What Languages Do You Know?

This post will mostly be for commenters to comment and let us know what languages they speak, read or write and to what proficiency.
I will start it off by discussing myself:
English: native language.
Spanish: Read, write, speak and hear well, but not as well as English. I don’t really enjoy reading, writing or speaking Spanish, but I can do it, just not as well as I can in English, so it’s not that much fun. But I can hold a conversation in pure Spanish with a Spanish speaker for hours on end with the use of effectively no English at all. It might help if I had a dictionary though.
I started studying Spanish at age 6. We lived in LA, and my Mom said, “I’m putting you in Spanish classes.” I asked, “Why?” My Mom said, “This is the future.” It was only 1963 but the writing was already on the wall. We went to a park and this nice older Spanish guy taught the kids. I’m told that’s why I have such a good accent for a gringo. I later had 2 years in junior high and four more years in high school, followed by another 1 1/2 years at university.
I took a semester at the local community college but the teacher tried to throw me out for knowing too much Spanish. Listening to Spanish radio or watching Spanish TV is a drag and I can’t make out much of it. After studying Spanish for 45 years off and on, I’m still not that fluent. If anything, my history shows how hard it is to learn a foreign language.
Portuguese: I had a Brazilian girlfriend here in the US for a while. I started out speaking Spanish and English to her and she responded in Portuguese, Spanish and English. I bought a Portuguese dictionary the first day and always had it with me. Within a week or two, I was already using a lot of Portuguese when I spoke to her.
Then she dumped me. I still can’t read Portuguese very well, but I can read a bit of it. I can only write it in the sense of throwing in a few words here and there. I can’t really hear it well at all, and I can’t speak it either. I’m still learning Portuguese.
French: I took a semester in college, then I had a French girlfriend in college who was 17 years my senior, so I picked up some words from her too. I’m learning it again lately, but it’s so different from the rest of Romance that it’s hard to figure out. I can sort of read French a bit, but it’s pretty hard. I can’t hear or speak it worth a damn, and I can sort of write a sentence or two in it, but that’s it. I’m still studying French.
Italian: I’ve started learning this language lately as I had an Italian friend. For a long time, I looked at it and looked like Greek despite my other Romance knowledge so I just screw it. After about a week or two of getting into it, things start jelling in this huge way and you can sort of start to make sense of things. I can sort of understand Italian movies partially. I can read it to some extent, but not that much, and worse than Portuguese. I can’t write or speak a word. I’m still learning Italian.
Out of Portuguese, French and Italian, they all suck, but I get Portuguese best, then Italian, but French is just horrible.
The rest of Romance: Once you have as much background in Romance languages as I do, you can understand other Romance languages to some limited extent, sometimes spoken, but more often written. But you can’t really get that much of what’s being communicated; there’s just sort of this general familiarity there. I can figure out Aragonese, Asturian, Galician and Catalan to some extent, but Occitan is harder. Romanian, Romansch and Sardinian are nearly impossible.
Chukchansi Yokuts: A California Indian language, I worked on this language for a while on a government grant. I learned some vocabulary and I can say some of the words that I learned. I can understand those words in isolation spoken back to me. Reading or writing it is impossible and listening to it in sentences is hopeless.
I invented an alphabet for them that kicks ass on the English alphabet, but any good alphabet designed by a competent linguist can do that. If you think it’s easy to invent an alphabet for a language, think again. Many world languages, not written down much have had repeated poor and failed alphabets designed for them.
German: I know some words, and I can say them, but German speakers don’t understand me when I do that, probably because I pronounce them wrong. I can pick up a bit of written down on occasion, but I can’t write a word. I can’t understand a word when it’s spoken.
Dutch: A few isolated words. I can sort make out written text to some extent, sometimes.
Russian: A few words here and there. Can’t read it or hear it at all.
Arabic: I know a bit of vocabulary, but not much. Can’t read it or understand it.
That’s basically it. Learning languages is really a total drag, but I do it because it’s one of the most hardcore forms of mental exercise I can think of.
Feel free to let us know you language history and competence in the comments.

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45 thoughts on “What Languages Do You Know?”

  1. English obviously, decent Mandarin Chinese (written and spoken), some Spanish, very basic Bahasa Indonesia, pretty limited in anything else (bits and pieces of other languages, mostly European and East Asian, that you can’t help but pick up if you travel, hang around with foreigners, or have any interest in the world).

