglot, though.

    Comment by Jelly — December 8, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

  14. English is my native language, and I’m reasonably fluent in French and German (I botch grammar from time to time, but I can read for lit/German Studies classes and write papers of legitemate length). I can babble a few phrases in Spanish and Chinese thanks to friends who needed quizzing, and I have a summer’s worth of Japanese that amounts to basic conversation, counting, colors, etc. I would really love to learn Spanish and Italian at some point…well, I’d like to learn a lot of them at some point, but there is only so much time.

    Comment by crewbie — December 8, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  15. I’m a Russian major, and speak that all but fluently. I’m also working on Persian, with much less success! I speak a sprinkling of Turkish and Spanish, but English is my native language.

    Comment by Sarah — December 8, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

  16. I love languages – I’ve often toyed with going back to school for a linguistics degree. I love wordplay and the different musical tones to language. I wish I spoke every language, but here’s what I’m currently limited to:

    **American English – native tongue

    **British English (or The Queen’s English) – just had to learn a few new definitions myself, but you’d be amazed at the people who speak AE who claim to not understand a word of BE.

    **Spanish – both Castillian and Mexican – I live in Texas, so while my school taught me Castillian Spanish, I have heard Mexican Spanish all my life….but because of how I was taught, a friend in Monterrey says I sound like a Spanish stewardess. :P

    **Esperanto – Because I love languages I was naturally fascinated with the world’s most successful constructed language. Spoken by over 2 million people world wide (with several hundred thousand as Native Speakers!) it is a fantastic way to communicate with people of vastly different cultures. Additionally, because many of the words have latin roots and the grammar rules are explicitly regular, it is really helpful as a ‘base’ from which to learn other romantic languages. I have several penpals via and I love to use Esperanto in my daily life – and yes, I taught myself.

    **French – Because of Esperanto I started teaching myself French as well. Because I don’t have anyone to really practice with, I can read it very well and translate it, but I cannot speak it very well at all. Maybe with time I’ll get braver and go find some French speakers to bother.

    **German – Another language that I can read very well but cannot speak for nothin’. I started teaching myself to read German when I was in elementary school (hooray for the libary) but lately its falling out of use so my vocabulary is slipping. I should get back into it.

    **Latin – Ah, the Catholic upbringing. If nothing else, it introduces you to Latin at a young age. And thanks to Esperanto and my own nerdy self, I know more of it than necessary for my daily life. My engagement ring, has In Aeternum engraved on the outside.

    Comment by De — December 9, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  17. My native language is German; I learned English (7 years) and French (4 years) in school (and Latin – but that was never meant for speaking of course …). I am not really able to speak French (I never liked it), but I understand a lot when reading or hearing French. A little Italian (I took two or three classes just for fun), enough for travelling and chatting a little. A tiny little bit of modern Hebrew, from learning ancient Hebrew for my theology studies and from staying in Israel for a while.

    Comment by Andrea — December 9, 2008 @ 9:52 am

  18. You folks are intimidating! I am only fluent in English, I’m afraid. My French varies back and forth — right now it’s pretty rusty from disuse, but I’m listening to French tapes and trying to get back into it. I took a year of Spanish, but have forgotten most of it other than the useless textbook phrases about libraries and whatnot. I can curse in Italian, Russian, German and Mandarin, however.

    The funny thing is that when I went to France, I had a much easier time getting by than I do when I visit Quebec. The French speak speak more clearly and not as fast, I find.

    Comment by La Petite Acadienne — December 9, 2008 @ 10:49 am

  19. I started studying German in 9th grade. I took it off and on through high school and college, until I realized I only needed one more class in order to get my minor in it.
    When I was student teaching, I got an opportunity to be an au pair in Switzerland, and it was only then that my German really became proficient. It’s been 15 years since then, and sadly I now have to “work” to have a conversation in German. I’d love the opportunity to live there again, if only for a while.

    Comment by Kimmer — December 9, 2008 @ 10:57 am

  20. English is my native tongue. Have spoken french since I was about 4. Tis a bit rusty right now owing to disuse but is not far off fluent. And a little dutch due to the boyfriend but nowhere near enough… Is quite funny really – I am Scottish but when I try and speak Dutch everyone thinks I am French…

    Comment by jenny — December 9, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  21. English is my native language, although my mother, possessing a PhD in Spanish, taught me Spanish at the same time as English when I was little. I’m embarrassed to admit, though, that I’ve lost most of my conversational Spanish over the years because its just not a language I use. Whenever I go to Mexico, I do just fine, but I think they make concessions for my gringa-ness. Every now and then I’ll dream in Spanish…although its usually only in three or four tenses! =(

    Comment by JayKay — December 10, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  22. Greek is my native language. I speak Arabic because my best friend (and i am afraid, also the love of my life) is Lebanese and I truly believe i will never master it. English and German coz it is common in Greece to attend private classes to learn foreign languages. French I studied alone (my worst enemy being Bescherelle -the book of devil- i always find a verd i can conjugate quite well, still, after 10 yrs) and Spanish & Italian for when you have already studied one of the latin languages, the rest are a piece of cake. I also speak Turkish as I have grown up in northern Greece where there is still a significant percentage of turkish-muslim population excluded from the obligatory exchange of populations back in ’22. Arabic and French are my two favourites (apart from the Greek ;) )
    And i hate hate hate it when ppl say to me “ooooh you speak X?????? Say something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” PEOPLE!!!!! :pp

    Comment by Marina — December 11, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

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