on furrinese, and the mastery thereof.

As some of you may know, my mother tongue is German, not English.  I grew up in Germany, and I only started learning English in fifth grade.  Since our part of the country was very close to the Netherlands, I also picked up a fair amount of Dutch.  I’m fluent in English (duh), and German (natively).  I speak Dutch (conversationally.)  I can also get around in Italian and French, at least when it comes to social phrases, asking directions, and doing basic business.  My Mom is a native speaker of Serbo-Croatian, but she never bothered to teach us when we were kids, which is a shame.  (I know a few phrases, but I’m far from proficient in that language.)  I also took a semester of Japanese in college back in Germany, but I’ve retained very little spoken Japanese, and my knowledge of kanji and hiragana/katakana has dwindled to almost zero.

One major difference I’ve noticed about the US is that very few people are even bilingual, much less polyglot, whereas most Europeans are proficient in at least one other language than their native one.  This brings me to my questions for today:

  • Are you fluent or conversationally proficient in another language?  Which one, and where/why did you learn it?
  • Are you planning to learn another language other than the one(s) you know right now?  Which one, and why?

I’d like to learn Spanish (because it’s the second most useful language to know on this continent), improve my French (because it’s handy to know this close to Quebec, and because it’s a beautiful language), and get proficient in Arabic or Farsi.  I love languages, and if I could get one wish from a bottle-dwelling genie, it would be to know all the world’s languages, dialects, and regional accents at native level.

What about you?


65 thoughts on “on furrinese, and the mastery thereof.

  1. SayUncle says:

    Most Americans have little need as most countries’ residents tend to learn English. I’ve never been out of country where the locals did not speak English.

    And I speak Spanish, conversationally.

  2. Bob Jones says:

    One reason I think Europeans speak more languages in general then Americans is due to the close proximity of the various languages. Like you said, you were close to the Netherlands, so you picked up Dutch. People here can go their entire lives never really needed to know another language, even be thousands of miles from a place where another one is spoken natively. As to your questions, I speak French and Spanish in addition to English. Both grandparents were native speakers and taught it to me when I was very young. It got to the point where I could go over to visit and we would never speak a word of English to each other. I would like to learn Arabic next, mostly because I want to visit North Africa someday when I have the funds. Morocco, Egypt and the like, with a few in between and maybe Syria to visit some Crusader castles like the Krak de Chevaliers.

  3. Tom W says:

    My great grandmother was from Stuttgart so I picked up a (very) little from her. In high school a teacher tried for three years to teach me spanish from a book and never spoke it to me, so I retained very little of it. Would have come in handy here in AZ too….

    And right now I am trying to force myself to learn Arabic. Would love to get more proficient in German though as I still have some distant relatives over there and it would make an awesome excuse to go.

  4. Jeff says:

    I’ve been trying to learn French for about 2 years now, it hasn’t been going well. I’d never taken any foreign languages in school and didn’t try to start learning French until I was 28.

    I work for Cirque so I deal with a large number of foreigners on a daily basis, most that I deal with directly are Quebecois. This has actually made learning French a little tougher in one respect because I’ve been using Rosetta stone and they deal with French French instead of Quebecois.

    I really wish I’d taken some language classes when I was a lot younger.

  5. LL says:

    I speak French and English (reading French much better than dragging everything out of my faulty memory at this point). I understand German generally and, like French, I can read it better. Kinda understand Spanish and Korean. Studied Japanese.

    If you grew up bilingual (I lived in Germany and attended German kindergarten, so I spoke mostly German as a child for 2 years of my life), you’ll tend towards languages. *shrug*

    Took the Army entrance exam and the language exam. I wanted to study Russian (this was before the Wall fell) but it was 64 weeks at Monterey. I was gonna get married at that time so I passed on military service.

    I’d love to learn Arabic, but then again, that’s a skill that might eventually make me valuable to the government and military at some time in the future and so I’ll just pass on new languages.

