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July 8, 2024 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Have you learnt, or tried to learn, a second (or third or fourth language)? Either fully, partially, or just a few essential phrases? Did you learn by accident, deliberately, for a trip or holiday, or were you forced to learn at school? Do you still use it? Do you intend or want to learn a language? ... Or write about whatever is on your mind, in your heart, on your plate or in your journal, because this is your weekly free thread. [Post inspired by a 1970's song, Wikipedia detail] [Most recently] Also ...

... maybe wander over to "the grey" and consider also dropping an answer in the current MetaTalkTales.
posted by Wordshore (147 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I am ashamed to admit I have no ability to pick up new languages, which seems a bit untrue as I have made a living (such as it is) programming for many years. But programming languages are wildly simple, with relatively few rules, compared with natural languages. I took three years of spanish in high school and cannot really form even a simple sentence. Trying duolingo a few years back, in hopes of some sort of new-found aptitude, was a failure.

I admire greatly anyone who can pick up new languages, or be fluent in more than one.

[Edited to add one of the reasons I dropped out of university was the year I matriculated was the year they put a language requirement on graduating. I knew I would never make it.]
posted by maxwelton at 12:19 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

...or were you forced to learn at school?

That line was because we were forced to learn - or at least show up for - French at school (ages 12 and 13). My school report as a 13 year old reads "John has clearly given up on this subject, and wrote obscenities on his examination paper. Examination mark: 0%". (Oddly, I keep having French phrases from those years come to mind so something sank in) The less said about compulsary German, where I managed to somehow achieve a negative mark in the end of year examination, the better.

But here I am, over 40 years later, attempting to learn Swedish.
posted by Wordshore at 12:24 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

The less said about compulsary German, where I managed to somehow achieve a negative mark in the end of year examination, the better.

My senior-year-of-high-school Spanish teacher gave me a generous "D-", only because she felt an "F" might prevent me from graduating and she felt that wasn't in my best interest (or she'd rather not see me for another year of apathy and no-progress?).
posted by maxwelton at 12:34 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I cycled across (some*) of Europe once with no real route in mind and I had a great guide/manual specifically for cyclists, each country section included pronunciation for about 50 core words (niceties, bicycle parts, food & accom.)

*Switzerland, Germany, Belgium (and a day in France. Didn't like it stopped once to make a sandwich and looped back to Belgium) & Lux., England & Scotland). Belgium is my favourite.

I have at times learned some Italian, and German, and tried Russian once.
posted by unearthed at 12:39 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I was French/English bilingual to a mother tongue level (fallen out of practice, now just mostly English/Bad English) and in response to this title post I'd like to tell Wordshore - tu as de belles cuisses.
posted by Molesome at 12:44 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I've always hugely admired polygots.
Someone I used to work with was fluent (officlal government translator level) in 3 languages, and was pretty fluent in four others (to a level she could often pass as a local). And then was learning another two more for fun at the time I was working with her.

It was always incredible to see when she made a minor mispronouciation or misphrasing, and I'd let her know (on her request), she'd pause, think about it for a bit, and then never make that same mistake again.

I used to struggle with just English at school,

French became much easier when I finally realised I need to think in French, not think in English and then try to translate before speaking. But I was nearly done with school by then.

I was up to a good converasational level in NZSL when practicing regularly after studying for a few years (such as having a two hour convo with someone I randomly met at a party entirely in sign.).

Recently I was very pleased to start learning my fourth language by getting onto to a 'te reo' course (Māori), in which I'm still at the very basic level so far, but very excited to be learning more.

The aim is to be able to communicste in all three official languages of my home in Aotearoa NZ (both in conversation and with respect to culture).
posted by many-things at 12:44 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

I accidentally moved to a German speaking country a few years ago, and so now, three decades after I was given the lowest grade possible in Spanish (x, and it wasn’t for ¡excelente!) I’ve got a working knowledge of German. One thing that slowed me down was that I’ve been learning to dual-wield my native English and German, unlike my co-learners from other countries who rarely have a chance to speak their mother tongue on a day to day basis. There’s definitely some cross contamination; I’m not quite at the stage where German grammar structure use I do (aka Yoda syndrome), but I can feel my vocabulary reaching for words I don’t often use. Ah well, that’s what dictionaries are for.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:49 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

At my school the language options were limited to French and Welsh (this, naturally, was in Wales). The French teacher was a man who really wasn't cut out for that line of work, meaning I and almost everyone else did badly at it as a result. Welsh wasn't so bad but I elected not to keep it up.

I lived and worked in Italy for two years (in a largely Anglophone workplace) and only by the end of that time had I just about clambered from beginner-level Italian into the lower reaches of intermediate ability. I soon forgot most of it after leaving the country.

Later I lived and worked for much longer in Sweden (nine years, again in an English-speaking office) and am ashamed to say I barely tried to learn any Swedish, gaining only a bare minimum of the language as was needed for supermarket shopping, etc.
posted by misteraitch at 12:54 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Good morning all!
When I was four, we moved to England, and I learnt English. First we lived in Buckinghamshire in a normal commuter village. But then we moved to Yorkshire, to a tiny village where we were five children: Sarah, Sarah, Simon and me and my brother. There I learnt to switch between the local dialect and RP for school and other stuff involving adults. I could also do Scots. When we visited Denmark, one set of grandparents lived in Vendsyssel, where the dialect is similar to Northern England, so there too I learnt both the dialect and the Danish version of RP.
Then we moved to Germany, but we went to an American school, mostly for the tons of army brats. So a new form of English. I didn't learn one word of German, because the other kids in our building were French, and my French aunt claims I spoke perfect French. I'm not good at French now, but I can read it and manage basic stuff.
Then we moved to Italy, where I learnt some important phrases, like how to order gelato, but it was only for a short while, and we moved back to Denmark. But then my dad moved to Belgium, so I'd go and visit him frequently, and speak more French. I've studied Italian later in life, but I can't say I'm fluent.
But here is the funny part: I really didn't get German. In school, I'd always be drawing in the classes, and the German teacher would take the drawings at the end of each class and I failed all my assignments. But it turned out that her husband was an architect, and she showed him the drawings. And he convinced her to give me a good grade in spite of my ignorance so I could continue to secondary school and eventually go to an art academy and study art and architecture. And at that academy, I met my future (now ex) husband, who was German. And I learnt German!

When I was younger, I thought a lot about how thinking is different in different languages. It definitely is, but I'm not sure how big of a difference it really makes. Or maybe what makes the difference -- the languages or growing up in different cultures? I've noticed that many of my closest friends are also third culture kids, so there is something there.
posted by mumimor at 1:14 AM on July 8 [17 favorites]

Sitting at my desk in our ramshackle old house in the centre of a picturesque 17th/18th century Dutch town, a Brit at the height of pre-Brexit anxieties, I read that old boys like me who had been here a long time were eligible for citizenship. Great news! Only one problem, the whole process, including interviews, had to be done in Dutch and my Dutch was an abomination, more likely to cause an international incident than win me a passport and unrestricted access to my home and family.

I can read most anything in anything even if I cannot order a beer. I mugged up on the immigration process, the associated laws and swallowed the lexical caboodle whole. I was nervous before my interviews. The local government official was large and intimidating. But the Dutch flew out out of my mouth, words twittering like happy little birds in full flight.

Mrs. Large Scarey Lady clucked in approval and uttered words that will crown my bald head for evermore..... "your Dutch is outstanding......" Wow!!!! But then came the deadly pause....... " for a Brit."

My crash landing back to reality shook the building before I burst out laughing as did she, "my Dutch is outstanding...for a Brit!"

I have my passport and my Dutch is even more outstanding today than it was yesterday!! Hehe.
posted by dutchrick at 1:21 AM on July 8 [26 favorites]

In Finland we have to take Mandatory Swedish in grades 6–9 and onwards to high schools, vocational school, onwards to universities. I'm maybe so-so in very basic conversational swedish, maybe a little better at reading it. Also we study english from I think grade four. I have been fluent in english starting sometime around 13–14 years old, for me it was always the easiest class in school and I always pretty much got straight 10's (A's for people elsewhere) all the time. This had to with being very much into popular culture which was (at least all interesting stuff was!) in English. This has lead to people thinking I've lived abroad for years when in reality I've just always been a quick and nerdy kid and about 80% of my online interactions have been in English since 1996 or so. Not to say my English is perfect, I catch myself with errors all the time.