  2. In descending order of proficiency, English, French, Japanese and Mandarin…very fluent in all aspects.
    Spanish, Swedish, German..fluent, no problems but more mistakes
    Italian, Cantonese, Russian, Portuguese..less fluent but no trouble in casual situations and some difficult conversations, no trouble reading and listening to radio.
    Korean, basic, but will soon get at it again once it becomes available at LingQ.

    1. All right WS, I looked him up. Swedish Jew, born to Czech German (Bohemian) Jewish parents in Sweden. Grew up speaking Swedish. Swedish Jews are extremely assimilated, some of the most assimilated Jews around. He moved to Canada at some point. I think he does speak all those languages. There’s a video of him on Youtube speaking them, and but he’s not completely fluent in all of them.
      If his son’s really named Mark, that’s unusual, but maybe he’s nonpracticing, in which case maybe it makes sense. Jews don’t name their kids Mark because it’s an NT Christian name. They prefer OT names. It they use an NT name, they change it John -> Jon, Mark -> Marc, etc.

  3. Note that my book is called The Way of the Linguist. My blog is called The Linguist on Language.
    What is all this preoccupation with a person’s origins , degree of religiosity, and how they name their children?
    I moved to Canada as a five year old, so comments about Swedish Jews are irrelevant.

    1. Yes, yes, we know, these are the things you only discuss behind closed doors with the tribe, or in the Hebrew pres in Israel so no Gentile eyes can pry.
      We’re into Jews on this blog. We’re about as interested in the Jews as the solipsistic Jews are about themselves. WS is interested in them because he’s an anti-Semite, whereas, I’m a philosemitic wannabe Jew with critical-Semitic streak in the finest tradition of Spinoza et al.
      It’s very well known that Jews give their kids OT names and avoid NT names like the plague. Ask any honest Jew or better yet a rabbi and they will bend your ear for a bit. Ever met a Jewish girl named Cristina? Ever met a Jewish guy named Christian, Christopher or Chris?
      Any Jew who names his son Mark is either converted out to Christianity (best guess), clueless or totally nonreligious and not even culturally Jewish anymore.

  4. I can speak English fluently as my first language, read and understand Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, Portugese and Croatian.
    I can also understand and talk in Macedonian as well as read, write, speak and understand Latin.

  5. Pashto is my first language. I am also fluent in English, Persian and Urdu. All these languages I can speak, write and read. Can also understand, read and write the standard form of Arabic but not so fluent in speaking it. I can understand Hindi as well as its structure is similar to Urdu but its script is really difficult to read.
    The language I am currently working on to learn is Kurdish. I can understand and speak a few sentences of both the Sorani and Kurmanji dialects. But reading Sorani is a totally different question. The Latin script of Kurmanji though will not give you a hard time. But Kurdish music is something I always listen to and love.
    A Dravidian language named ‘Berahvi’ is another language I can communicate in, though not that fluently.
    There are other languages of which I know a word or two or can say greetings and thanks. Like Russian, Spanish, German and French.

  6. You list all those languages yet you speak none of them except Spanish? Why even list them anyway? I find it quite pathetic that you think of language learning as a mental exercise yet have only learned one over the course of your life! I’m 17 here and speak more languages than you.

  7. Spanish: Born in Mexico
    Polish: Both parents from Poland, so that was my first language, I´m fluent, I also went to the Polish Embassy here in Mexico to do the 8th grade, so I can read and write it
    English since elementary school, studied a master degree in Los Angeles, fluent, I can write, read and speak it almost to a native level
    French: Four years in college, I listen to French radio, read the news, read books in french, not very fluent speaker but I understand pretty much everything
    German: One year classes, I can understand basic german, order food in a restaurant
    Italian: One year classes, also literature workshop, I can understand a lot, but can´t really speak it or write it
    Wish to continue learning French and German

  8. English: mother tongue
    French: Reasonably fluent. I speak the language well (having a half-French wife and an earlier French girl-friend helps quite a bit) but written French uses a much wider vocabulary, so I sometimes need a dcitionary
    Latin: studied at school, just reading and translating Latin to English
    German and Swiss-German: Studied at the Goethe Institut in London for a few weeks, then I used to work for a Swiss Bank, and traveled round the country frequently so can understand some Svizzer dialekt
    Spanish: never studied it, but if you understand French and Latin and go to Spain you can read a lot of Spanish. My kids studied Spanish properly.
    Portuguese: as above, but I find it much harder to ‘hear’ than Spanish
    Russian: studied at school, went to Russia in 1974, hardly used it since
    Mandarin: I can say ‘I love you’ and ‘thank you’, which is normally insufficient. My eldest son is currently studying Mandarin at Beijing University