  6. Diane says:

    Took three years of Spanish in high school for no real reason other than I could. How much I remember is up for debate – for various reasons we did very little conversing in that third year (three levels in the same class and a teacher who couldn’t stand noise)

    I’m teaching myself French via Rosetta Stone and another program, enough to hold a pretty fair conversation at the moment, as well as read and write it. It does take a lot of discipline – my goal for this year is to do at least 20 a day, and just keep chugging away at it.

  7. Jay G. says:

    Non. Je ne parle pas les autres langues.

  8. Jason says:

    I’ve always wanted to learn German. I started trying to teach myself, via CDs and books a few years ago, but life got in the way. My employer is one of the ones mentioned in the Rosetta Stone commercials, so I may start using that system one day when I have some free time.

    I took two years of Latin in High School, but since there aren’t too many native speakers kicking around, I’ve forgotten most of it.

  9. JIGSAW says:

    I lived and worked in Germany so my German is passable (getting very rusty though). I have a basic “travelling” level (book a room, find the train station, order a beer) of French. Stayed long enough in Israel to learn enough Hebrew to hold a basic conversation with a stranger, same in Hungarian – but have lost both of those now.

    Living in Australia, there’s not a huge demand for other languages – especially European ones.

  10. crankylitprof says:

    I’m conversational in Spanish and in Italian. I know a smattering of Japanese and a bit of Korean, due to living there when i was younger.

  11. crankylitprof says:

    I should add that I’m pretty decent in Scots Gaelic — particularly the curses.

  12. The Bad Yogi says:

    I grew up in Italy, so there’s that, plus conversational French.
    Not to mention 9 years of Latin. Useful, that.

    Working on Japanese and Spanish with my 10-year-old: she gets them both in school and I try to keep up with Rosetta Stone.

    At one point I could curse in Greek, and a little Turkish, but that was many moons ago, and besides, the wench married me.

  13. williamthecoroner says:

    I speak schoolboy French. With a heavy influence of Canadien French. Which has very little to do with what actual, French people speak. I’m also fluent in Doctor, glutton, and my native language is gibberish.

    I would like to speak French better. I managed to read some Dutch when I was in Amsterdam–it’s like phonetic English with an accent. I’d like to be able to read ancient languages, Latin and Greek and Mayan and Heiroglyphic, because I’m weird that way.

    It may be American cultural imperialism, but I whenever I’m in a foreign country I learn the social niceties and food words and I’ve gotten along just fine. I did the whole of the Iberian penninsula on with “gracias”, “por favor”, “agua,” and “hamburgesa” and stupid looks. Hollywood and the educational system of other countries has taken care of the rest.

    Of all my lacks, I miss another language, but I don’t feel as burning a desire to fix it. I’m not a linguist, it comes terribly slowly and painfully, and learning a language isn’t fun. It’s drudgery.

  14. Rob K says:

    To both of your questions, I must answer no. I really have little practical use for it. I think Bob Jones hit it. I’m a native Hoosier. There’s no place within a thousand miles of me (OK so Montreal is only 750 miles away) where English isn’t the native language. I can read some French and catch the gist of a French language film. It’s much like foreign travel. I’ve heard the lament that so few Americans have been out of the country, but they don’t grasp just how big the US is. I have to travel farther to get to another state than many Europeans have to travel to get to another country.

  15. wolfwalker says:

    Hmmm… Do computer languages count? What about the polyglot jargonese spoken in certain fields of science?

  16. PhillipC says:

    I have a very little amount of Spanish, and I live in Florida where there’s a decent number of Spanish speakers. I was told while trying to learn it that I don’t roll my r’s properly to pronounce most of it.

    Since most places I have an interest in going are south of here in the Caribbean, I may work on improving what little bit I have. I’m a diver, and the only places outside the US I’m interested in going are dive sites.

    However, my dive instructor has traveled the Caribbean for decades without knowing anything other than English. It seems that if you go somewhere they take tourist dollars, they speak English.

    There are two factors to consider.