Other languages: tiny bit of spanish (I spent three weeks alone in Spain 15 years ago, got along well with bits of (broken) spanish and english. Always tried to make do without much or at all english, and did ok in the end. Lived in Estonia for three months eight years ago, picked up some of that, by listening to the radio mostly since I was alone for most of the time! Got along nicely with finnish and the little bit of estonian I knew. They sound a bit similar. Estonians (sorry for generalisation!) are one of the nicest people I've ever met and I wish to live there again some day.

Studied French in high school for two courses, couldn't get the hang of it at all. Sounds so different than what is written and also spoken very quickly. Couldn't advance fast enough, had to drop it.
posted by fridgebuzz at 1:38 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

1978 is a long time ago, but I was there. Where? Working in Diergaard Blijdorp in Rotterdam. I was hired as an extra hand while we /they set up the World's Greatest Aquarium Exhibition. One of the consequences is that I know loadsa Dutch words related to aquariums, fish, water [dekruit, verversen, koraalduivel, schoonmaken, zeemen] for which I draw a blank entirely in English. Dekruit is the pane of glass laid on top of an aquarium to stop the fish jumping out and crap falling in. There must be a single word in English? For similar reasons I have, or had, a long list of agri-nature terms and phrases in Polish and Spanish.

A few years later, I was scheduled to do field work in Cabo Verde and other parts of the Portuguese Atlantic Empire. I figured that ENGLISH wouldn't cut it and one of us should learn Portuguese as a half way house to the criolo that folks spoke in Cabo Verde. Providentially, the Lisbon government was on a jag spreading Portuguese culture abroad. They were paying the salary of a young cultural ambassador in my provincial English university. She gave me weekly 1to1 lessons for a few months: allowing her to [✓] for head office and me to get fluent enough to read newspapers and write short stories and have halting conversations in Portuguese.

Now when I try to speak to foreigners, out comes a gallimaufry of all these, along with skool French and German: I call it Europeo and it baffles everyone involved including me.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:17 AM on July 8 [10 favorites]

I learnt Esperanto a few years ago. I've mostly lost it now, but really enjoyed that time. I'm still proud of myself for going to a meet-up. I liked reading Alice and Tintin in Esperanto, and finding out about the political history of the movement.

My degree is in old and middle English, but the OE has mostly gone too. I struggled with the grammar, being in the cohort of UK schoolchildren who were taught very little English grammar.

Enjoy puzzling my way through Latin inscriptions like this one.

Am on go slow this morning, partly because my first work action needs to be to ring IT to ask them why they have suspended my account (my colleague rang them on Friday and said she spoke to a "hopelessly downcast young man"). Came out of the shower to find this guarding my clothes, so I don't know how I'm supposed to get dressed now.
posted by paduasoy at 2:40 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]

I struggled with the grammar, being in the cohort of UK schoolchildren who were taught very little English grammar.

In my first Japanese language class, the old Prof uttered the immortal words, " 'wa' is an elliptical subject particle." While the rest of my much younger fellow students blanched with a ' you what!?' I smiled with relief, "ah terra firma, now that is a great anchor point, more of the same please!"

My generation was perhaps the last that was soused in grammar in both English and Latin to 18. Thanks for the memory paduasoy
posted by dutchrick at 3:20 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

on library days in elementary school, while my classmates browsed through whatever level-appropriate books the librarian had on display for us, i made a beeline towards the picture dictionaries. one week with german, one week with russian, etc. etc. on repeat until i ran out of new languages and started over again.

(sometimes i would shake things up a little and check out a cookbook - which i then insisted we make something out of during the week i had it. i still remember how disappointed i was with the taste of the blini from the russian cookbook, but my parents loved them! so they copied the recipe and we continued to have them on a fairly regular basis. i came around eventually.)

i continued trying to teach myself new languages out of books (japanese, swahili, always something that would be difficult for a native english speaker to pick up, and never anything the adults around me thought would be "useful"). then i started taking german in high school and i finally began to make progress, but i still dreamed of languages beyond what was offered in my school district.

is it any wonder i went into linguistics at university? i kept up with german and started to focus on historical lingustics and took seminars in gothic and anglo saxon. to fill out requirements i added japanese and arabic, reasoning that well, i have to take a non-indo european language, and i've always wanted to try arabic too...

department of defense recruiters came into my arabic class in 2001 to talk up their language institute and gave everyone a little survey that asked what language classes we were in aside from arabic, among other questions i can't remember now. i suppose on paper i looked like a promising candidate, because i got pulled aside for a one-on-one conversation that went something like this:

recruiter: a linguistics major, plus german, japanese, and arabic. are there any other languages you're interested in?
me: oh yeah sure! swahili, dutch, welsh, catalan, maltese...
recruiter (making a face): none of those are useful to us.

i did not go to the defense language institute after graduating, i went to japan instead. now i'm a japanese/english interpreter in kyoto and whenever i try to speak german, japanese comes out of my mouth instead. i can still read german, but i don't get enough speaking practice right now. sadly, my arabic has completely disappeared.
posted by emmling at 3:22 AM on July 8 [14 favorites]

We we, bonjourno, como estas. Que? Spaciba. C yo es el idiota par linugua.
posted by sammyo at 3:27 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

...and in response to this title post I'd like to tell Wordshore - tu as de belles cuisses.

Fogadok, hogy ezt mondod az összes MeFitesnek.
posted by Wordshore at 3:36 AM on July 8

And yes I do know "We we" should be spelled Oui oui. Just messing with youse guyse. oh gosh, just try typing Спасибо extemporaneously.
posted by sammyo at 3:55 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

The second language I studied was Russian, and yes, using the amazing Lipson textbook!
That meant learning about how shockworkers lived and loafers misbehaved, singing the concrete song (including the diminitive for concrete-mixer), praising Super-person, and dreading Olga who stole shoes under the table. Not to mention practicing how not to answer a question.

(The next year we used a more formal textbook and most of my class failed)
posted by doctornemo at 3:58 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Living here in Europe now I appreciate how many people are fluent in 2 or 3 languages. In many circles, it is even the norm.

In the Netherlands, for example, many immigrants here have their native language, then learn Dutch but you also need English to survive in the business world. That explains the guy near me at the airport the other day: He spoke fluent Spanish (I think he was originally from Spain) on the phone with some client, then he called his partner and relayed the conversation in perfect English. After he was done, he turned to talk Dutch with his small kid who, growing up in NL, was a native Dutch speaker.

This is something that always bothered me a bit in the US and even elsewhere. Everyone makes a big deal of learning more than one language as if its an enormous intellectual task. But many of the Mexican immigrants around you speak at least two (Spanish and English) and possibly three languages - as there are still active Indian languages (Nahuatl, Zapotec, etc). But nobody congratulates them for that.
posted by vacapinta at 4:09 AM on July 8 [23 favorites]

I learned a little French in 7th grade, and am coming back to it now in retirement. After a couple years of Duolingo, i can say that my reading comprehension is getting pretty good, but my listening and writing still feels poor. The app just doesn't force you to exercise those to the same degree.

Why, French? 7th grade me was very into The Three Musketeers.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:12 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I was forced to learn French and Latin in school, mostly a waste of time, French I've used on occasional visits to France, Latin never. The two languages I wished I had learned (Mandarin and Te Reo), that really would have been useful, were not available. I've got nothing against French but it lives in my head coming out sometimes when I least need it in China rather than what I want to say
posted by mbo at 4:13 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I picked up some Spanish in junior high, a couple of yeas of German in high school, and was close to fluent in Russian by the time I graduated from college. I don't really use any of them any more, other than to amuse myself. However, thanks to this mix of languages, I find others like French, Italian, Latin, etc., are easier to roughly parse, at a rudimentary level.

I would really like to learn Chinese (Cantonese) at some point. I just need the time.
posted by JohnFromGR at 4:21 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I really wish I could pick up languages more easily, but even when I was young they just wouldn't stick.

