A multinational experience - What languages I found most useful

franciscopena ca Canada

I find myself working overseas and running into people from around 80 countries on a daily bases. This is truly a polyglot's oasis:). At the end of each day, I have a pounding headache from switching and studying languages throughout the day. I studied 15 languages over the past 20 years but settled on maintaining and improving only 6 of them due to time constraints. I looked at my life and decided how many languages I can incorporate or realistic handle. The formula I used was 30 minutes of reading/listening or speaking daily, 3 hours every single day. Once I completed this calculus, the next decision was which 6 to focus on for the forseable future. I literally went back and forth for 3 months dabbling with languages using LingQ, Duolingo, youtube or whatever resources I had available at the time until settling on my final list...I even spoke to different people like from Netherland, Lithuania, Sweden, etc...asking how do you say this in your language. The interesting thing is that no matter the country of origin, all the people from the 80 or so countries were awesome and all worth knowing. But, time is limited so here are the six languages with my current speaking ability and some notable mentions:

1- Spanish (C1/C2), my main interaction was with Spaniards and they were awesome and it seems alot of folks spoke this as a 3rd languages w/English being the lingua franca

2- French (B1/B2), also awesome people and they were relieved when I switched from English to French w/ a decent parisienne accent

3- Macedonia (B2), some of the best Balkan hospitality and I get to speak to Bulgarian people too...two languages for the price of one, I'll take it...I was even able to have some conversations with Croatians which was cool (I studied Serbo-Croatian in the past)!

4- German (A2), so let me break the myth here, NO! not all Germans speak perfect English or even good english, the 20 plus germans I encountered were more than happy to carry a conversating with me in my crappy A2 level German

5- Arabic (A2), well I am in the middle east so when in rome! People are great and the culture is wonderful...the various dialects, well, that sucks but I'm starting to understand when they speak back to me and I do have a arsenal of perfectly pronounced Arabic phrases which make people think I can actually speak it well...if only I knew what they said back to me lol

6- Italian (B1), Love the language, culture, people and the fact that I could actually understand it before even studying it...Spanish facilitates this:)

Notable mentions:

- Russian, none around to speak with and while I would love to read Dostoevsky & Tolstoy, I rather speak to live people....plus, Arabic makes my brain fire on all cyclinders!

- Swahili, I wasn't expecting this one but the Kenyans are awesome people

- Romanian, such an interesting language vulgar latin roots w/slavic mix...very exotic!

- Serbo-Croatian, love it, studied it in the past but didn't make the cut and won't be maintaining it but I can turn on a crappy A2 level conversation if need be.

- Turkish, again awesome Balkan hospitality, love the people and culture but I already have to deal with German grammer and that damn second verb

If you like, I would be interested to hear how you reached your decision to learn whatever languages you chose....for motivational purposes.

August 27 at 19:25
  • Swedishfinngermanophile fi Finland

    Prologue

    As it turns out as I wrote this it turned out a little bit like a mystery novel. At each language I reveal a bit more of my interest and likes and dislikes but never really spill the beans on a significant part of my reasons for language learning. Because of my culture background and interest, I have often to an extent felt like a foreigner in my home country.

    Ian Flemings alter ego was James Bond, a spy series that I absolutely love. If I were to have an alter ego it would probably be a writer who lives a carefree life in Central Europe and Northern Italy traveling wide and far within Europe. I think this reflects its self strongly in the linguistic choices that I make.

    Spanish

    I think I was about 19 (in 2009) when I started to think about moving to Barcelona. At the time I was very passionate about football and a die-hard fan of FC Barcelona. I knew that if I were to move to Catalonia, I would have to learn Catalan as well but I figured it is better to start with the more wildly spoken language. I also liked the culture although I am not really sure why, I think it was more or less of the same reasons people like Italian culture and as time has gone by, I have noticed that I prefer Italian. Still I don’t regret study Spanish.

    French

    When I first started out learning languages there where many different paths I could have taken, study one language of a few different language group, learn the 6 languages of the UN (and others that I like) or study big European languages and study their sister languages.

    I choose the studying related languages and becoming a master of each family. French is obviously historically a very significant language. I think French and Italian has the most gravitas out of the Romance languages. That was probably one of the first things that made me want to learn French.

    I have also from an early stage been drawn to French writers, I love adventure books like Around the world in 80 days. Watching an animated version of the book is one of my greatest childhood memories. Jules Verne is an author whose work I really enjoy. The same can be said about the Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano, Musketeers are all books and works that I find it would be fun to read in the original French.

