My Languages Background

I have always loved languages.  Below are a list of the ones I have both dabbled in and immersed myself in.

  • English:  my mother tongue. But I also taught English as a foreign language for 7 years in Japan. That teaching experience, and the many books I read to support it, has taught me much about the language I naturally speak. [see my popular diagram called “The History of the English Language“]
  • German: When my mother was a child in her small rural Ohio town, spoke German to her grandmother.  But to avoid trouble during WWII, her parents forbid the language. I studied German in Jr High School, High School and college, but I learned the most when I studied at Goethe Institute in Murnau, Germany for 3 months.
  • Ancient Greek:  1st year at Cornell University.  I did terrible — it was very hard for me.  Read this post on “The Original Language Mystique” to see why I studied Greek.
  • Hebrew:  I attended synagogue for one year.  I attended the synagogue while deconverting from Christianity and actually considered becoming Jewish.  During that year I taught myself how to read Hebrew orthography so I could read along in the prayers though I did not know what I was saying.
  • French:  Took 6 months for fun at a community college. And have only used it a little in my travels in France. [read about how I lost my French Bias]
  • Hindi & Urdu:  I first picked up some Hindi when I hitchhiked to India.  Then I continued in graduate school, then back to Pakistan and India with fellowship money to study more.  Hindu uses Devanagri script and Urdu uses Arabic script (which is beautiful!).
  • Japanese: I did not speak a word of Japanese when I landed there for a short vacation on my way back from India.  So I bought some Japanese grammar books, mingled a lot and taught myself.  Within three years I passed a college entrance Language exam.  Two years later, I passed the highest level of the National Exam in Japanese.  I then graduated from Japanese College and took Acupuncture Boards in Japanese.
  • Chinese: I worked for Peace Corps in China as medical officer. I had a tutor three nights a week but worked with Americans at the consulate all day long, so I only learned very little compared to my Japanese and German.  But I could order tests at hospitals for my patients because I could read the characters due to my Japanese background.
  • Spanish:  Taught myself a little using Berlitz tapes for travels in Mexico and Guatemala.
  • Tibetan: at one time I thought about studying Tibetan Buddhism in detail so I began to study it — but only superficially.  I LOVE the script.

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2 responses to “My Languages Background

  1. Laura Cooper

    Wow, this is making my French and two months of Lithuanian pale in comparison. Did you take Hebrew classes at the synagogue? I’m thinking of doing that, but I don’t know whether they expect beginning knowledge going in.

  2. Hey Laura,
    No, I taught myself the little Hebrew I learned. There was no pressure to know any Hebrew at all, the synagogue was very welcoming.