I took French in middle school, high school, and college (so from about 14 to 20, for those who have no idea what "middle school" is). I never learned to understand spoken French at a normal pace. I used to be able to read in French, which was fun. I really liked Octave Mirbeau. Even that was a matter of translating it into English in my head as I went, though. Now even that capacity is mostly faded, and my post Covid cognitive problems mean it is probably not something I will be able to remaster. C'est la vie.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 4:26 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Well, I picked up a little bit of Verilog this week! I got my prototype FPGA-based card working last night. Actually I’m cheating a little bit, this particular FPGA board I’m using has a toy language sitting in between me and Verilog. Training wheels kind of thing. It does spit out the intermediate Verilog so I can eventually take the training wheels off once I find my feet.

It’s just a janky breadboarded setup right now, but I’m trying to get a PCB design finished and ordered today, hopefully manufactured and received before I head to KansasFest next week, so I have something a little more polished to show off. This version does bus capture only, but eventually I will implement the full two-way bus. If only I had come up with this idea a month sooner!
posted by notoriety public at 4:37 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

I had French Immersion from kindergarten in Montreal, and moved to France for a year when I was six, and I've kept up with it sporadically since then (in high school I took up to AP French Literature, when they still had an AP French Literature). I am competent enough to start conversations in French when I'm in Montreal but my accent is bad enough that people mostly switch to English without me asking them to.

I started with Japanese in high school because I loved anime, and was very cynical about whether shows I liked would get translated, or translated accurately. (This was not long after the Sailor Moon dub switched a character's gender in order to avoid having to deal with a gay relationship). I was very intense about it for a while, studied Classical Japanese in Nagasaki for a year, but life got busy and anime got bad. I'm still trying to keep my fluency up (hopefully going back to Japan before too long!) by reading novels.

I started with Spanish because I was going to be a public librarian, and if you're going to be a public librarian pretty much anywhere in the US, you ought to know at least some Spanish. Unfortunately I never approached this with the drive and intensity I had for Japanese, and it's only in the past few years that I've started to get to a level where I'm pretty comfortable with reading. (I'm no longer a public librarian, but my institution is an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution and besides, once you're a little bit competent in a language, it seems a shame not to stay with it.)

I started with Mandarin Chinese because it was one of the more common languages spoken at the library where I was working, and because I had the vague idea that I might do a PhD in Japanese Literature, and many programs will require you to have at least a little knowledge of Chinese. Much like Spanish, I got to a level where I knew a lot but not a level where I was really comfortable in daily situations. This is due to anxiety as much as anything else, I think. (And also, my linguistic auditory processing is kind of crap even in English).

So that's two languages I'm fluent-ish in, one more language where I'm sort of at that threshhold level just under fluent, and...maybe someday I'll get into Nirvana in Fire and The Untamed and all of those wuxia / xianxia series everybody was into in 2019 and start studying Chinese again, but probably not.

I'm honestly not that enamored of the idea of being a polyglot, even though I've studied Welsh and Finnish and Arabic and so on on Duolingo for a week. I'd rather go much deeper with the languages I'm already a bit good at.
posted by Jeanne at 4:40 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

My personal definition is that if you've had a successful unscripted conversation with a native speaker of a language, you can say that you "speak" that language.

An example of what doesn't count (for my definition) would be simple ordering in a restaurant. That's a script that I can memorize in advance, with a very controlled vocabulary. Worth doing, but not the same.

By that definition, I can speak German, French and Spanish in addition to English. I've had at least some classroom instruction in each at different times. All have been supplemented by media, recorded media for years, streaming in the last decade and a half or so.

Practice and immersion is the challenge for a US resident, since we're adrift in a sea of English monolingualism. Reading is easy--I can understand 95%-plus of what I read in French. Speaking for me is....middling, and there's the constant worry as to whether you have "le mot juste" that matches current usage and connotations. Listening comprehension is difficult. And of course, words in French that are immediately recognizable in writing won't be in the context of everyday speech. I joke with people that "I speak bad French really well."

A bit of that happens in German, too, although the gap between spelling and pronunciation isn't as wide.

Reading a book in another language is another milestone, more satisfying, less likely to cause awkward moments or waste the other person's time. I've hit that mark in German and French several times.
posted by gimonca at 4:46 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

notoriety public: take your verilog off to tiny tapeout
posted by mbo at 4:52 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

When I was in West Africa I'd deal with people who regularly spoke bits of up to eight languages--French everyday, English when they'd be in Ghana, local primary languages like Fon and Ewe, the local dialect of Fulani/Peul, their birth language might be yet another, then a couple more beyond that.
posted by gimonca at 4:55 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I learned German in high school in the UK, and did fairly well considering that I was also dealing with the mental sledgehammer of epilepsy at the time. I even retained a lot of it!

Much, much later, I got into K-pop and attempted Korean on Duolingo. Friends, it was a miserable failure, I think not so much because of anything I did, but because Duolingo's model is not really to make people learn a language, it's to have them subscribe as long as possible, and it kept cutting corners and moving goalposts until it was less than useless to me.

Might try Lingodeer when I have a bit more cash to actually pay for a language subscription, I hear they're way better for Asian languages.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 4:55 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I am actively working on my Romanian. It's useful when visiting (Comrade Doll is from here; we're here for two weeks right now). But it's also a requirement for me to get citizenship, which we'll do in a few years when we semi-retire and move here.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:04 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Language for travel is another scenario. I've had a few tactical victories there, but the knowledge all goes into hibernation after I get back home. Could I pick up some Portuguese again? Maybe.

I seem to do really well with pronunciation. I got complimented on my Portuguese in Portugal! The problem is that all the other stuff you need to have to speak the language doesn't keep up. People assume that you know a lot more than you do, and you quickly get in deeper water that you don't know how to navigate.

I think I got the Danish "soft d" licked, too, a couple of years ago. No small feat for a mere mortal. I should do that again someday.

Mandarin was tough. Months of trying with a little progress, but not much. I think more immersion, with real people interactions and printed material support would have helped.
posted by gimonca at 5:08 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I took German in High School and did OK. I was great at grammar, but my vocabulary was terrible, and it's hard if you don't know the words. Our teacher focused more on written than spoken German, and my then girlfriend took German for 4 years. When she got to college, they gave her a written placement test, and unsurprisingly, she aced it. She didn't let them put her in senior level classes her freshman year.
We're under Beryl at the moment. No flooding around the house, and we have power. The latest word from work is for people to come in @ 11:00 for the morning shift. We'll see if that happens. (I took the day off, so I'm just sitting at home, watching the news and listening to the wind and rain.)
posted by Spike Glee at 5:11 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

We asked my mother-in-law what we could help her with while we are here in Romania. She said she would like to have a watermelon. She lives up three flights of stairs and has arthritis. Carrying a four kilogram fruit up to the apartment on her own isn't really an option.

So we brought her a watermelon.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:16 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]

Why, French? 7th grade me was very into The Three Musketeers.

In my case, I picked French at that age because my grandmother was from the Francophone section of New Brunswick, Canada. I never really learned enough to have a conversation with her in French. But - many years later, I was preparing for a trip to Paris and played around with Duolingo to "brush up on it". I still felt pretty shaky when I set off on the trip. But then after a couple days something just sort of....clicked, and I was having simple conversations with people. I even went on a date where half the conversation was in French. I even got complimented on my French each time I had to beg permission to switch to English a couple times mid-stream (my pronunciation is apparently good, I just don't remember vocabulary).

It was the freakiest thing how that information was just suddenly there. I felt like Neo in The Matrix ("Je connais le kung-fu!").

Something similar to that suddenly-the-info-is-there also happened with Irish. I only know a handful of things - all taught me by my Irish friend, who started as my pen-pal when we were both twelve. She grew up speaking both at home - in fact, Irish was her first language and her parents didn't start speaking English around the house until she was about three. Her family did NOT live in the Gaeltach Irish-speaking district, so when she was three and went out to play with some neighbor kids and spoke Irish, they looked at her funny and her parents realized "oops" and started speaking both languages at home.

