There are 9 languages which I have explored to varying degrees. Read on for more details!
French was a compulsory subject for me in high school and I continued to study until Year 10. I wished I had continued studying it for the HSC but I chose Geography instead, despite better results in French in Year 10. We learnt grammar and a basic vocabulary but I have only occasionally used the language to communicate with native speakers. Recently I found my school French textbooks including a story book about a little boy – Le Petit Nicolas.
When I was on a Europe holiday in 1981, I ordered a “vin blanc” (white wine) from a waiter who appeared not to understand English. A couple of years later my brother and I were travelling in Greece and struck up a conversation with a fellow in a bar on the island of Crete. He was from Catalonia and we worked out our only common language was French. I struggled to recall High School French to communicate with him.
I had been curious about the German language since it was offered at my school but I didn’t take it because I didn’t like the teacher. I decided to enrol in an adult education class at Macquarie University for a term of 8 weeks. We used a text book published by the BBC and I managed to learn some vocabulary and basic expressions. The grammar was rather tricky with masculine and feminine nouns. I love the sound of the German language, partly inspired by German opera and German language movies. Reading German text out loud is not difficult but comprehension is another matter.
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. In Europe I attempted to ask a shopkeeper in Austria about the price of postcards. I asked “Entschuldingen sie bitte – Was kostett diesen postcard?”. I didn’t understand a word of her response, and just handed over sufficient money. I sheepishly replied “Danke shon” (Thank you very much).
At the end 1982 my brother and I travelled to Greece for 5 weeks holiday. I asked a Greek colleague to give me some phrases to use so he wrote down some suggestions. At least I could order coffee with no sugar, greet people (Kalimera means Good Morning), say thank you (Efharisto). My brother and I could read most of the Greek alphabet because we had studied maths. I can still recite the Greek alphabet and recognise the characters, both uppercase and lowercase. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, …… all the way to Omega.
I took a Japanese for Beginners course in the mid 1980s. It was run by the Japan Society in Sydney. In retrospect it was a bad course because it did not teach katakana, hiragana or informal verbs which is common on conversational Japanese. When I first visited Japan I was helpless because I couldnt read any of the characters.
My motivation for learning Japanese? My wife is Japanese. She comes from Kurume in Fukuoka prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Her parents speak a dialect which sounds quite different to Tokyo dialect which is what I learnt. They could understand my simple “pidgin” Japanese, but I struggled to understand their vocabulary.
In 1996 I worked with six Russian software engineers. I wanted to learn some Russian so I asked themn how to say Good Morning, Good Evening, See you tomorrow and Thank You. I do like the sound of Russian but I am told it is very challenging to learn the Grammar.
Some of my favourite Russian names are Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello player) and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya, Dmitri Shostakovich (composer) and Stolichnaya vodka.
Around the year 2000, two of my colleagues were learning Mandarin – a Vietnamese lady who could speak Cantonese and a Scottish fellow. I borrowed a Beginning Mandarin book and photocopies the first few chapters. I would often be greeted by a Chinese man in the morning “Ni hao ma?”. I would reply “Wo hen hao, xie xie, Ni de?”.
Two years ago I helped start up a bilingual Toastmasters club in Chatswood, but my Mandarin vocabulary was still limited. I learnt to say “Huanying!” (Welcome)
Every year at Chinese New Year I would leant to say Happy Chinese New Year – Gong Xi Fa Cai.
In 2001 I started teaching myself Italian from a Beginners Italian book. I used to practice sentences written on palm cards while I was on my weekend walks. My main interest was Italian food and cuisine and it was fun learning some phrases. My employer went broke and I had to find another job in 2002 so I stopped learning Italian.
Two Korean people in my Toastmasters club gave speeches about the Korean language and another Toastmaster, Paul, told me that the Korean script is easy to learn. I set myself the challenge of learning to read and write the script which is called Hangul. I am interested in Korean food I have learnt a few phrases for fun.
Now I would like to learn some Cantonese phrases to talk to Cantonese speaking friends as well as ordering food at Yum Cha!
Saying a few words to someone in their own languag demonstrates an interest in their culture as well as in interest in the person.
Learn how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in a selection of languages used in your community. It is good exercise for the brain and fun.