Languages

Since I move in tech circles, I used to specify that I knew a lot of “human languages.” Of course, then someone asked me whether I also knew Elvish or Klingon. Sorry! Human languages (plus a few coding languages) only. Here they are, in rough order of proficiency.

  • Spanish: My siblings are adopted from Guatemala. I also lived for three months in Honduras and studied Spanish in both high school and college. So I’m reasonably fluent, though I sometimes get thrown off by accents.
  • German: I originally taught myself German during a summer vacation, right before I took a senior-level literature class taught entirely in German. (That went surprisingly well; I actually managed the only perfect score on the exam.) I then lived in Munich for my Fulbright year, 2014–2015. I attended a lot of theater, so my comprehension got very good. I still struggle to compose grammatical sentences on the fly, though.
  • Italian: Because I am too lazy to memorize opera arias phonetically, I taught myself Italian instead. I can understand and make myself understood, but my vocabulary and grammar tend to be archaic. (That’s what happens when your practice with a language consists of singing eighteenth-century opera and reading sixteenth-century plays.) Also, when I get flustered, I start speaking Spanish instead. Good thing they’re mutually intelligible!
  • Japanese: It’s been a long time since I attended Japanese immersion pre-school. When I briefly returned to Japanese in college, I found that I was only at a second- or third-year level, and I’ve probably slipped even further since. But my accent is fabulous, and I’m a pro at ordering sushi.
  • French: I studied French grammar and vocabulary on my own, and I had to read some French texts for my Master’s degree. I can understand most of what I read, and I can fumble my way through basic social interactions, but my pronunciation is execrable.
  • Hebrew: Modern Hebrew is my current language-learning project. I learned to read (with vowels) when I was young, but my vocabulary was limited to the most common words in Jewish prayers. Now I’m picking up the basic grammatical structures and more useful words and phrases.

Obviously, some of the languages on the above list still need a lot of work. But I still have a list of additional languages I would like to learn, with Danish, Latin, Mandarin, and Ancient Greek at the top.