I want to write a little bit about each language that I’m currently studying. This was influenced by a forum I recently became active in. It’s called UniLang. It’s a site and forum for language learners. Many of the forum regulars are those who have a desire to learn multiple languages. There are also sections of the site where you can find learning resources for different languages.
I came across a thread in the forum called Languages Learner Level. I was going to post in that thread a detailed description of each language I’m learning – the level I’m at and a blurb about my learning thus far. But I decided to post it here instead; at least the blurb about each language! Here goes:
English – Alas I’m still fluently unilingual, which is a source of great shame for me :D.
Somewhere Between Elementary and Intermediate
French – I started re-learning French 2-3 years ago, but because of recurring health problems I’ve had a hard time with consistency. So in some ways I’ve done a lot of starting and stopping. I would say that in some areas, such as reading, I’m at an A2 or B1 level, but then in other areas, such as vocabulary, I’m still at an A1 level. Overall I’m probably about an A1/A2 level.
Chugging Along the Beginner Train
Portuguese – There’s nothing like going to a country to provide a great kick-start to learning a language! I went to Brazil for the month of December and by the end of it was able to do some basic verb conjugation, carry on about 1/16th of a conversation, and was pretty good with Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation (at least using the São Paulo accent). But coming back home has in some ways made things more difficult; I’m forgetting some of my vocabulary, and more so I’m struggling with pronunciation since different online and offline resources use different Brazilian accents or mix and match accents.
Spanish – I started learning Spanish around the same time I restarted French. However I listened to conventional wisdom and decided to focus solely on French. That caused my Spanish level to drop. Eventually I decided to focus on it, simultaneously with French. And things were going good. I seemed to have a knack for Spanish and my pronunciation was quite good (this according to native speakers). But then my trip to Brazil changed that. While in Brazil, early on, I realized that I was struggling with Portuguese because of my Spanish. So I forced my brain to forget a lot of its Spanish. To start erasing the Spanish mode it had created. And since then, even though I’ve started learning Spanish again, it’s been hard going. My brain now has a more developed Portuguese mode. I think my biggest struggle is that every time I learn something in Spanish, my brain compares it to Portuguese. And it’s not possible to properly learn one language if it’s only viewed as a comparison or contrast to another language!
More or Less Just Beginning My Journey
German – I started learning German sometime within the past couple of years. Again, due to listening to conventional wisdom and recurring health problems, I stopped it. Several months ago I decided to start German again. Currently I’m not focusing on German as much as French, Portuguese, and Spanish. But I am still learning it, little by little.
Japanese – I don’t remember what sparked my interest in Japanese. I think it might have been Japanese anime. (On a side note, I think most Westerners who start Japanese start because of anime/manga!) If you don’t know what anime or manga are, they are Japanese cartoons and Japanese comic books, respectively. The words anime and manga are taken from Japanese, and in English are used to refer specifically to Japanese cartoons and comic books, in contrast to other types of cartoons or comic books. My learning of Japanese has been slow going. I’m mainly using language exchanges to learn new words. I’m also still stuck at learning Hiragana – one of the three writing systems used by Japanese.
Tamil – And then there’s Tamil. I’ve been learning Tamil for the past 10+ years, on and off. Well much more off than on! Because, for all the years of learning, I’m still a beginner. Somewhere in between my level in German/Japanese and my level in Portuguese/Spanish. It’s actually a sore point for me. I wish that I had kept up my Tamil learning, because I could definitely have been fluent by now. I think part of the reason I have struggled so much with Tamil is that my background is Sri Lankan, and so I naturally want to learn Sri Lankan Tamil. The other flavour of Tamil – Indian Tamil – is more common. But it is also fairly different than Sri Lankan Tamil. The pronunciation is quite different, especially colloquially. That is to be expected. But the vocabulary is also fairly different. And I think some of the grammar as well. However most resources for learning Tamil teach Indian Tamil. This is because, from a native speaker population point of view, there are way more Indian Tamil speakers than Sri Lankan Tamil speakers. Now because my parents and aunts and uncles speak SL Tamil, I suppose I could have just learned from them. But not all native speakers are good at teaching their language! Anyway, I still am working on deciding how to proceed with Tamil. Whether I should use the various online and offline Tamil resources and learn Indian Tamil. Or continue to try and learn from my family SL Tamil, albeit at perhaps a much slower pace.
So there you have it – a brief description of each of the languages I’m learning. To be honest, I’m learning from those at UniLang that it’s possible to study multiple languages at once, especially when it’s just for fun. Actually, to clarify, I’m really learning that if I’m someone who can study multiple languages at once – and I am – there’s nothing wrong with doing so, especially when it’s just for fun. Which means I may restart some of the other languages I have started and stopped over the past 2-3 years of developing my language interest. They include Swedish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Korean, Hindi, and Arabic. Though to be honest, if I commence on any more languages at this point, I would probably commence on Swedish, and perhaps Korean and Mandarin Chinese. I think Russian, Hindi, and Arabic require a concerted focus initially because they require learning completely new scripts. While this is true of Korean as well, I’ve already exposed myself to the Korean script/alphabet. And Mandarin Chinese doesn’t require a new alphabet since it doesn’t use an alphabet! (It’s true I will have to learn thousands of Chinese characters, but that’s easy in one sense since you can learn one character at a time.)