    One is that most people in the US never travel outside of the US, and those that do only travel to ‘tourist’ destinations and then frequently with travel agencies that make sure they’re put somewhere they can use English.

    The other is that for a very long time now, English has been the language of business in most of the world. If you’re working with a plant in India, China, Japan, or Germany, you’re going to be dealing with people that speak English.

    So you’ve got economic incentive for other places to have enough English speakers for visitors to get by. You’ve got frequency of use (if you don’t speak a language you lose it, and how often will you speak Italian in rural Ohio?) And frankly, learning a language is time-consuming and difficult, so where is the payoff if you’re not planning on traveling? Now, if you know you’re going to go to that special resort in Mexico once a year, you might have incentive to learn the language.

    I guess that’s what it all boils down to for most Americans: Incentive. Give me a reason to learn a language and I will. Without a reason, it just becomes a learning exercise.

  17. Linda says:

    I am fluent in English (native) and Hebrew (last 22 years). I also studied French in high school and college, and while I can’t carry on a conversation, I remember enough vocabulary to read signs and menus . Knowing the French vocabulary has also given me exposure to some Italian and Spanish.

    I feel the best way to learn a new language is to be immersed in it and practice, practice, practice – and not be afraid to make mistakes

    I’m told I have an affinity for picking up languages. I would love to learn Japanese.

  18. demographic trends being what they are, give it another decade and fluency in spanish will be requisite in most of the country as it now is in florida. but that doesn’t mean you’ll be conversant with all hispanics in all regions.

    i grew up on the shores of lake okeechobee in the sugar plantation area of palm beach county where cubans are predominant, with their expressions and food having a strong influence in the area.

    but now i live in central fla where there is a large contingent of puerto ricans, and more recently a strong presence of mexicans. and these three groups can barely communicate with each other, with their dialects and inflections different in the same way perhaps, as proper british english, cockney, australian, and american english are sometimes unintelligible, each to the other.

    and actual spaniards generally have disdain for what they consider to be the inferior spanish spoken by all of the above groups.

    so screw it…there’s a car dealer in the little cracker town of arcadia near here where the daughters of the owner end their tv commercials with the drawled tag line “ya’ll spoken here”…yeah, i’m gonna stick with that.


  19. MarkHB says:

    I’m ashamed to say that I’m suck on English. When I left Uni I had basic french, an embarrasment of latin and a dollop of classical greek, but through simple lack of use it’s all faded away. Bit irritating, that, but after age 19, I never used ’em. Unlike riding a bike, conjugation and vocabulary seem to fade with time.

  20. ATLien says:

    My prolific German is starting to wither due to non-practice. Thinking of trying to get german tv shows or something over the tubez so i can get back in the groove.

  21. Gerry N. says:

    Wet Coast American English (native.) Conversational in Messican Spanish (learned from shipyard co-workers, augmented every winter by a couple of weeks in Zihuatenejo.) Conversational in German learned from a girl friend whose family migrated here from Austria. (I took German in High School in the early 60’s. I quit after one semester out of frustration because I spoke better German than the idiot teacher.) Smattering of Norwegian, again from co-workers. Basic Tourist Icelandic, from wife’s relatives.

    I see no need for Americans in general to learn a second language as many graduates of the Leftist Liberal Gov’t. Indoctrination Centers we’re pleased to call “Schools” can barely speak, read, and write plain American English in the first place. Teach ’em proper English spelling and grammar first, then try ’em out on furrinese.

  22. Thad Adams says:

    Bilingual, Spanish and English.Learned the spanish in self defense, living in Latin America, various places and years, going to school there. They wouldn’t learn english, so….. but it’s handy now. I just wish more of our little “Hispano/Indo” brothers and sisters who have moved to the land of the big PX and learned to finesse the system would put a little effort into learning our language.
    And stop sending their money home so more of the litle pukes can pay coyotes to get them up here. Better still, go back to where ever they came from and screw their system up like they have ours. OOOPS! Unintentional rant, sorry.