  9. Vernacular: Waray waray (Ninorte Samarnon/ Northern Samar strain).
    The national language: Filipino (Tagalog)
    Lingua Franca/Philippine 2nd official language: English (I use it more in Globish)
    Can recognize a little of:
    Spanish – since our vernacular is about 45% Spanish (Philippines was once a Spanish colony so we’re quite influenced.). Even my accent carries with it some rough Spanish accent.
    German – I’ve gotten used to German language though I cannot fully understand. Nonetheless, I can somehow recognize the meaning of some words and phrases. I can trace some pattern of similarity with the English language. I can pronounce it really well also. I actually find it easier to speak in German than in British accent.
    Italian – I can trace some pattern of similarity with the Spanish language and our vernacular.
    Latin – Since Spanish is a Romance language, I can likewise trace a little pattern of word meanings.
    There are still a lot of other languages that I will be able to easily recognize upon hearing, though I can hardly figure out the sense of the word or phrase when spoken in those languages: French (This is more difficult for me to derive the meaning even if this is a Romance language. I likewise can hardly get the pattern of pronunciation.); Japanese (I watch anime.); Korean (Korean entertainment have become prominent here in the Philippines. I actually am not that happy about that fact.); and Chinese (It sure is readily identifiable.).

  10. I no speak engrish.LOL kidding, for me to comprehend all of these of course I would have to know English.
    I bet no one is interested on the languages I know but bleah just gonna write
    I live in Singapore which is a multi-racial country(namesake only,lol)
    The majority here would be Chinese,followed by the Malays,Indians and Eurasians. Hence it is normal for a Singaporean to identify with some words from each of these races.
    Also Singapore has the highest literacy rate so of course I speak English and bloody well too 😛
    Then comes my Mother Tongue,since I am an Indian, I speak various dialects. I speak Tamil very fluently since my parents are predominantly Tamils.My grandparents are Telugus and Malayalees so I understand these dialects No one can escape the clutches of Bollywood so ya I admit I understand and speak some Hindi.
    I took German as one of my modules last year.Basic.Many interchangeable terms but I can read and roughly speak German.Honing it by watching Deutsche Welle on cable tv.HAHHA
    Like I said, due to the multi racism,I can understand Chinese and read the Hanyu Pinyin.
    My dad took Bahasa Melayu as his second language.I can read malay almost flawlessly and can understand some too:)
    SO YEAH that’s about it.I believe I am multilingual
    P.s::I speak in groans and grunts too.LOL

  11. consegue entender isso? hehe
    seu website é muito interessante, frequentemente quando em minhas pesquisas eu venho aqui

  12. English and German fluently. Know Spanish, Italian and French very well (can write, read and speak efficiently). I can understand and read Polish. I am familiar with Libyan vernacular (can read, write and speak failry well) and Tamazight (understand).

  13. I only truly know one, but I dabble a bit, and I can deal somewhat with some Germanic languages.
    – English: native. Generic South England accent.
    – Icelandic: conversational. 9 months in Reykjavík didn’t help enough (expat trap), but a couple of years of reading books before that and I can hold conversations.
    – Faroese and Old Norse (less): Connection with modern Icelandic, at least on the page, is quite large. Spoken Faroese is very different though.
    – Danish, Norwegian, and slightly Swedish: I can read a fair bit. Swedish less so, due to the orthography. This is mostly due to the combination of Icelandic and a tiny bit of German.
    – German: I can read a little and understand some words spoken in isolation, as I took a course at uni.
    – Dutch, Frisian, etc: Just through German association. Dutch sounds to me like German with an Irish accent.
    – Irish: Dabbled. I can, possibly, pronounce it okay. I know a fair few words from learning from a book, and I have a bit of a thing for this language.
    – Hindi: I know a small few words, but my biggest progression in this language is that I can read the script. Learning the related scripts is a goal of mine.
    – Kyrgyz: Barely any, like Hindi, but I learned cyrillic through this.
    – French: School French. I can understand some, but I can’t repeat it at all.
    – Spanish: I can get by enough to get around without English, but I can’t have a conversation.
    I’m wanting to learn Norwegian as I feel that I’ll enjoy it there, and I want to see more of central Asia and Siberia, so Russian (unfortunately – I have no interest) and some variety of Turkic languages (Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tuvan, Sakha) would improve my experience.

