Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Languages I Speak (and some I Don't)

totally made my day recently by telling me I write Italian very well and asking if I had studied it at University! I was very flattered, but no, I only studied it for two years at evening classes at the Institute for Applied Language Studies, in Edinburgh. I have worked hard extra to that in learning grammar at home and reading a lot in Italian. It helps that I enjoy a lot of Italian writers, especially Italo Calvino and Alessandro Barrico. I also read the Italian magazine Focus, which is a wonderfully bizarre magazine, full of articles about weird things. I watch a fair number of Italian films too (the Italian Film Festival starts this weekend!!!). I've found Italian much easier to learn than either German or French, both of which I studied at school. I learnt French for five years at school and have done little with it since, though I did a year of evening classes and sometimes read in French as well as watching a fair number of French films. My real problem with French is that I can't hear it very well! German I studied for three years in school but have always used it since, I've visited Germany more often than any other country and have several German friends, some of whom I even speak German with! German is hard work though, all those long words and endless sentences with the verbs at the end.... I use both German and Italian for work sometimes. I can understand Spanish quite well because its very similar to Italian, but I can't speak it, mostly for exactly the same reason.... I can speak a few phrases of Polish, as I was on an archeology dig over there once. I keep meaning to learn a bit more as there are so many Polish people over here now, but its a very difficult language and I don't expect to get beyond the very basics. Gaelic is a language so strange and incomprehensible (to make the present tense you use the future tense - how weird is that!) that I don't think I'll ever get past Hello, a fact not helped that whenever we visit 'Gaelic speaking' areas of Scotland, we never find anyone who speaks the language! I learnt some Chichewa when I was in Malawi and still occasionally come out with the odd 'pepani' (sorry) or zikomo (excuse me, thankyou).

So what languages do you speak and how do you use them?


polona said...

gosh, you are a true polyglot!

apart from my native slovene, i speak serbian and croatian and understand most of but do not speak macedonian.
i am fluent in english although less so when speaking
i understand some french but speak and write very poorly
and i also understand (but do not speak) a little italian and german and spanish if i try very hard

Anonymous said...

Speaking so many languages, do you have a sense that is one language behind all of them? I would love to be multilingual but alas my old brain is frozen solid in English, well some variety of English anyway. Reading Italo Calvino in the original language would be wonderful and Goethe, oh and Umberto Eco. Don't get me started on the complex issues of translation and the metatext though that could go on forever. Very thoughtprovoking post, thankyou.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Pauls - I can certainly see the connections between Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian (which I don't speak but its easy to feel your way through if you speak any of the other languages I mention there). They all come from Latin. The Germanic languages - German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic - all have obvious similarities too. English is a crazy mix of both Germanic and Latin roots. Reading Eco in Italian would be a real challenge, especially his longer works, not exactly an easy writer. Calvino though...

Polona - You've got an impressive list of languages too!

shadows and clouds said...

wow!!! lots of languages!!! though i'm british i speak italian all the time, though fortunately get to remember my english through teaching it!!! i studied latin, german and french at school and have forgotten most of my german and latin, but studied french and italian at university, i've forgotten much french but hope it'd come back if i stayed there for a while!
your italian is great! i love calvino soooooooo much, but i don't know barrico at all - thanks, i shall loook him up!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Na - your French would definitely come back! I basically ignore French most of the time, but when I need it its all there! I wish I had studied Latin - its so useful, despite no one speaking it! Glad you also love Calvino, I'd defintely recommend Barrico.