  23. Fluent in American English (though I know enough British English not to embarrass myself if I go visit). I’m also fluent in German, since I moved there when I was nine and lived there, attending German schools and getting my Abitur, for ten years. Had four years of French and five of Latin in school, but my spoken French has pretty much faded away, though I do understand quite a lot still. Attended DLI for a year, learning Korean, when I was in the service, but if you don’t use it, you lose it!
    I also can say the typical, “hello, please, thank you, excuse me, etc.” in a variety of other languages.
    I’d love to learn Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), and Japanese. And I’d really like to brush up my French, too.

  24. wrm says:

    English is my second. Ons praat Afrikaans in Kaapstad 🙂

    Interesting thing I’ve sort of noticed is that if I found a web page in some strange language, I would try to parse it, and I can make an awful lot of sense out of it, normally. I have USAnian e-friends who just… won’t.

    It’s a mindset.

    Other languages? It would be bloody useful to speak some African language, but my brain is full.

  25. ibex says:

    I speak German (natively) and English (fluently). I took a few years of French in school, but I hated it and remember almost nothing. I want to learn another language, but I cannot decide which one. Swedish? Danish? Norwegian? Russian?

  26. Robert says:

    Hablo un poco Español.

    Not much else.

    I took two years of Spanish in high school and another two terms of it in college, but I didn’t retain it well. My sister, on the other hand, can speak it somewhat fluently, though mostly it’s because she had many Hispanic friends who she would practice with (I also had a few Hispanic friends, but for the most part they didn’t speak the language much better than I did).

    If you count computer languages, however, then I’d easily qualify has a polyglot.

    I think learning a second language would have been easier if I had more exposure to it when I was much younger. It is far easier for young children to learn new languages than older ones, as the language centers of their brains are still forming and hence retain language information easier than the brain of an older person.

  27. Liberty says:

    Oh, if I had the time I’d study Japanese. The written and spoken aspects of Japanese are fascinating to me, plus I’d be able to pick up some of those bizarre foreign-released video games. “Super Bikini Mutant Ninja Alien Force”, etc …

    I can understand a fair bit of Croatian and Italian, I know a few curses and have a very limited conversational understanding of both. French and I never really got along all that well.

    Took two years of Italian in high school, and during that span I learned … something. After I stopped Italian classes, a relative of ours who was born and raised in Italy came to stay with us for two weeks. I learned more Italian in that two weeks than in two years of high school. Immersion works.

  28. red says:

    I’m learning Hebrew and eventually I’d like to learn Russian as well.

  29. Jim Sullivan says:

    I studied in the Netherlands for a while so I picked up quite a bit of Dutch. That was 15 years ago so unfortunately I’ve lost a lot. There’s just nobody to practice on here. I picked up a lot of French in Europe as well (besides three years of High School French; Je m’appelle Le Tick!)

    I also studied Latin through school and college. I can still read and write quite a bit of it. I have the nuns and priests to thank for that.

    As far as Dutch and French are concerned, it took immersion to spur me.

    The brain, at least mine, needs to be immersed. I don’t care about conjugating Etre in class. However, I do want to be able to talk to my neighbors, teachers, fellow students and girlfriends.

    And nothing helps like dating a native speaker…

  30. Travelling the world for the oil patch I’ve had to learn a little bit of many languages. I spent 2 years in Japan and can get along in basic spoken Japanese. At least enough to talk to my girlfriend during that period. I have a little French from high school and several visits to Paris and Normandy. Dubai gave me Arabic greetings. I can swear in Finnish (My mother’s native tongue) A couple of extended trips to Russia gave me enough Russian to describe the days plans to my driver and order dinner.

    I find its important to know how to order beer and find the bathroom is several languages.

  31. pdb says:

    The socialist Canadian school system spent 12 years trying to pound the dying bastardized French known as “Quebecois” into my head, and mostly failed.

    I really have no interest in learning another language, especially since I have enough trouble with English. I would like to pick up more Italian to converse with my inlaws, but have yet to find a decent way to learn it.