  14. Korean, which is my first language.
    English, not a native speaker but pretty fluent.
    Spanish, I’ve been taking Spanish for a little more than two years. I guess I’m on intermediate level.
    Chinese (Mandarin), I took Chinese for four years. I can understand spoken Chinese, but not perfectly. I can kinda read Chinese characters while not fully understanding it.
    Japanese, a little. Better at understanding spoken Japanese.

  15. Hindi/Urdu = Native speaker….can be equally at home anywhere in Northern India and Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan etc. where a few people especially tourist guides and educated people speak Urdu.
    Someone told me that 50% of Kabul’s population is fluent in Urdu which is interesting but understandable because Afghans depend on Pakistan for economic benefits and have had close contact for hundreds of years.
    Bengali = Native speaker, bilingual. Bengali and Hindi are about 80% similar and somewhat mutually intelligible.
    Marathi = Ex- with whom I spent 7 years was native Marathi speaker. It’s close to Hindi but only about 70%, not mutually intelligible. Clearly relationships teach you new languages. I can speak Marathi fluently but not like native speakers.
    Gujurati = Similar to Marathi in few ways..can understand although not speak very well. It’s about 70% similar to Hindi.
    I don’t understand a single word of South Indian languages such as Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam or Kannada.
    English=fluent but still a second language
    French = learnt through self-help books, audio cassettes and interactions with real French people. Can read and write at a basic level, don’t require translations when reading French newspaper websites. However, can only understand conversational French when spoken REAL SLOWLY…for example their national anthem, LA MARSEILLAISE …I know the lyrics. I also enjoy watching French movies without subtitles.
    I gave up learning French because I learned from actual Frenchmen as well as Indian tourists in France that most Frenchmen are very rude and self-centered people and hardly appreciate your broken French attempts. You either speak it perfectly or they don’t speak to you at all. Unless it concerns money where they will speak to you in fluent English. I really love the way French sounds but any learning efforts should be matched with a bit of encouragement. So, my FUCK YOU to all Frenchies. I’d rather speak to them now only in English.
    I have interest in other Romance languages – Spanish and Italian and can make out a few words here and there but never got time or made an attempt to learn anything further.
    Russian = Picked up a fair amount of vocabulary (more than 1000 words) especially during my travels to Uzbekistan. Can still read the Cyrillic script. I wouldn’t be lost among a bunch of Ruskies with vodka-fueled accents…lot of common ground for convesations.
    If you know Russian, you’ll find a lot of common words across Slavic languages. For example, in Czech and Slovak language, water = voda…some written Polish sounds similar to Russian.
    German = nein; I find it very difficult really. Learning German really makes me forget English
    For future, I want to learn Russian more effectively as it’s a highly interesting language with rich history. Also, even though I have stopped learning French, it’s a strong love-hate relationship. I keep running into French words all the time which keeps me curious about the language, culture and music scene of France. The amount of time I spend in French language websites is obscene and I have a huge comfort level which is peculiar because NOONE AROUND ME knows any French apart from “cafe au lait”, “merci” and “eau de cologne”….that too, I doubt if they know the exact meaning. France is a very foreign culture to Indian sensibilities. I’m a real exception, French language does not feel foreign to me.

  16. When I was 8 I got 145 IQ.
    I’m 13 so I got a lot of time to learn but:
    “SPANISH”: Native language.
    “ENGLISH”: I didn’t like the language at all and I got bad grades at school. But one day, when I was 10 I said:
    “Seems like this summer holidays are gonna be boring so I’ll learn Englis to have a good time”
    So I went to a book store and bought 20 books to learn the language from a collection called “Vaughan”. Can read and hear it almost perfectly, not so good at writing or talking it, as I didn’t get to practice that much on my own.
    “GALLICIAN”: I’m from Gallician and my father and grandfather talk in Gallician to me, I have to learn it at school and I’m pretty good at it.
    I I’m not as good at it as in Spanish as far as vocabulary goes, but I can read it, hear it, talk it and write it almost perfectly.
    “PORTUGUESE”: As I know Gallician, I can have normal conversations in it, if I talk it, they can understand me and I can understand them, But I can’t write in it at all. I have even been able to flirt with some Brazilian and Portuguese girls.
    “FRENCH”: I learn it at school, can read it and hear it; maybe write a bit but not too awesome.
    Wanna get into Italian now that I have completed my English learning.
    Thanks for reading and would appreciate feedback.