She'd taught me some basic things in the letters as we were growing up - hello (dia dhuit), goodbye (slán), Merry Christmas (Nollaig Shona), the kinds of things you would put in a letter. I finally went to visit when we were in college; she was living at home, and the whole family spoke English to me but Irish to each other (especially when they had some family stuff to tend to, like when her mom had to scold her two much-younger sisters). I didn't think I was picking anything up, but then at some point during my stay I went to a house party with them, and at some point I was helping to pass around a plate of canape's or something. One of the people there - to whom I had not been introduced formally, so I was just a stranger to them - thanked me in Irish: "go raibh maith agat!" And completely without thinking, I just said "you're welcome!" It took us both a couple seconds to realize - wait, I'd understood him. (Ironically, "you're welcome" is one phrase in Irish I can not retain!)

What's also kind of lovely is: I've run into another couple Irish speakers since, and they've been politely impressed each time I knew how to say a few things. But one also noticed that apparently, I speak Irish with a County Cork accent - just like my friend.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

My spouse, MeFi's own Comrade Doll, speaks five languages fluently.

The most impressive thing though, to me, is that she sounds like herself in every language. The same tonality, the same brightness and warmth.

So many of the folks we know who are multilingual have slightly different personas in each language, with audibly different voices/vocal character. I understand why that happens and it makes sense to me.

But I always find it very impressive that CD sounds like the same person in French as in English, in Italian as in Hungarian or Romanian.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:53 AM on July 8 [10 favorites]

> something just sort of....clicked

I love the scene in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit when Anna's French clicks into place.
posted by paduasoy at 5:54 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I told in another post how I grew up with english and a couple of forms of spanish (ecuador and PR). My high school was a jesuit academy so they were very intense on giving us the fundamentals of how to learn more and how to want to learn more. So, we had an introduction to latin, and I took french as an elective. Having fluency in one romance language makes moving to others a little bit easier. Then I moved to Denmark and eventually learned danish. Today I am fluent. During my first years of living in Copenhagen I took a trip to Greece and realised that while I was in no way fluent I could, however, read street signs and the names of the ships and when I thought about it I realised that it was because when you take high level math and engineering courses it is all about the greek letters and it must have stuck somewhere. Back in DK I was in a relationship with a danish/french girl with family in Bordeaux so that helped my french get stronger. Later, a previous company sent me to our offices/R&D in Barcelona and then I got more acquainted with the rules of castilian spanish and also got a crash course in catalan. I still switch over to "spain spanish" when meeting up with my friends from the area. I have since changed companies and now work with a team in Kuala Lumpur and last year had the opportunity to move to KL for a few months. I attempted to get a low level, basic understanding of malay and got enough to be polite and to be able to read a few of the food stall signs (very important for me!). I think, for me, it is not so much about wanting to learn a new language, it is more that I do not like not understanding things and that's what motivates my brain to absorb.
posted by alchemist at 5:54 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

I lived in Helsinki for a couple brief stints when I was younger, and it transformed my dumb American understanding of the world when I realized how much of an unfair advantage I had at everything just by being a native English speaker, even when I was a foreigner. I learned a little Finnish, but came nowhere near to fluency, just fondness.

What does making a career out of high language-learning skill look like these days? Asking for a small friend.
posted by eirias at 5:54 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

"It ain't stupid if it works!"

Well, this works and it ain't stupid.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 5:55 AM on July 8

I studied Latin and Greek. The first Latin course was mandatory, and nobody liked it except me and a couple of other insufferable types. I was thirteen or so, and I still remember how wonderful it felt to see everything slot into place. That was my first new language. After that there was German and Greek and a desperate attempt at Arabic that dragged me through one semester, mainly because the teacher was kind.

Now I do Duolingo Spanish. It's worth what I pay for it, but my streak is so long that it predates Covid, and emotionally it's hard to let go of. I've been able to use it for simple tasks and communications, and it's a great feeling, but I gotta upgrade. That involves paying money, though, so I have been slow to.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:56 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I think, for me, it is not so much about wanting to learn a new language, it is more that I do not like not understanding things and that's what motivates my brain to absorb.

I think thats the key. Entire bookstores and libraries filled with books you can't read? How can anyone stand that? Waiting patiently for translations feels like poverty.

In related news, I've just started learning Russian. I actually signed up for an intensive class that requires two and a half hours every morning during the week (classes alternated with homework) and after only a month takes you from zero to A2 level. There's an exam at the end.

What can I say. I like how language learning tickles my brain. And the rewards are numerous from reading books in the original to conversing with people. Last time we went to Rome, the conversation I had in Italian with a woman whose father was close friends with Pasolini will stick in my memory for a very long time.
posted by vacapinta at 6:09 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Let me tell you that is fun and gratifying for me to retain the French I was able to learn for free as an immigrant to Canada. Admittedly, it is Quebec French for the most part, but I love being able to read French and understand it. My spoken is awful because I get so self-conscious, but it is a pity that despite being officially a bilingual country, I rarely encounter Anglophones outside of Quebec who speak it. I understand that much like our pitiful Spanish and French classes in high school in the States, English speakers get pretty much the same deal during their high school year. Unless you really invested in delving deep, any French you learned back then isn't retained well.

Again, being an immigrant gave me a leg up in a bilingual country by full-on French language immersion in the Eastern Townships.
posted by Kitteh at 6:09 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I've wondered about Duolingo and such-- people have fun with the app, but I'm not seeing people talk about achieving fluency for conversation or reading. Does fluency happen and I'm just not seeing people talk about it? Or do people need engagement with actual talk and writing that just doesn't happen from an app?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:14 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Nancy Lebovitz -- I did Duolingo for Spanish, which is my mother's native tongue. (For Reasons, she was never allowed to teach us when we were kids.) I didn't retain much. Oddly, learning French helped me understand more of the Spanish language (duh), but I wouldn't say I could speak any Spanish. I can understand it but a conversation is beyond me.
posted by Kitteh at 6:20 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Talking bout one of my vary favorite words!

posted by djseafood at 6:24 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Since I'm Canadian, I speak some French, but I was in the unlucky cohort for whom the Charter was passed just after that window in early childhood when language acquisition is easiest, and that was taught French by whatever warm body the school system could find because they were required to teach French but hadn't enough teachers yet. As an adult, I've supplemented with Duolingo, and it has helped a little, but I lock up in actual conversations and can't remember anything I know. I am okay at understanding spoken French, if the French speaker is patient or if it's something like an audiobook for elementary school kids, and I can pick up the general sense of song lyrics, sometimes, but that's about it.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:24 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I was taught French and Hebrew. The Hebrew didn't really penetrate, and I never had any reason to use the French. In college, I took Japanese to fulfill my foreign-language requirement, and just stuck with it, eventually moving to Japan for a couple years and becoming a Japanese translator. As a senior in college, I took a semester of Chinese, figuring I had a leg up on the characters; while I did well in the class, I don't remember a speck of it.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Portugal, and to prepare, we took Duolingo lessons in Portuguese. After we'd been doing that for a month, we figured out how dramatic the differences were between Brazilian Portuguese (what Duolingo teaches) and European Portuguese. That was kind of frustrating, although the lessons helped anyhow. The typical English-speaking ability in Portugal turned out to be very high, and there were only a couple of interactions we had to stumble through in our minimal Portuguese. The funny thing was that when I was working through those Duolingo lessons, my long-disused synaptic pathways for French got reactivated, as I recognized echoes of verb conjugations I had learned decades before.
posted by adamrice at 6:29 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I can give my opinion of DuoLingo, having tried it out. I signed up for Premium as a way to review Italian right before an Italian class. It worked ok for that specific use case.

The problem is that DuoLingo moves too slow. It tries to teach by the immersion method. So, no grammar, no real structure, just lots of sentences. There's nothing wrong with immersion; it is how we learned our first language after all. But immersion requires lots and lots of time and repetition. You didn't pick up English or whatever as a baby by interacting with your parents a few times a day. You did it by being bathed in the language, day in and day out constantly. You also have to make yourself understood not just listen passively. The app doesn't do any of that. It can't do that and so it is too little, too shallow, in my opinion, to provide any productive path to real language learning.

