I have always had a fascination with linguistics. I believe this stems from the fact that I love to talk and not being multilingual severely limits the number of people with whom I can easily communicate.
If I could have one superpower, it may be the ability to read, write, and speak in any language. With this power, an important message, and some good persuasion skills, I could be the most powerful man on earth...
Move over Superman, you're not the only game in town anymore!
This really isn't about world domination, however. I just have a natural affinity for learning (or at least dabbling in) languages.
Unfortunately, where I used to enjoy languages, I am becoming more and more frustrated.
I am beginning to be bored with my few hundred words of Spanish (which can get you surprisingly far if you don't mind sounding like a four year old...). It works great if I'm ordering tacos or even menudos (that's a whole other blog post), but it gets really frustrating when I need to go off-menu.
I can finger-spell fairly quickly in ASL and I know a decent array of words, but I have a hard time keeping up when I actually get into a conversation or need to interpret for a deaf friend.
I need to step up my game... That's why I'm learning 4 languages at the same time: Spanish, American Sign Language, Russian, and Japanese.
Why Do I Want to Learn 4 Languages?
As I stated earlier, I love to talk, so why not learn the necessary skills to be able to communicate in multiple languages.
There is also a self-actualization aspect to language learning that is undeniable. Such a great challenge as becoming fluent in a new language has to have some intrinsic value in terms of self-enrichment.
Aiden, my almost-eight-year-old is also infatuated with language, specifically Japanese. He is currently showing off his Japanese skills to anyone who will listen!
There are some more concrete and practical reasons for wanting to learn these four languages in particular. Those deeper reasons are different for each of the four languages. I'll out line those reasons for each.
My reasons for learning Spanish are mostly practical. I have several friends and some family who speak Spanish as their first language, as well as several members of our church. I also have a lot of time invested in learning Spanish vocabulary and grammar (which is still a struggle for me). I took two years of Spanish in high school and one semester in college. It seems that I'm too close to give up now.
My reasons for learning ASL are similar to the reasons I'm learning Spanish. There are about five deaf members in our church. There are times when I need to communicate with them on a little deeper level than I am able to with my current skills. I have also spent quite a bit of time learning to fingerspell and learning signs. My comprehension and signing speed need to improve drastically. I also need to learn quite a few more signs.
I have always wanted to speak Russian, but I have to admit it's mostly so I can sound like a Bond villain when ordering borscht...
On a more practical note, I have intermittent contact with some missionaries in the former Soviet
Union and would love to go on a missions trip to that area of the world. I know that some sort of missions work is in my future. I've known this since I was a kid. To some degree, I believe that is what has driven my infatuation with languages.
I love so many things about Japan... Business culture (kaizen has become a foundational principle for me). The national obsession with baseball. Anime. Samurai culture. Quirky video games (see Parodius or Harmful Park). Food (Oh, sushi! How I love thee!). The inexplicable obsession with cats and hamsters. What's not to love?
I want to learn Japanese to watch some Japanese films in their original language and play some games that were never released in English.
On a side note, if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading and go watch "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". It's easily one of my favorite documentaries of all time. I believe the best way to experience a culture isn't by visiting national monuments and tourist traps, but by experiencing a series microcosms within the culture at large. Jiro's restaurant is one such microcosm. It's absolutely fascinating!
- Duolingo (iPhone/iPad app) for Spanish & Russian
- This app is FREE and absolutely amazing! I can't recommend this enough! Unfortunately, it's not yet available for Japanese.
- Simple and intuitive.
- MindSnacks (iPhone/iPad app) for Spanish & Japanese
- Not free, but easily worth the few bucks.
- Mini-games test your skills and the gamification of the learning process makes things much more enjoyable for me.
- MindSnacks Japanese also has the option to start learning in romaji and add hirigana and kanji later (this is extremely important for newbies).
- Aiden is also using MindSnacks Japanese and it's very kid-friendly.
- SpeakEasy Russian (iPhone/iPad app)
- I don't like this app as well as Duolingo, but it is very helpful and it was worth the cost to unlock the full version.
- YouTube videos, music, books, and movies are great ways to force yourself into a somewhat immersive environment, if only for a few minutes or hours.
I will do in-depth reviews of all of these tools and more in future posts.
How Will I Measure My Success (or Lack Thereof...)?
I have given this quite a bit of thought, but I keep hitting a wall...
There is no perfect answer, but this is what I've come up with so far.
- I will gauge my interactions with others, whether signing to my deaf friends at church or ordering menudos the local (real) Mexican restaurant. If these interactions are becoming increasingly smoother, then we are going in the right direction.
- For something more measurable, I plan to take fluency tests at regular intervals (most likely every six months or year. I feel this is really the only objective way to measure my progress.
Here Goes Nothing!
Thanks for continuing to read my blog and joining me on this journey of self-improvement and enrichment. Check back on my progress. Share with your friends and comment or message with any questions!