I thought I'd write something about my love of languages, as aside from food(!) it's my main interest and I guess you could say hobby; it's where I spend my available spare time. One of the people I respect in this area is polyglot Steve Kaufmann who, despite being in his early 60s, speaks twelve languages, and recently managed to attain a reasonably-high level of Russian within just 2 years! Well I can only dream of reaching that level, but I do plan to enjoy trying.
As of right now I've been living in Japan for just over two years, and during that time I spent about 18 months at a Japanese language school learning Japanese, graduating back in March. In December 2007, a short few months after arriving in Japan, I passed the JLPT level 3, and then last December I passed JLPT level 2. After taking the exam though I was feeling pretty burnt out from exam preparation, and almost completely stopped studying Japanese. Even since then despite numerous people asking me if I'd go on to take JLPT level 1 (the top level) this year, I haven't felt the desire to continue the intense study required, and consequently I think I will leave it as a goal for a few years' time.
However that burnout in Japanese hasn't stopped my desire to pick up other languages, and since I left the Japanese language school I've started Spanish. It should be reasonably straightforward with my previous knowledge of the Italian language, and I have a Mexican friend in Japan, and thus an opportunity to use it.
Recently though after becoming a little disappointed with my lack of ability to recall and use the (conversational-level) Italian I'd gained 7-8 years previous, I've decided that recovering that ability should be priority number one. So aimed with a couple of books using simple pictures and only Italian, I'm moving through it at quite a quick pace.
Back in 2001 I moved to Italy (Milan) with my company, and although I only lived there a very short six months, I picked up a reasonable knowledge of the language through the opportunity of speaking it every day. Unfortunately after that time was up I stopped using it completely, and so it became fainter and fainter. However that opportunity kicked off my interest in languages, as my only experience before that was GCSE French back in high school - and although I studied French from ages 11 to 16, I retained very little as the classes just weren't made to be very interesting.
Mandarin Chinese
In the middle of last year I also kicked off some Chinese study, as I have a real interest to visit Taiwan and to re-visit China, and figured it was a bit of a natural progression from the kanji characters of Japanese to the hanzi characters of Chinese. Japanese kanji characters came from China originally, but although the way of writing and meanings are often similar, the way of reading/pronouncing the characters is very different. That plus the fact that there are many thousands more hanzi than kanji required for daily use, and with its having four distinct tones when speaking, meant it would certainly be a challenge. But armed with ChinesePod - and later a book on Chinese written in Japanese - I managed to pick up (and retain even now) a few basic greetings which I plan to build on at a later date.
Returning finally to the French which I learnt back in high school, last year on a visit to the UK I was able to hire a motorbike and I rode over to France with a friend. It soon became apparent that I really couldn't remember even a little French. Any time I tried to think of the words, Japanese (or even Italian) came out. I was pretty shocked and embarrassed that I couldn't even muster the words to order a drink, and after returning to the UK I swore I'd get some of that French back doing some evening classes. This remains a goal for 2010.
With that all said then, I'd like to imagine that eventually (i.e. within 10/20/30 years) my list of languages and abilities will look something like this:
- Japanese (native)
- Italian (advanced)
- Spanish (intermediate)
- French (intermediate)
- Mandarin (basic)
That's my goal. Merely a fantasy? Perhaps, but it's good to dream. Here for amusement is my current collection of language books (thanks to the wonderful Delicious Library software). There's quite some bias towards Japanese, however I still possess a reasonable amount of Italian language books which are stuck in my parents' loft and thus haven't been entered into DL as yet.