I did pick up one language by immersion as an adult. That was Portuguese. But thats because my spouse's family is Portuguese. Her father, before he passed away, spent years and years requiring care and being in and out of hospitals. We were in Lisbon constantly, sometimes months at a time. I had to help. And to help navigate through all this. That meant speaking Portuguese. And so I did. Badly at first and then rapidly better. And then, suddenly, fluency. I've been told I speak like a native. But it took years, of being awash in the language, of making myself understood to staff at rural hospitals and then focusing intensely on their replies. That was a path that worked though not one I'd specifically recommend for obvious reasons.
posted by vacapinta at 6:34 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I did four years of Latin in high school and three years of Spanish in high school and college, so all the Romance languages are pretty easy for me. I can read them all without too much trouble and speak enough passable tourist French and italian, and fair Spanish when I put my mind to it.
posted by briank at 6:36 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

English Canadian. I grew up in an ESL immigrant house, and my parents spoke Dutch a fair bit, usually as secret code for in front of other people. I'm fluent in Dutch, but since it all came orally, am functionally illiterate in it.

There was French in school, but it never really took. Of much more help was that Dad was a big fan of French chanson, so I picked up a lot that way. Moving to Montreal really solidified it.

A couple of years ago I happened to be in Hamburg, and I was astonished at how much German I understood -- my Dutch got me halfway there. I started up with German on Duolingo, and I'm still at it at 600+ days. I really like Duolingo's gameplay model, as it keeps me at it, and it's nice having a learning subject that's not connected to school or work or anything important.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:38 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Duolingo seems pretty useless without buying a basic grammar book in the language. I took two years of Spanish in high school, then, decades later, tried learning German in Duolingo, and got to a point where it was a struggle to complete a daily assignment. Went back to Spanish, and had (and am having) a much easier time of it, probably because of those earlier high school classes, but I'm now at the stage where I ended up getting a grammar book. We'll see if it helps me actually put together an original sentence.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:39 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

French would be a bit handy as I'm in Canada but l'Académie Française can go get fucked. I won't learn a language that has gender essentialism baked into it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:43 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

My partner on the other hand used Duolingo (for four+ years) to get qualified for English/French bilingualism employment in the Canadian federal civil service, at a significant boost in pay and responsibility. So the little green owl has got that going for it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:45 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

When I was a kid, my parents put me in summer school classes whenever possible and for a while it was basic language classes -- one year was German, another was Russian, and in junior high there was an "introduction to world languages" class, but beyond that I haven't studied any other language but American English. Surprisingly, the small rural high school I went to had no foreign language requirement for graduation, possibly due to the lack of qualified teachers.

Also, do not underestimate the significance of Sesame Street's inclusion of Spanish in its programming. Pretty much all the Spanish I know came from Sesame Street.

However, what I did learn has stuck with me, because I'm frequently handed an antique book in some foreign language by my wife, with a "what is this?", and I can flip through it well enough to figure out the language and what it's about. I can't follow a conversation or say much of anything useful, but I understand enough Romance languages, German, and read Cyrillic well enough, and with enough time, to figure out what's going on.

Gosh, like, ten years ago, I read the English translation of Anatole France's Penguin Island and really enjoyed it, but the translation appeared to have been done by interns with a generic French-to-English dictionary, and there's sections that sounded like they were done with Google Translate. Anatole France appears to like puns, which don't translate too well, so I re-read it with the French version in parallel, and if the English version seemed clumsy or clearly a poorly-translated joke, I went over to the French version and started Googling for a better explanation of it. This led to a deeper understanding of the meaning of a lot of the concepts in the book, which I appreciated. Somewhere I have my own version, where I replaced the bad English with good English, but I only got about as far as the Dreyfus Affair stuff (which is the weakest part of the book).

This was also how I discovered that Google Translate was trained on these translations, because if I put an interesting French turn of phrase into Google Translate, it literally gave me the same line from the bad English translation. Not very helpful.

Tiny 'everything else' update: finished editing the two video projects I had from the week before, and helped record ADR for the independent film I worked on a few weeks ago; starting Wednesday I work for an internet sports broadcast station for ten days. Today and tomorrow are a mad rush to get my day job stuff in order to be without me for that long.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:50 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

seanmpuckett, are you familiar with some of the recent pushes to undo French's gender essentialism? When I was last in Montreal in 2018-ish, I noticed that the feminist bookstore and the nonprofit where I did some volunteer work had switched to using constructions like "tou.te.s" (instead of the masculine "tous" / feminine "toutes") and I found this a teensy bit awkward but also quite charming and clever. I'm actually more interested in French now knowing about how many people are pushing back against the traditional construction of linguistic gender.
posted by Jeanne at 6:53 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I studied Japanese for a couple of years. Favorite phrase: "Niwa ni wa niwa niwatori ga iru." "There are two chickens in the garden."
posted by SPrintF at 6:55 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

Fifty five years ago, I (US citizen) studied French for four years in my private girls' high school, and German for two or three, learning a stilted and formal French and an even more formal (and Austrian) German. I never used either language, even though I have been to many, many countries; everywhere I went, people spoke English.

Last summer, I decided to visit my brother who has retired to Provence, so I started studying French with Duolingo. As a result, I can now understand written French well and spoken French adequately (I'm 72 and a little deaf so I don't always understand spoken English as well as I did when I had excellent hearing), and I can speak enough that I gave someone directions in French the other day because I had heard him speaking it. During my visit to Provence, I think I spoke one French word, but I understood what was going on so much better.

I have started refreshing my German because I ran into a Venezuelan woman in an art class; she spoke a little English, and I spoke no Spanish, but she spoke German because she had lived in Switzerland and I was embarrassed when I admitted I had learned some German and she wished me "ein schones Wochenende" and I fumbled for a polite reply.

Yeah, I know all the negatives of Duolingo, but I cannot stress enough that actually having something I can easily do on my own every day, with little regular rewards for doing my work and no social cost, is worth rubies.
posted by Peach at 7:01 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

Baby steps in French like iel (neopronoun) are nice but until they stop telling me my cheese is male, or my chair is female, I'm not personally interested.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:02 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I've never been very comfortable learning languages, even though I speak two, English and Afrikaans. They were both spoken by my parents, however growing up in an English town, Durban South Africa, I ended up understanding Afrikaans much better than I speak it (a phenomenon I still find very strange).

Later I tried learning another African language, isiZulu, but failed miserably.

However in my 40s I suddenly became a special needs teacher and was strongly drawn to Deaf education. In the process I was motivated to learn South African Sign language. After about 11 years of deep immersion, I can now say I can converse, and teach, in at least one other South African language*.

There's something to be said for finding the right motivation. I loved teaching Design so desperately needed to learn SASL. This also lead me, during the 2020 covid lock downs, to develop a project to create new SASL terminology for Design. You can see some of the terminology here.

*SASL recently became South Africa's 12th official language.
posted by BrStekker at 7:02 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

French would be a bit handy as I'm in Canada but l'Académie Française can go get fucked. I won't learn a language that has gender essentialism baked into it

I assure you that there are nb Francophones you could talk to about how they deal with this in the French language. It feels icky to dismiss a huge part of this country's population because of their language.
posted by Kitteh at 7:05 AM on July 8 [15 favorites]

Also, Irvine Welsh just outed himself as TERF so if it's a banner week for authors people like.
posted by Kitteh at 7:13 AM on July 8

Kitteh, i do not think that seanmpuckett was intending to dismiss people in general. l'academie francaise as an organization is 40 people officially regulating the French language; see, e.g. "j’adore le français… Je n’aime pas l’Académie française[:] Depuis sa création, l’Académie s’oppose ouvertement à la reconnaissance des dialectes régionaux et des langues créoles, propageant cette idée qu’il n’existe qu’un seul français véritable." [urbania; also, L’Académie française and Gender Disparity, Meredith Warren, 10-page pdf]
posted by HearHere at 7:43 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Native Dutch speaker, but at age 5 we moved to Denmark with Danish neighbours one side , the other English. Also one of the farms across the road was run by an Englishman who didn't mind me helping out collecting eggs, feeding the cows and chickens and such, so by age 7 I was already moderately tri-lingual.

Secondary school in the Netherlands: English, German and French were mandatory until grade 4 (age 15..16 for most)after which I dropped French. Which I rarely have to use nowadays, but I can read it and understand a decent part of dialogue when watching a movie. English is of course my second language now, German a close third, Danish still at an acceptable level for random conversation.
posted by Stoneshop at 7:47 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

"Yeah, I know all the negatives of Duolingo, but I cannot stress enough that actually having something I can easily do on my own every day, with little regular rewards for doing my work and no social cost, is worth rubies."

