elb's hovel of thoughts

Friday, March 17, 2006

How many languages can you speak?

How many languages can you speak? I can speak more than 10: English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin), German, French, Latin, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, Greek, Mexican, Russian, and goodness knows what else. Unbelievable isn't it? But it is true! The question that you should ask me is: how many languages can you speak fluently? There's the catch! Fluency was defined by the great Gaius Julius Caeser as the ability to think in that language.

So, how many languages can I speak fluently? My answer now deteriorates to a measly 2.1(yes, that is 2 decimal point 1): English is my native language; Malay is my second language (although rapidly deteriorating due to under-utilization), and I can speak (and importantly, read and write) beginner's Mandarin.

Ironically, it took me being at the capital of the English civilization to realise that it would be crucial for me to learn Mandarin, both socially and career-wise. So I enrolled for a language course, and with the help of my China Chinese friends, especially QL, and some of my Malaysian friends (mentions go to YJ and EPO), I can speak some basic Mandarin now. In fact when my Mandarin is better I would probably blog a couple of entries in Mandarin, so watch out!

How did Malay become my first language when in school, Malay was taught 90% of the time (except for English language classes, duh)? Basically I attribute this to three factors: my immediate family spoke English (although they did try to get me to learn Mandarin..); they themselves educated in the UK sometime ago, 2) That I read a lot of English books and watched TV in English 3) Most of my friends (kindergarden, and primary and secondary school) were also brought up with English as their primary language.

Besides actually studying the language themselves, I have learnt the other languages via:

1) English itself, bizarre as it sounds. But there are many words from different languages which are ingrained and fused into English. French words such as rendezvous and facade (sorry but my keyboard does not support accents, and I can't be bothered to open MS Word). German words such as halt. And so on.

2) Friends, as elaborated above. I try not to overdo asking them though. Also very dangerous because they can and will attempt to teach you the wrong words to get you into trouble...

3) Eating out and cooking. Eating at Japanese restaurants have me very familiar with terms such as sushi, sashimi, unagi, ebi, uni etcetera. Spanish food has made me become familiar with tapas and paella. French food has gotten me cosy with rilette, foie gras, poisson, baguette, moules, pommes frites etc. Italian of course introduced to me terms like spaghetti, linguini, lasagne, panini.

4) Travelling. Being able to order your food, such as 'ein bratwurst' or 'un saumon baguette' is very useful! Once a few years ago I was at a rest stop somewhere in France heading towards Switzerland; the only stuff that we could order was 'spaghetti bolognese' because we didn't know anything else on the menu! However I must say that it was one of the best pasta dishes that I ever had.

And seriously, there is no greater need than to find out the meaning of the word 'exit' in the native language of the country you visit. This I found out the hard way when I got lost and was alone in the Louvre, Paris when I was much younger. Phrases such as 'parlez vous Anglais? (can you speak English?)' come in very handy; although don't be surprised if you get shakes of the head...

5) Academia. Science incorporates many Greek and Latin words into their jargon and heuristics. Medicine is full of many words which are derived from Greek. Law is famous for attempting to scare the layman off by using fancy Latin words. Once, I even looked up the elements in the periodic table to see where their names came from. Yup, plenty to learn from academia.

6) Media. This includes foreign films & dramas; I throw in computer games here as well for convinience sake. I have nothing much to say here because I have hardly watched films for the past few years.
Anyway, it is time for me to start working on my very rusty langue Francais. Only a few more days before I land in Normandy!

4 Comments:

  • Yes yes !!! You mentioned me !!1!1 :D

    *exploded in joygasm*

    Anyway , can you check some old german turrets for me in Normady beach ? :>

    By Blogger Yung Jie, at Saturday, March 18, 2006 2:14:00 pm  

  • Normandie is cool. I just love normandie!

    And I just love language and I think the french is always the opposite of english (no pun intended), which can be really true. For example:- un baguette au saumon instead of un saumon baguette.

    My favourite language now is French! it's simple, not too many words and expressive!

    By Blogger ça va pas la tête, at Tuesday, March 21, 2006 4:20:00 am  

  • Interesting read, thanks. It looks like we share some similar lingustic home environments. I can't read and write in Mandarin though. http://www.myspringbud.blog-city.com/mother_tongues.htm

    By Anonymous Anisah, at Tuesday, March 21, 2006 6:26:00 pm  

  • yung: erm, I'll be going to the capital more precisely ;)

    ca va: I think the same can be said for many languages, even Malay and Mandarin :) (and thanks for the little correction!)

    By Blogger elb, at Tuesday, March 21, 2006 8:00:00 pm  

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