  32. Rob says:

    Short answer: I remember a little bit of Russian from a translation course I took while in grad school.

    Long answer: Languages weren’t offered in my high school, not required by my undergraduate university, and only a minimal translation course was required by the university physics department where I did my graduate work. And even that was eliminated while I was there. (Took too much of their graduate students’ time, the faculty complained.) I’m sure it’s not universal, but in my limited experience, American schools have been positively hostile toward ‘distractions’ like foreign languages.

    Having pointed fingers, I pledge to learn at least a practical level of Spanish in the near future. The kids are off in college now (taking Spanish, French, and Italian) so I’ve got the time, and there’s certainly opportunity to use the language around here these days.

  33. M. Philbrick says:

    I took four years of French in HS, have been to France and Quebec several times and can get by. Also learned a few key phrases in Arabic before my Marine unit went over back in 2006. Needless to say they aren’t very useful for conversation…

  34. Tam says:

    Being polyglot as a child certainly helps; the language centers of the brain seem to ossify in adulthood without that.

    I took a year each of Deutsch and Español in high school and have often wished I’d kept at it. I can puzzle out a fair amount of written language in both, but spoken language leaves me baffled.

    I’m fairly sure if they’d spoken a foreign tongue in Alabama and Tennessee while I was growing up in Georgia, I might have had a bit more motivation…

  35. scotaku says:

    A smattering of Spanish, conversational French (I studied for six years but have never had to use it) and a little Japanese. Maybe 20 words in German, but since those all have at least fifteen letters in them it’s like 50 words in any other language.

    What’s interesting is that my kids show no interest in languages, though my wife is fluent in German and I’m always rattling away in Japanese. There are times I wonder if they actually understand American English, too, but that may be a different conversation.

  36. Oh, yeah. I forgot about Korean. Hello, thank you, etc.

  37. Eric says:

    I don’t speak it but I am semi-fluent in American Sign Language. I understand bits of Mexican, Spanish and Texican.

    My wife is conversationally fluent in French. I don’t understand much of it when shes talking with friends, mostly because I’m too bored to care by then.

  38. Robert says:

    I know enough French to get me in trouble and make my girlfriend think I’m sweet and romantic. I know how to order a beer in Spanish.

    Thats really about it, and no, I don’t plan on learning another language. Even though I live in Texas and I am surrounded by Mexicans who speak Mexican (not Spanish), they do their best to coverse with us in broken (is pidgin not a PC Term anymore?) English that is easy enough to understand if they speak slow and you actually listen. There are a few Koreans who run the cafe in my office building, but their daughter speaks English as well as any one else, so no problem there.

    When I went to France, I was trying to practice my French, but the people I interacted with wanted so bad to practice their English, so I just gave up on trying to speak French and spoke English.

    However, I am fluent in Bostonian English, Texan English, and Missouri/Mid West English, Internet Slang, and I am working on my Queen’s English, just to annoy people around here. Further, I speak fluent automotive tech, and I am pretty good in firearm speak. And thanks to my late grandfather who had a passion for all things flying and sailing, I am very, very good in nautical and aeronautical.

    If I had the time, I wouldn’t mind to sit down to learn another language. However, given my attitude, it would most likely be something completely useless that I would use to annoy people.

  39. aczarnowski says:

    There’s no practical way for most Americans to *use* another language and use is required for retention.

    I had three years of French in high school (which I think is really too late to start up that brain center anyway). 15 years later I’ve had exactly zero opportunities to use it and it’s probably been purged from memory. It’s certainly on deep backup tape at this point. Maybe if I landed in Paris I could fumble my way through, but I doubt it…

  40. Peter says:

    I learned a total of six languages: English, Afrikaans (the ‘kitchen Dutch’ spoken in South Africa, which also allows me to handle proper Dutch and Flemish with reasonable accuracy), French (high school, plus Alliance Francais and military translator’s school), Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho (tribal languages of Southern Africa, in which I had a basic competence at one time, but have almost completely lost it due to lack of practice).