Same here. It has its problems, but it's casual enough that I can get my lessons in when I'm in the tub or waiting for a bus. Going to a place for a class every week simply isn't going to happen. And after a year+ of Duolingo German, I certainly could get things done when I visited Hamburg.

Sometimes I get sucked into the gameplay aspect of it more than the learning aspect, but I'm still engaging, still reviewing all those words over and over again. I also follow a FB page on German for beginners, and that helps -- little skits and charts.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:50 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I've spent a good part of the last 24 hours hung up on the translations in a hotel room of body wash as "lavage du corps" but mouthwash as "bain de bouche," which both check out in FR-EN dictionary resources, but backtranslate as "body wash" and "mouth bath," the former seeming fine but 'mouth bath' really kind of freakin' me out, man.

I love being bilingual! Especially those little translation notes like the above thing. In (Quebec) French, you "open" and "close" the lights. Many English "I am" expressions -- "I am hungry," "I am thirsty" -- translate as "J'ai faim/ j'ai soif," which backtranslate as "I have hungry" and "I have thirsty," which seems to make much more sense to me than, like, embodying those things.

I worked for years as a translator / English copywriter in an all-French ad agency, and the hardest thing to explain, over and over, was that English rules were more, like, guidelines. In French, there are a bunch of people who literally say whether something is right or wrong -- the aforementioned Academie Française. Love them or hate them, they make, and revise, The Rules of French.

Whereas in English, I had to constantly keep explaining that when a client got back to us and wanted different phrasing, it usually wasn't wrong, just a different spin on English than the one we'd proposed. It frustrated the French copywriters no end that there wasn't an "answer" to English questions, just a kind of waffling "this is what I think is best" answer most of the time.
posted by Shepherd at 7:51 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

As the old semi-joke goes, someone who speaks three languages is tri-lingual, two languages, bi-lingual, and one language, American. Well, it me. I took a little Spanish but I’m so far out of practice. I can usually figure out what something is saying if I’m able to read it - listening, forget it, my brain take so long to process and I can’t remotely keep up. The weird thing is you’d think I’d have picked up a lot more through just being around my neighborhood. We were the only white family on the block, everyone else was Mexican. You grow up in your friends homes, but all my Mexican friends spoke English at home. (If the parents started speaking Spanish we knew we were in trouble.) Growing up in a neighborhood like this, though… oh man I ate soooooooooo good. One of my funniest memories that sums up life there so well was the mean abuelita next door (seriously mean, it wasn’t just me, all the kids stayed clear) getting really mad at me for something and then telling me to wait up while she fixed me a plate. I wouldn’t trade growing up where I did for anything in the world. I live a few miles from where I grew up. The neighborhood is not quite as Mexican but they’re still a majority. When I got out of town and visit places that are mostly white, everything seems boring and homogenized. I like being here.
posted by azpenguin at 7:55 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I studied French beginning in elementary school, all the way through high school and most of college before I tapped out because the syllabi for the 400-level French and English classes I was taking in my senior year were kicking my ass.

In high school, I took honors and AP French courses, and ended up scoring a 5 on the French AP exam and only a 4 on the AP English exam. Between those honors and AP classes, I was set up very well for freshman year in college, where the chair of the French department I had to have an interview with said she was worried I'd be too bored in her 300-level masterpieces of French lit class because I'd already read most of the literature. Alas, that's where I landed because she said I probably wasn't ready for 400-level as an incoming freshman.

I'm pleased to say I can still converse, read and write in French pretty well. I last put it to use a few years ago when we visited Quebec City, where nearly everyone we met could understand at least some English, but breaking into French with them was more fun for everyone.

I do all right with tourist-level Spanish, too, but I never made it far with Icelandic or Dutch in preparation for trips to those countries. Got along fine in English there, anyway.
posted by emelenjr at 8:03 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I learned my first word in Catalan this week. It was 'Postres'. I read it on one menu and then needed it later after our main course. The restaurant owner was so surprised he gave us our ice cream for free. (Or maybe our bill was high enough to justify it, who knows?)

Back to England today. Getting a UK train back from holiday is liking paying a man to follow you with a megaphone shouting 'Welcome back to Shit Britain'.
posted by biffa at 8:04 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

I think I am bad at starting to learn languages, because I've tried so many things to learn even a little German, from visiting Germany multiple times, to living with Germans (and, of course, an early 2000's "Learn German" book). I've found it so hard to move from knowing individual words, to catching the words as they are spoken, and I struggle to retain my vocabulary. It was made particularly challenging because all Germans I met either wanted to practice their English, or had been taught Russian (in the former East) and we had no common tongue. I'll be trying to learn German again this year, though!

I learned to speak Spanish as my first language, as my family was in South America when I picked up language as a toddler. The story is that my visiting American Grandma was very disappointed that I didn't speak English and "trained" me to speak the key English words in her presence -- "Grandma, candy, turtle".

We moved back to North America when I was 4, so I picked up English quickly. Then I insisted that I be enrolled in French Immersion school so I could speak to my parents' French friends. I remember it being really hard to learn in French (and just being very bad at all things scholastic for a long time). But it sorta clicked after a decade of constant daily instruction!

So now I speak English well, French passably, and Spanish like a small child.

What I've noticed is that when doing critical parenting tasks, Spanish pops out. So my kids know "
¡Déjalo y no lo toques!" means that they need to seriously stop messing with that widget/snake/ crystal decanter.

When I teach, my head cannon insists that French is for the classroom, though I teach in English. I sometimes forget the word "notebook" or "pen" in English, and cycle through French or Spanish until a student can translate. This leads to a fun interlude as we each say words in whichever languages we speak. Students are always really keen to show of their languages, and it is amazing how many students speak multiple languages and in sometimes unusual combinations.

My question is, why is the word for squirrel so strange in every language?

English - squirrel
French - écureuil
Spanish - ardilla (pretty normal)
German - Eichhörnchen
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 8:04 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I mean, I ignore the Academie Francaise in general because to me, they don't seem to be too fond of Quebec French which is the French I am familar with. Knowing French in English-speaking Canada isn't necessary but sure opens a lot more doors for you professionally. I found the whole French-English thing in Quebec mentally exhausting but after living in Ontario for a decade, you start to think that maybe Quebeckers have a point: a huge chunk of the country just refuses to engage in their official second language and yeah, that is weird.
posted by Kitteh at 8:04 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

I'm non-binary, my partner is non-binary, and the struggle to get linguistic recognition as a non-binary person, in French, is real. I'm not anti French people, and my cereal box French is as good as the next anglo, but -- my complaint is about the language, and the Academie, not the people -- I'm just not interested in getting any better at any language where I'm going to have to drop a whole bunch of inanimate objects into "masculine" or "feminine" buckets. My entire being simply rebels against it. It's got nothing to do with it being another language, or it not being English, or not Canadian, it's that I will not assign gender to inanimate objects. Shrug!
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:04 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

seanmpuckett, that is one of my beefs with all of the romance languages. I remember arguing with my spanish teacher in high school about why certain objects had to be masc or fem. She eventually just said, take it up with the Romans, it's their fault...
posted by schyler523 at 8:11 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

When I moved to France for the third time in 2013 I was fluent in French and Italian, but after 11 years I’ve lost so much Italian. Now back in the UK I’m going to French conversation groups and meetups to try and keep it. I do speak Italian to my dog though!
posted by ellieBOA at 8:16 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I've never been able to learn another language. Either through arrogance or shyness on top of ADHD memory issues, I can't say anything that might be wrong, so I frequently don't try. I got good marks in school in French, but it was all written and I hated it. I really loved learning German, but I was deemed Not Good Enough At It by the head of the department in the very expensive public school I was sent to. How dare a school as venerable as Hutchesons' tolerate a happy but mediocre student,who might bring down the average of Academic Excellence that other parents pay so much to inflict upon their offspring? So of course, it was natural that I worked in multilingual dictionaries for a few years ...

In other news, I just got an e-bike and it's amazing! I only meant to test-ride the thing, but it was so much fun and put the joy back in my 55 year old creaky knees. It can even make the ride back up from Bluffer's Park (nearly 20% grade in places) without me turning into a grease-spot. Wheee!
posted by scruss at 8:18 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I'm terrible at languages. My goal as a kid was to learn five--Spanish, French, German, Italian and ASL. I tried ASL off and on for years whenever I could find lessons, did Spanish in high school, French in college. I still can't speak a lick of anything. I comprehend more than I can say, but I'll forget my own name if I have to say it in a foreign language. I thought ASL would get around the mouth issue, but sadly, it did not. I really wish I could have picked that one in particular up better.