  17. Korean: Only tongue my relatives speak to me in. Only language my relatives understand. As such, one must be fluent to be able to speak to them.
    English: I went to school in London for primary school and moved to the US for middle and high.
    Spanish: I can understand written and spoken Spanish. Can’t write or speak it though.
    German: I can understand written German and understand bits of it when spoken slowly but can’t write it.
    Mandarin: I speak, read, and understand conversational spoken mandarin. I can’t write though. My handwriting is terrible.
    Russian: I can read Cyrillic script and can write out words based on the phonetic sounds a letter symbolises but dunno what anything means.

  18. In the case of full literacy, I only know English.
    In the case of knowing some of, I know some: Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, German & Romni
    I am slao fluent in AMS, Thick American Ghetto speak and am proficient in pigeon.

      1. Hi, Robert. Ive enjoyed reading your blog today, thank you. I had to look that up, yes, mostly but there are more than black folk in American Ghettos. I’m a chameleon type (in the most sincere way) Do you know what its called when a person picks up local dialects?(Pragmatics?) I sound different in NJ than in NY and even pick up the different notes between Brooklyn and Queens so no matter what ghetto I’m in I fit in. Puerto Rican, Black, Hispanic and Indian.
        I have read that some people believe the chameleon nature is a sign of weak personality. I disagree. Sure that’s true for some but for myself the reason lay somewhere between empathy and survival.

  19. I am Italian. I know Sicilian, Italian (and they are two different languages), decent English, and some Latin; I can understand the connection of words to Old Greek.
    Thinking of how diverse Sicilian and Italian are and how effortlessly I learned both them in my infancy suggests me that if we had a smarter schooling system, fairly intelligent students could learn two more languages written in two different kinds of alphabets along with their national idiom in the 6-11 age.
    English is much easier, and would have to be taught in the 12-18 period.
    That golden early age, well, it should be used to impart Chinese, Japanese, and maybe Sanskrit.
    Nobody with a normal brain can learn those as an adult, unless they take one as the subject of their whole university years. I can’t, and it frustrates me. There’s a cultural wellspring of material written in Mongolian and Hindu languages.

  20. I know this is two years old, but I am commenting anyway.
    English is my mother tongue, literally. My father had the misfortune of having English as his first language, was forced to forget it when he moved to Europe as a child, then had to re-learn it as an adult when returning to North America. It was not pleasant.
    I am fairly fluent in Dutch spoken in a sort of Southern Dutch accent (lived in Eindhoven). Can understand, write (essays, letters and emails), and read it. Still read Internet articles in Dutch.
    Like the language for its avoidance of conceptual words from Latin and Greek. (geography=aardrijkskunde, chemistry=scheikunde, universe=heelal, the big bang theory=oerknal), The pronunciation is harder than German for English speakers.
    The Dutch, not the Flemish, have difficulty in distinguishing whether certain words are masculine and feminine because they use the same definite article (de). Flemish has different indefinite articles for masculine (nen or ne) and feminine (een), while Dutch only has een for both.
    I am fairly fluent in French but with my own weird understandable accent. I can understand spoken European and Quebec French. Can read and write French, i.e., know how to write essays, emails, and letters in French.
    I speak a little Spanish with a poor accent (took a year at college). I will not starve in a Spanish speaking country. Can read it with the help of a dictionary. I have trouble understanding Spanish speakers.
    I know some German after three years of high school German. Can speak some and read it with a dictionary in hand. Am used to the word order from Dutch, which I learned after German. Can understand German.
    I took 1 year of Russian in high school and 2 years in college. I have forgotten most of it. My Russian accent is better than any of the other languages I learned because it was the only language that I learned properly, i.e., first a lot of listening and repeating and oral exercises before studying reading and grammar. I wish I had done that with other languages, Spanish (in particular).

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