    I’d like to tack on Spanish at some point, since I’m now living in the USA and it’ll end up as a de facto second language here in due course.

  41. Matt says:

    Being an Anglophone Canadian, I was required to do 10 years of French (Quebecois) in school. Was conversational in it but dropped it the moment I was able to. Still retain snippets but I am no longer able to speak or read it. I am sure if I was immersed back into it I would pick it up again quickly.

    Was fluent in Latin. Did four years of Latin willingly in high school and enjoyed it immensely. Like French, I would be able to pick it up again if I was back among the language on a daily basis.

    I struggle with languages in general. It is something I do not have a natural ear for despite having been forced to be bilingual from an early age.

    I would like to learn Hebrew though. Living in a Jewish household and eventually looking to travel to Israel, this would be useful. If I have kids, I will definitely try to learn it along with my kids.

  42. prophet says:

    Conversational Spanish, I can curse in poor Mandarin (thanks Firefly!), and I can get along okay in Japanese (spoken only) and Welsh (mostly written, but if you talk slowly I can understand).

    Except for Spanish, which I learned in high school (and retained by marrying into a family that was active in migrant community charities), the rest I became interested in through literature, and learned by talking to other grad students (Japanese, hence spoken only) or natives on the internet (Welsh, hence mostly written).

  43. I used to have a grasp of conversational Spanish. I can still remember bits and pieces. I need to know it now and need to refresh myself. High school was a while back and lack of use causes loss of memory.

  44. Phil says:

    I think everybody else covered the “why most Americans aren’t bilingual” angle sufficiently, so I won’t go there.

    I had four years of Spanish in high school, and unlike most HS students, I paid attention and was getting quite good at it (to the point of dreaming in Spanish) for just a high school student. I was almost truly conversant, even.

    Now I haven’t used it at all in 15 years, and my Spanish is so rusty it requires a tetanus shot if I try to use it. I could probably pick it up in a rather short time if I tried, but I just haven’t really had the need.

  45. Jeff says:

    I took 4 years of German in high school and spent 3 weeks in Freiburg one summer. I’ve forgotten a lot of it since then, but I could probably still get by traveling. I’d love to get back in to it, but I’m not sure how.

    I’ve picked up a few words here and there in French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese, but not much. I’ve always found languages interesting, but I don’t have the motivation to study without native speakers around.

  46. perlhaqr says:

    2 years of German in high school, which sounds like a crap start, but my HS German teacher was actually very good, and enthusiastic, and managed to transmit that enthusiasm to a bunch of surly HS students, so I got rather a lot out of it. And I was (am) in the Industrial music scene, so, well, a lot of that is in German, so that helped too, and a couple of my very small number of friends spoke it, so we talked in it, which helped as well.

    And all that was 14 years ago, so, mostly I can manage to sing along with Einstuerzende Neubauten if I’ve heard the song a couple of times, and I managed to leave a message on an answering machine that was unexpectedly in German, a couple years ago.

    And really, these days, if an American feels like conversing in another language, (written, at least), IRC will get you native speakers of a whole bunch of different ones.

  47. LittleRed1 says:

    Spreche Deutsch, hablo un poquito Espanyol, read Latin (Classical) and seem to have a decent fluency in American and British English. I can translate Texan and Airplane into English, as well.
    I learned Latin and Spanish because they were there in High School, learned German because I was studying military history and wanted to read Clausewitz and Guderian in the original. I can sing in French but can’t speak it (go figure that one out 🙂 )

  48. Andrew says:

    German(fluent, Austrian dialect and hoch deutsch)
    Spanish(fluent when I get warmed up)
    Dojo Japanese
    Am currently learning Arabic (emphasis on Iraqi dialect) for this Spring’s deployment. Must say the absolute lack of cognates makes it a bitch!