I think I probably would have had to have started languages a lot earlier in life--waiting until high school is just too late for me, apparently. My Spanish teachers for three years never got past chapter 6 the first two years and chapter 5 the third year, so that wasn't very good. French in college was immersive and better, but my brain just refuses to learn, and that makes me sad. I've given up that dream since I'm no longer in school and sometimes it's better that you not keep banging against a brick wall.

I don't have much other news--Little Mermaid continues to be smooth like butter. One person randomly got covid after Saturday night's show, but so far nobody else has. I did hear that the director of my next show has...some vague kind of issues with business in dealing with other theaters, which isn't great, but when I heard someone say "I dropped out of your show because of the director," I freaked out and was all, "sexual harassment, kids or yelling?" He said none of those, but now I wonder. It'll be weird going to a new place where literally none of my friends are and none will be able to see the show because they're all in shows at the same time as mine, but what can you do. I need to find some strange, really.

I was having a conversation with another friend about how she's learning to sing operatically and how our current director won't consider us for parts--well, she wants a bigger part, I just want A LIne--and how once he has a concept of what he wants in his head, he doesn't change. Someone else said "go elsewhere," which, yeah. She's determined to get a part that isn't a guy's part. Me, I don't know. I'd take anything at this point.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:26 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Two-plus years after becoming a Muslim, I am still slowly, slowly, slowly learning Arabic. (You do not HAVE to learn Arabic to practice Islam, but it really helps.)

This is my fourth language. I took French in grade and high school and Spanish in college, and I speak Spanish (decently but not fluently) on a daily basis. My brain does NOT do well with other alphabets, though, as I've discovered. I experience something like dyslexia regularly with Arabic script.

All online learning approaches have failed. I really don't like most of the online learning platforms; I find the UIs positively unusable. I do think I do best in an in-person intensive learning environment.

Lacking an in-person learning environment, I've settled on the following approach: I read the Quran in Arabic with a translation alongside it. Then I look at the words in the verses I just read and do some grammar work on the new words. For example, I'm working on verb conjugations right now, and conjugating a new verb each day as they occur in the verses helps me cement the meaning of the (root) word in mind. There are new types of conjugations I'n not familiar with, but I like grammar rules, so I'm OK plodding along for now.
posted by rabia.elizabeth at 8:34 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

I did Latin starting in seventh grade through all four years of high school, eventually getting to the point of slogging through the Aeneid. But we never really spoke it in class, so I never got fluent and always needed to rely on the glossary or dictionary to translate back into English.

But the focus on grammar helped a lot in terms of making languages stick in my brain. I may only know 20 verbs and 40 nouns in Latin, but I can conjugate and decline them with the best of them. I retained a bit of the German I took in college (recently refreshed via some Duolingo practice) and got really serious about Spanish about five years ago, with an online tutor and everything. (I can watch soccer in Spanish, which is a huge upgrade over whatever is happening on Fox.)

I too wanted to get to five languages in college (German, Spanish, Mandarin, Gaelic) and while it fell off for me for a while, it's starting to look like a possibility again—though I think I will swap Mandarin for Korean at this point.
posted by thecaddy at 8:45 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

我中文说得不好。 I can say useful things such as, "I am two cups of milk tea": 我是两杯奶茶。"This is not my small animal": 这不是我的小动物。

The music news:

Since I started busking a couple years ago I’ve been consistently unhappy because I only have an acoustic instrument on a busy pedestrian walkway with delivery bikes and people playing boomboxes and music from bars and I feel often like no one can hear me anyway. As of yesterday, I finally am the owner of an acoustic, battery powered amp that sounds good with a violin because my partner was astoundingly generous and bought me one. It’s a gamechanger. I went out on Sunday night with my new amp and people were incredibly enthusiastic. I feel like everyone now can hear me the way that I hear me. The amp also connects via bluetooth so I can have a piano part playing for the classical music. I’m so happy about it. I sounded good, I was confident, it was great. My partner is so sweet, I couldn’t have afforded this on my own for months.

I’ve talked here a little about having a rare genetic disease that usually impairs motor function quite severely, about how fortunate I am that I have to tell people that in real life for them to know. Most people with my disease are disabled to the extent that they don’t have the privilege of being able to hide it. I have a bad case of survivor’s guilt. All the symptoms that I should have exhibited but do not are simply due to sheer luck. They’re not battles I overcame. I was just lucky. That’s it. I don’t know how to handle my accomplishments because compared to my peers with my disease they make me sound like I work much harder than I actually do.

I on a whim asked a really good violinist to play a duet with me, and he said yes. He went to the San Fransisco Conservatory, he’s played at Carnegie Hall. And then there’s me, I’m good but I am only an amateur. He is absolutely aware of that. How many people with genetic metabolic diseases that severely affect motor function get to play duets with someone who has played at Carnegie? I have to imagine, at least for my disease, that that number is quite small. I think this violinist doesn’t realize how much his being willing to do this means to me. He doesn’t know about my disease, I should tell him, but, when is the right time to casually say, "oh and by the way I have this very severe rare genetic disease that usually cripples people and it gives me regular existential crises and survivor’s guilt and you playing this duet with me is a seriously awesome high point of my life that I never even imagined happening"? I hate talking about it in real life. I have to downplay its severity because clearly I am doing okay so it can’t be that bad, except it really is that bad for mostly everyone else.

Anyway, I’m super excited about this duet and busking.
posted by wurl1tzer_c0 at 8:45 AM on July 8 [15 favorites]

I took Russian in college. They made me give it back when I was done.

I actually did take Russian in college because the academic advisor for the theater department recommended it. The instructor needed students, and I was advised that she was likely to Merciful in her grading policies. She was, but I still was terrible at Russian.

Nowadays, I speak a minimal amount of Spanish or Mexican that any Texan needs to get through the day. I’d like to learn more, but I don’t know how much opportunity I would have to practice it.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 8:52 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I took a couple of semesters of French in high school, which I enjoyed well enough, partly due to a fantastic teacher who was engaging and somewhat silly. I got good enough that I could appreciate at least some of the puns in the Asterix comics (in the original French, of course) he had on hand, but I never got to a conversational level. I didn't follow up on the language when I went to college so at this point I can only catch a few certain phrases here and there. I probably know more Spanish that I informally picked up along the way than I do French at this point.

I had friends over this hot post-July 4th weekend. I smoked baby back ribs, which even after I suggested leaving room for dessert they stuffed themselves on (along with a couple of veggie side dishes people brought along). So I was left with most of the gelato and sorbet I've been blathering on and on about over the past 2 or 3 weeks still hogging my freezer, and I won't be needing the maker again for a while...although that could change if I find any good ripe peaches in the grocery store anytime soon.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:03 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I can say useful things such as, "I am two cups of milk tea": 我是两杯奶茶。"This is not my small animal": 这不是我的小动物。

*snerk* So, in college I had a work-study gig for three years. One of my co-workers there stayed on as long as I was there too and we got to be college-buddies (apparently I was present during his and his wife's first date). One semester he'd signed up for a course in Mandarin and was excited about it.

After he'd started it, the next day I saw him at work he walked up to me and proudly said "你不是中国报纸!"

"Oh," I said, "is that from your class? Did you start?" he nodded proudly. "Say that again!"

He said it again - pointing at me as he did: "你不是中国报纸!"

"Cooll! What does that mean?"

He grinned even bigger, and pointed at me again. "It means: 'You are not a Chinese newspaper'!"