    Italian

    Italian is one of those languages that I thought about learning for a long time but never got around to it until like the beginning of this year. I have always liked Italian cuisine, Italy as a travel destination is very appealing to me. As I have gotten more older, I have also become interested in Italian cinema, even if I have only seen snippets of La dolce vita, I feel that the main character seems like a possible alter ego of mine. The few Italian films that I have seen I have very much enjoyed.

    German

    Given that it is a relative of my native language (Swedish) it feels familiar and it also has lots of gravitas. Germany has of course played a huge part in European history (which is something I am interested in) and there are many places in Austria and Germany that I’d like to visit. Especially Vienna because I find it is very beautiful in the winter and it also has a certain charm in summer with river boat tours in the Danube while drinking wine.

    English

    There is not really much to be said about English, or is there (creepy inquisitive intonation). As mentioned, before I love history and linguistics. The British isle delivers on both fronts, I have been meaning to read all of Shakespeare’s work and familiarise myself with the historical context which within they are set. Old English is also very appealing to me as etymology is fascinating to me.

    Latin

    Being a linguistic/historical/generally cultural enthusiast Latin is the sanctum sanctorum of language learning. Most of the languages or the places where the languages that I learn are spoken have been influenced by Latin (Ancient Rome). It would also be a symbolical “reaching the mount Everest” if I could become really, really good at Latin grammar. Ten years ago I was not really in a good head space but language learning has really help build up my confidence so to speak.

    Finnish and Swedish

    It might be weird for a Swedish speaking Finn to “study” Swedish and Finnish. While I do speak Finnish fluently there are still words that I don’t know the exact meaning of (minute differences) and while I speak fluently it is intuitively. Having come so far in the last 10 years I think it would be nice to learn the language “properly”.

    As for Swedish while it is my native tongue it is a distinct variety (sort of like Quebec French), there are lots of words that sound very Swedish that I would not use when I speak with other native Swedish speakers (in Finland).

    Other languages that I’d like to learn

    There are lots of languages that I’d like to learn but I’ll go through them sort of fast. There is Greek, sort of the same reasons as with Latin. I really like the sound of Greek as well. Turkish would be fun because it has some (most likely) unique features, I recently discovered it has something like 25-30 different tenses. I love verbs so that’ll be fun.

    I have for a long time wanted to learn an African language, in order to add some diversity. Swahili is a main candidate as it is widely spoken and easy enough for me to actually get somewhere. About a year, year and a half ago I saw a video on Wolof which it also seems to be pretty much free of any ultra-difficult concepts. Also, a German language YouTuber mentioned it in a draw my life video, which completely caught me by surprise it might have had a yeasting effect on my curiosity for the language.

    I’d be very disappointed if I don’t speak two Slavic languages reasonably well by the end of 2025. Main candidate is Russian. I love spy novels, the melancholic nature of the some of the authors (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc.). For the second Slavic language I think maybe Slovakian/Serbian or Bulgarian.

    My favorite Bond film is From Russia with love same goes for the book. The oriental Express plays a big part and it ran across the Balkans. Also I am a pretty eurocentric in terms of traveling and my culture interest.

    August 27 at 20:41
    • franciscopena ca Canada

      Very riveting, motivating and overall a very enjoyable read, your post truly read like a spy novel. Thank you for taking out the time to share your story and insights on your journey.

      August 27 at 22:05
    • ktjoseph vg Virgin Islands, British

      i have never heard french called gravidas before

      August 28 at 15:50
      • Swedishfinngermanophile fi Finland

        The reason I said that Italian and French have the most gravitas out of the Romance languages is because while opinions are relative, to me Italian and French seems to have that extra level of high culturerness.

        While Spain did conquer large part of Latin America and one could argue that it is an international language. When I think of black and white classic movies (European), wine, food, etc. I think of Italian and French. French has the upper hand over Italian in literature and that French was spoken in the courts of Europe for centuries and was the lingua franca up until maybe the WW1, WW2 or somewhere between.

        I don’t want to disparage the other romance languages by no means and it might seem a bit elitist to rate these to languages over the other ones but I feel that French and Italian have had a greater influence on high culture.

        August 28 at 16:32
        • LILingquist us United States

          I think this is certainly too, and that is what I took your statement of "gravitas" to mean as well. However, for someone who is an American, Spanish edges out Italian, even if that culture isn't too "high" so to speak.

