Since I want to utilize this blog more, and update it regularly, I think it’s time I write about my own multilingual journey over the past few months, as well as the languages I’m studying. (I initially wanted to write this as one post, but then decided to split it into two posts, due to the amount of content. This first part is quite lengthy, so be forewarned.)
Currently I’m studying 20 languages. Which languages? If you recall from My languages, I was, earlier in the year, learning French, Spanish, Portuguese, Tamil, German, and Japanese. I am still learning these six. I have added to them Korean, Norwegian, Filipino (Tagalog), Indonesian, Swedish, Italian, Hindi, Polish, Hungarian, Turkish, and Mandarin Chinese.
“But wait,” you say, “that is only 17 languages. What about the remaining three?” I am also attempting to study three ancient, or dead, languages. They are Latin, Gothic, and Hittite. I say attempting because studying an ancient language is a bit like learning trivia facts. There are no consistent opportunities to utilize and practice what you have learned. This is my first attempt at studying ancient languages in the recent past. (My actual first attempt was Koine Greek in university almost 10 years ago. But since my university days are a chapter I don’t want to open, I’m not counting that attempt.) Therefore it is very slow-going. A current, or living, language lends itself much easier to consistent learning.
Now, 20 may seem like a lot, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it is not. I juggle so many languages by learning a little bit of each language, here and there. I’ve found that the language parts of the brain – Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area – can be exercised, and thus will grow in ability, like any muscle. I think the key with all exercising is to go slow when attempting a bigger, or harder, “load”.
Several years ago, when I listened to conventional wisdom and focused on one language – French – I suppose my brain had to get used to acquiring and using a new language. I admit that for quite a while I thought of new French vocabulary as translations of English vocabulary (albeit with French grammar attached in terms of verb conjugation and basic sentence order). I eventually had to abandon that approach, and retrain my brain to think of French in its own right.
This year I started studying several languages simultaneously. Actually I had attempted this over the past several years, as I’ve mentioned before. However, I never persevered. I would always go back to focusing solely on French. In hindsight, perhaps these attempts stretched my brain, making it ready to one day take on several languages in parallel.
I started with four – French, Tamil, Spanish, and Portuguese. Why? Because, apart from French, my attempts in the past few years to study several languages had involved mostly Tamil and Spanish. And of course, since I had just returned from Brazil, I wanted to continue Portuguese.
I then went up to six languages, which was when I wrote the My languages post. Soon afterward, I added another two languages – Norwegian and Filipino (or Tagalog). I don’t recall what led me to add these two particular languages, but for about one to two months I was juggling all eight languages.
During this time I became more involved with an online language community called UniLang. I know I have mentioned this site before, but I do not recall what I have written so let me start from the beginning. An online friend (a fellow language enthusiast) referred me to UniLang, which is known as UL for short. She referred me to UL last year, in the summer of 2013. I signed up to the site, but never used it. It was only this year, in February of 2014, that I started using UL. Now, UL is a community of language enthusiasts. Most know several languages and/or are studying several languages. Some of the members are linguists by education, whilst others are amateur linguists, and yet others have no interest in linguistics but only in languages.
So it was only natural that I started meeting other like-minded individuals whose interest and motivation motivated me. I was not only motivated to keep pursuing the languages I was studying, but to pursue my overall passion and interest in languages (and linguistics, though the interest is of a lesser extent). Meeting others with a passion for studying languages normalized my passion. It was through this site that I realized that I don’t need to follow conventional wisdom when my heart isn’t geared that way!
But how did I go from 4-cum-6-cum-8 languages to 20? The answer, as well as what I have learned about studying languages in general, will be continued in the next post.