Despite my love of words, I have never actually picked up another language. I have “studied” both French and Japanese in school for multiple years, but neither of those stuck past a few phrases and vague recognition. While the courses are often emphasized in education, actual long term proficiency (or really long term practice) is never a priority. Thus, American kids don’t normally speak two languages unless a second one is learned at home.
I’m currently in Germany and headed to Serbia soon. I have been in both of these countries once before and rather enjoy the sounds of both languages (obviously I glean a couple of “freebie” words in German, so I’m a bit more partial to that). For both languages/places, I feel super awkward about my linguistic cluelessness. Something I pride myself on is my proficiency of communicating with other humans (ie. explaining an engineering concept to a non-engineer); but in other languages, that skill is completely worthless. It’s like I’ve lost a portion of my brain. It’s like I’m helpless.
I have friends who have started picking up languages by daily practice with tools like Duolingo (a really great app in it’s own right); but the successful ones are those who are immersing themselves in some way. It seems that the key piece is not just grammar or vocabulary, but being ok with working on your skills. Perhaps the most key skill is dealing with the imminent awkwardness of learning a new tongue.
I’m not sure when I will have time to pick up a new language, but I might try to put myself into a situation where I don’t have a choice.
Thanks to Laura for the awkward photo