  49. Scottybill says:

    I can get by on four years of high school and college French, not fluent but I won’t starve or get lost either. My conversational Portuguese is rusty but still serviceable, and my kids are making me learn Spanish and ASL via childrens’ television.

  50. BobG says:

    Took Latin through high school, somewhat rusty. Can do some reading in several languages, but out of practice, and haven’t done much speaking of them, since some are dead languages.

  51. Matt in Portland says:

    The U.S. is so big, we don’t travel outside our borders often, so we aren’t forced to learn another language. It takes me 3 to 4 hours just to drive to families homes, and I don’t even leave my state of Oregon for one trip. Compare that to Europe, where you could travel through several different countries and languages.

    It’s a nice skill to have, but not necessary in our nation.

  52. DC says:

    I visited Munich and Innsbruck last summer; sure would’ve gotten a lot more out of the trip had I understood more German…as others say, a practical way to practice would really help to stay motivated in my (very) casual study of the language. However, y’all might find slowly spoken newscasts from Deutsche Welle of help, find it here:

    A smattering of Spanish due to living in AZ, and that’s it…I agree that learning other languages is useful…if it gets some use. 🙂

  53. Elizabeth says:

    Sadly, I’m only fluent in English. I still have a smattering of German from studying it through High School, and can stumble around a little in Spanish, despite having 2 full years of college Spanish. I can get by with some basic American Sign Language, as well. I had 2 years of Latin way back in Middle School, which has served me very well from a learning foreign grammar standpoint. The semester I took of Russian is completely and utterly gone, though.

    Unfortunately, I have an extraordinarily hard time learning and holding onto vocabulary. At this point it’s become clear I’ll never end up fluent in another language unless I can get into an immersion environment for at least 6 months.

    I really wish I were a polyglot.

  54. Well, I live in Belgium, So I’ve learned Dutch, French and German at school, English came naturally from TV and computer games soo…

    Dutch and French: fluent (Bien sure je sais parler le francais, en dat kan ik ook in het nederlands uitleggen.
    Aber mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut, I’ve only rarely spoken German and in writing I’m absolutely horrible, (Ich müsste shon nie etwas schreiben)

    I should probably brush up on my German to improve my chances of landing a high position in the chemical industry.

    I like to think I’m very fluent in English, though i’ve been known to botch up spelling and get AmE and BrE mixed up.

  55. Tam says:

    I like to think I’m very fluent in English, though i’ve been known to botch up spelling and get AmE and BrE mixed up.

    I’m a fairly dab hand in the tongue and that happens to me, also. It’s due to reading too much stuff that was originally edited and printed on the far side of the pond or too long ago.

    For instance, my occasional British English habit of placing punctuation after quotation marks if it isn’t integral to the words in the quote drives my roommate bonkers.

  56. Rob K says:

    Tam says: “For instance, my occasional British English habit of placing punctuation after quotation marks if it isn’t integral to the words in the quote drives my roommate bonkers.”

    Feel good about yourself and keep it up. I always place punctuation outside the quotes unless the punctuation is part of the quote. It comes from being a programmer (cf. http://catb.org/jargon/html/writing-style.html).

  57. Assrot says:

    Although I was born in the USA, my mother is German and we lived in Bamberg from the time I was 2 until I was 8. My parents both wanted me to learn their native languages so I went to German schools for a few years rather than the American schools on the nearby US Army base.

    I am by no means fluent in German. I had the German vocabulary of an 8 year old kid when we moved back to the USA. From then on, the only person I spoke German to was my mother.

    Back in those days it was socially unacceptable to speak German or even to associate with Germans or be German. I can remember being somewhat of an outcast when we first came back to the USA. The kids in school made fun of me and called me Kraut and Nazi among other things. I learned pretty quick to develop my Southern American drawl to fit in with my school mates.

    Today, I can hold simple conversations in German and read German literature with a reasonable understanding of what I am reading.

    I read and know Latin fairly well. It was something that all good college students did back in my college days.


