Monday, May 2, 2011

Languages; Or It's a Small World

I don't have the elegance to describe the sounds of languages like Stephen Watkins did with his discussions on Turkish and Greek. I lack a theoretical basis in linguistics. Yet, I am on the cusp of knowing two languages. Or dozens.

I'm only fluent in English. I'm decent in Swedish. I read my news in Swedish and listen to a Swedish podcast. I read fiction and a number of Swedish blogs, everything from photo journals to young adults discovering their life-path. But, my vocabulary could still improve and I'm not very good at constructing my own sentences written or spoken.

Yet, once one moves beyond an initial language, the others become easier. Swedish is part of the family of Scandinavian languages all of which have a lot of similarities. I first realized this early in the process of my learning Swedish. I waited at the Paris de Gaulle airport, reading a newspaper. It was in Danish, but the words were similar to Swedish. In fact, I remember reading Meg Whitman from eBay had decided to run for California governor after Arnold Swartzenegger's term ended. I particularly enjoyed the article calling Arnold a muskel bøffen (or something similar). I also found it ironic that I was traveling halfway across the world and learned something about home. [1]

One of my Swedish colleagues is amused that I've learned Swedish because he thinks it's pointless. Most Swedes learn English as a second language and many of them know several languages. Yet, Swedish crops up in the most unusual places. I read a blog post on revisions and in the comments, the trackbacks had a link from someone in Sweden who had found the blog and linked to it on their blog. Yes, I found a new Swedish blog to read.

For those of you who know other languages, what are some of the strange occurrences you've had? What languages are you interested in learning?

[1] Another odd Swedish encounter was listening to Swedish radio and hearing them talk about the love life of two male penguins at the San Francisco zoo.

P.S. I'll be traveling for the next three weeks in Sweden, soaking in the language, enjoying the culture, improving my Swedish. It's a small world. You'll probably see me around ;)


  1. I should point out that everything I know about linguistics is self-taught. (Unfortunately, I've found learning a new language via the self-taught method to be less fruitful, at least so far. Probably because I haven't taken the time to try, yet, because learning a whole new language seems daunting, even though I really want to do it... and partly also because I know that unless I find a way to put it to regular use, I'll lose what I've learned - which is what happened to my French, which I used to be okay at.) Anyway, my point was that the theoretical understanding of linguistics is something you can pick up, if you look for a few sources, and there are a lot of good sources online.

  2. @StephenW, good points. I see the value in linguistics from a writing standpoint and at some point I'll squeeze some time from my schedule to learn it. I love the point in technology where we are. I've forgotten most of the German I once knew; because I had no opportunity to use it. With the Swedish, I tend to spend a 1-2 weeks every 3-4 months in Sweden. With the ability to listen to podcasts or read news over the internet; it has allowed me to continue using and improve my knowledge.

  3. Having a job that sends you to a particular company regularly probably helps... :)

  4. Yes, it helps. Although, I'm the only person I know who mostly learned Swedish the "alien" way of learning a language. Reading gibberesh until it makes sense. (I started reading the newspapers that they hand out on international flights and realized that I could understand a few words).