          August 28 at 17:25
          • ktjoseph vg Virgin Islands, British

            i would disagree with that statement spanish is very rich and thriving language

            September 10 at 12:01
            • LILingquist us United States

              Absolutely Spanish is "very rich and thriving." It's one of the reasons why I have committed to studying it so intensely over the years. When I wrote that it isn't to "high," I didn't mean that didn't score high marks for richness, versatility, or even culture.

              Rather, I meant it in the same sense that SFGP meant contributions to "high culture." In that regard, French and Italian definitely beats out Spanish. Although in America, you will find fare more instances of Spanish's cultural impact more generally.

              September 10 at 16:56
        • franciscopena ca Canada

          I always wondered about which are the elitist languages and thought of Latin and Koine Greek as the potential front runners. But I’m general, I do agree that French and Italian from a living language perspective might be more fitting. Personally I do speak all 3 (Spanish, French & Italian) and I most enjoy reading Spanish literature.

          I plan on one day reading Arabian Night (ألف ليلة و ليلة) in the original and maybe some Persian poetry.

          August 28 at 17:44
  • run2explore99 us United States

    what's your job if you don't mind me asking?

    August 28 at 03:15
    • franciscopena ca Canada

      I work as a contractor and get to travel around the world. Pay is good, you just have to be willing to be away from friends and family for extended periods of time.

      August 28 at 10:20
  • Brummende_Beere de Germany

    Hey :) Thanks for mentioning that not all Germans speak good English! :D... So many people seem to think that...

    As you mentioned, many Germans will be relieved to speak German with you, even if your German isn't perfect. Several of my friends feel very uncomfortable speaking English. You can definitely get around Germany easily or even live here for years without speaking any German at all, especially in big cities. I meet many foreigners in Berlin who say that they want to practice German but everyone just starts speaking English to them... That definitely happens when you're living in an international bubble.

    But when you hang out with a group of Germans and you don't speak German, you'll be the annoying foreigner who "forces" everyone to switch to English because, of course, we don't want you to feel excluded :) (at least that's what happens a lot in my group of friends :D, but we're also extra friendly haha). So yes, keep learning German, Germans will appreciate it... And the good thing about learning German is that even through the language is difficult there are A LOT of great resources available online, compared to some other languages... Many movies, an endless supply of high-quality documentaries with subtitles, great online news papers, podcasts...

    And hey, how come you don't encounter any Russians? Russians are everywhere and often their English is not very good. Plus you can use Russian in many ex-soviet countries like Kazakhstan, you'll "unlock" a big part of the world with Russian... But yes, I guess you can't learn every language on earth. BUT Russians will be very happy to see a foreigner speak Russian, they will love you and tell their friends about you, you'll be popular, just think about that. :) But yes, it's very difficult to learn, the grammar is crazy. I'm a native Russian speaker, I'm always so amazed by people who speak Russian well.

    August 28 at 09:14
    • LILingquist us United States

      << BUT Russians will be very happy to see a foreigner speak Russian, they will love you and tell their friends about you, you'll be popular, just think about that. :) But yes, it's very difficult to learn, the grammar is crazy. I'm a native Russian speaker, I'm always so amazed by people who speak Russian well. >>

      This, my good man, is what I aim for someday. Thank you for keeping me motivated.

      August 28 at 16:00
    • franciscopena ca Canada

      I do have a very good Ukrainian friend who speaks better Russian than Ukrainian so there’s some motivation there but ultimately, I invested so heavily on the Macedonian Language that I really want to get it to a C1 and I figure another Slavic language like Russian will slow down my progress. I actually own but haven’t read yet crime and punishment in Macedonian so I can still enjoy Russian literature in another Slavic language.

      Other than in Syria and Israel, you won’t find many Russians in the Middle East or if there are, I haven’t found one yet.

      Just had another enjoyable conversation today with a German National and these 10-15 minutes talks really keep me motivated. Appreciate your reply and insights.

      August 28 at 16:19
      • khardy us United States

        " Other than in Syria and Israel ..." My brother, who also took Russian in high school, makes occasional business trips to Israel where he frequently encounters Russian speakers. But unlike me he has not maintained the language and will offer only "pass the salt" when goaded into speaking Russian. Meanwhile I stay firmly planted in the midwest with nary a Slav in sight.

        August 29 at 17:24
        • franciscopena ca Canada

          I remember visiting a friend in Brighton Beach in New York a long time ago and it felt like I was in Russia. Very lovely language which requires total commitment.

          August 29 at 19:59