  58. Liberty says:

    For instance, my occasional British English habit of placing punctuation after quotation marks if it isn’t integral to the words in the quote drives my roommate bonkers.

    This has been the subject of no less than a dozen brawls between the wife and I when she proofreads (ie: takes a hatchet to) anything I write. Of course, she’s always “right”.

  59. Marko,

    You are a native German speaker (from the north), but can you understand Schwabische? Most northern Germans only speak High German, if my wife is to be believed.

    I have the hardest damn time with her over this. Sounds like a lump of non-sense most of the time.

  60. Marko says:

    Some German dialects are so radically different from standard High German that a speaker of Swabian or Bavarian is just about unintelligible to a Northerner.

    The North has its own dialects, some of which are just as unintelligible to Bavarians or Swabians (especially East Frisian and Plattdeutsch, which are just about different languages altogether), but the northern dialects don’t generally vary as much from standard High German as the southern ones.

    To illustrate the difference between something like Swabian and regular spoken German, think “Neutral Midwestern accent vs. deepest Cajun dialect.”

    Swabians and Bavarians are, however, capable of talking in High German if needed, just with unmistakable regional accents.

    I can understand Swabian most of the time, but don’t even ask me to fake the dialect.

  61. SR says:

    I think that most Americans speak only English because the individual states are in proximity to other English only speaking states, and many states are as large as Europe’s countries, not a lot of opportunity for mixing it up. There are pockets of exceptions. For example not too long ago there were four states where French was the predominat second langauage– NH, ME, VT, and LA. The southern US border and Miami are similar with Spanish.

    Growing up in the Berlin, NH area, I learned Canadien French from grandparents and the region’s elders. The Spanish I took in HS however was about as useful as Canadien French in France when the USN gave me a stint in Honduras.

    Most school districts around here still offer foreign languages, I don’t know how many students actually take advantage of the classes though.

  62. RC says:

    I’m one of a couple thousand white guys in the USA who’s fluent in Haitian Creole. Learned it while living in Florida doing disaster relief initially; became fluent doing translation for Florida businesses. I can read and write both IPN and Pressoir Creole, which is fairly rare to find among the Haitian population.
    I speak passable French (it and Creole are closely related), and would lie to become fluent in it as well.

  63. Don Gwinn says:

    I can muddle along in Spanish if the natives slow down for me. Actually, yesterday, I was at the public library’s used book sale and found a big cassette set of conversational French lessons, and I thought to myself, “Hey, you know who just bought a car that still has a cassette deck? You did, big guy!”

    So maybe I can pick up a little French. I spend about an hour a day in the car on workdays, and I’m usually listening to talk radio anyway.

  64. Don Meaker says:

    I was in a meeting with two Swiss subcontractors. They switched into German to discuss if I would be allowed access to maintenance records on their product. Such maintenance records were written in Swiss German. One made a mistake in his discussion, and I corrected him… in (Hessian) German. They were astounded that I understood and even spoke German. They switched to French, and repeated their mistake. I corrected them in my (Canadien) French. They were again surprised.

    They sure had something to tell the folks back home.

  65. Windy Wilson says:

    Es ist seit Funf und Dreissig Jahren als ich Deutsch studiert. It’s been 35 years since I studied German (in high school). Some of it stuck; The three times we visited Austria my mother wouuld take me along to ask questions (she spoke only German til she was 5 years old and as an adult could not speak it, but she understood every damn word). I can make conversational sentences, and ask directions, and if I speak first the Austrians and Bavarians answer in TV German so I can get the gist of what they’re saying. My German teacher would be impressed, as I got a gentleman’s “C” for 3 out of the 6 semesters, and there was that one semester where I fell asleep regularly in class.
    A litle bragging; when my cousin came to visit in 1993, we would have conversations in German after dinner, and after he learned I only took two weeks of vacation to drive him around California he paid extra to fly home rather than stick around another week. That Austrian/Bavarian accent is still tough though. Swiss was easier. but the employees I met there were all from Australia or Canada.

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