So, I know how to say that in Mandarin.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:05 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

The peaches we are getting up here in Canada are amazing at 88c a pound. Admittedly they're imported, but they're in good shape, freestone, and the perfect amount of nearly-ripe to maintain on the counter for a few days while we eat them. And it'll be local peach season soon, too! I love peaches.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:08 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

The only phrase I remember from high school German is

"Are you a budgerigar?"
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:12 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I got quite fluent in French in high school, university, and while travelling in France in 1999/2000,

but I've forgotten it all now.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:13 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

My question is, why is the word for squirrel so strange in every language?
German - Eichhörnchen

Ah, remembered saying that is how you can make at least one guy, well, ...
posted by Wordshore at 9:14 AM on July 8

After almost two years of watching very little that is not anime I finally caved and started the Duolingo Japanese course a week and a half ago, mostly in anticipation of DEER ANIME (which to my relief lived up to the amazing hype). Kinda felt inevitable, like: if this is basically all my entertainment, maybe I should just learn the language already?

I’m at 100 words, all base 46 Hiragana / Katakana, and took top spot on the Obsidian board with a score of… 17,249 vs the #2 player’s 9,215. Basically, for the entire week every time the #2 player logged on, I made sure that the next time they logged on they would be an additional 200 points *further* behind me than they had been previously.

…so yeah, I am not proud of the fact that Duolingo leaderboards really, really bring out my toxic competitive gamer streak like nothing else. (Okay, maybe a little proud: all week I was checking the board every couple hours and thinking of the glove tap scene in Rocky 4: “I must break you.”)

Previously I have racked up maybe 150 words of Turkish in Duolingo, and I had seven years of German lessons in junior high/high school that got a refresher in 2010 when I visited for GamesCom. Languages aren’t really my thing since there’s very little need but I seem to pick them up without much difficulty and always enjoy the learning process.
posted by Ryvar at 9:15 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I took German in college, but the only phrase I remember is "Man darf nicht hier parken," because that also seemed to be the motto of the college I went to at that time.
posted by JanetLand at 9:26 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

I lived in Turkey when I was a kid. We knew a couple who were an American and a Dane, also living in Turkey. They had a child. The child turned one and wasn't speaking. Then two, still not speaking. But soon after, a torrent of language burst forth - English to the father, Danish to the mother, Turkish to everyone else, seamlessly switching from one language to the next as appropriate. Maybe extra time was needed to process all the languages? I don't know, but it was amazing.
posted by bassomatic at 9:42 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I love the thread title. You could also say "Mon aéroglisseur est plein de MeFites".

Another Canadian Anglophone here. In high school, I barely scraped by in the English lit classes, but I eked out 80s in French. Mainly because when you learn a new language, you have to learn its structures and parts of speech etc, and that's interesting to my order-loving brain, and it helped improve my understanding of English language fundamentals as well. But our courses had almost zero practice in spoken French, so I could read it better than I could ever converse.

When we planned our first European trip for 2008, I took an evening adult French course the winter prior, and it helped me finally start grasping phrase and tense differences without the labourous translate-before-understand step. And the spoken practice helped me a lot.

On our trip my benchmark for success in French was: how long would a shopkeeper indulge my fractured French before gently switching to English? I think my best ever was 90 seconds. I'm quite proud of that, and I still believe I earned points for the attempts.

Our second trip to France was last fall. I didn't do anything formal besides re-reading old texts and re-listening to course CDs. On the trip, I knew I was a hopeless hack, but I tried to speak fearlessly anyway, took corrections gracefully, learned more stuff, and had fun with it.

It's a bucket-list goal to become fluent in French, but one that may elude me.


otherwise: high summer. Bikes (rebuilding and riding), boats (our little sailboat, or on friends boats), and being grateful for a tree-shaded backyard. And endlessly ruminating about how best to support my elderly Mom (200 km away, living alone, has all her marbles, but with mobility challenges) without giving up a sustantial chunk of our time and freedom. My siblings have been almost zero help.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:42 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

In 6th grade we were given the choice among French, Spanish, and German, and we had to pick one. As a Chicagoan I almost certainly ought to have taken Spanish but at the time the only thing I knew about emigration was that if you wanted to live in Canada, you had to speak French, and I thought well heck why cut myself off at the pass? So I studied French from 6th grade through the end of college, and was fluent enough to where I was writing papers in French and attending all-French film seminar classes.
(Turns out there are a hundred other reasons why I can't emigrate to Canada, but god damn it, French wouldn't be one of them!)

I'm obviously less fluent now, some 20 years out, but I still manage pretty well in reading and the kinds of basic conversations that come up when traveling. Though once in the South of France I realized the vocabulary for "motion sickness" was utterly outside my knowledge, resulting in my brother and me making an increasingly bizarre series of gestures at a pharmacist until finally she handed over a box of Nautamine.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:46 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Wordshore: (Oddly, I keep having French phrases from those years come to mind so something sank in)

Papa fume une pipe (ceci n'est pas une pipe).
Maman coupe le pain.
Marie jeu le piano.
Bugger if I remember what Pierre did.
"Langue et civilisation Française", the opening salvo.
posted by Stoneshop at 9:47 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I do want to say that, almost 100 comments in, I see what you did there with the post title, and enjoyed it.
posted by Shepherd at 9:49 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I just remembered one teaching method my French teacher used was the "House of Être" where he presented all the verbs that went with "je suis" as a cohesive narrative of a person's life from birth to death and everything that befell them in between. It was pretty effective at the time, although by now I've forgotten everything except the end: "Je suis tombé malade, je suis mort."
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:13 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Though once in the South of France I realized the vocabulary for "motion sickness" was utterly outside my knowledge, resulting in my brother and me making an increasingly bizarre series of gestures at a pharmacist until finally she handed over a box of Nautamine.

So close! She could have handed you a philosophy book!
posted by vacapinta at 10:14 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

My brother married a French woman. So I took French in HS. And then again in college for my language requirement. Just squeaked by the class I needed with a C. I remember very little of it.

When I did go to France my senior year of HS, I tried to use my French. Up the valley from Chamonix, I tried to ask a shopkeeper for a curling iron my mom needed. Got a word confused, as was said shopkeeper. then we were in Paris, and I headed off for a day at the Louvre. It was pretty cool. I come out, and there's a big arch right there. So I'm standing there with my camera, and this dude in khaki's and hipness comes up to me, and in English says to me, "Can you keep all the people out of this area? There's a large circular area of sidewalk/concrete/rock around the arch. And then he takes off. So I am confused, but OK. So I try asking people to not go there. Some heard my attempts at French and say, "how about in English?". But the problem is, I have no idea why the guy wanted me to do this. I thought he was maybe trying to film a scene, or take a photo. But as I had a camera, they thought I was trying to take a photo. And I had to say, not me, that guy over there...

Everyone was confused. I see the guy, and he is talking/arguing with an old Frenchman, who is having none of it, shaking his head angrily no as he walks right through the area, with the guy haranguing him...

I use the dude's distraction to quietly walk away from the whole deal.
posted by Windopaene at 10:14 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Lately, I'm really interested in returning to old internet/web technologies as a way of breaking loose from corporate-controlled tech and interacting with smaller more local communities and audiences instead of the global visibility to bots and assholes you get with the usual social media sites. I've been exploring stuff like Gopher, Gemini, etc. I've also been looking at the visual styles of the olde webbe and I've been thinking of bringing 88x31 buttons back for a couple of my own projects. Lately, I found this nifty little 88x31 button generator, so if anyone's got any interest in creating some old fashioned Geocities style buttons, this is a quick and easy way to do so!
posted by signsofrain at 10:21 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Wordshore: (Oddly, I keep having French phrases from those years come to mind so something sank in)

I can still sing "Mon Bonhomme de Neige," which I learned in 6th grade, and which was taught by my French teacher as she bopped us each on the head with one of those Bonhomme sticks that, as she excitedly told us, they fill with booze at winter festivals.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:23 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Heh, that Louvre story. I'm with that old Frenchman. Besides the language itself, I find many aspects of France and the French to be interesting. There's the myth that the French are rude... something I didn't find to be the case. I found instead different notions about personal space, about courtesy, about consideration for another's autonomy. Which I understood and respected. Sometimes I think I could be French.

In France I had an interesting chat (in English) with a French lady who lamented how she thought the French language (the language of Voltaire!) was being corrupted by modern changes. I didn't argue, but I do accept that languages necessarily must evolve, or die entombed in old books.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:34 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Long, long ago, I and a bunch of other American Peace Corps volunteers lived in a Francophone country. There were also European volunteers, who tended to be late 20s instead of early and also generally actually qualified to do their jobs, which we were not. One of them was this French guy Fréderic, who spoke eerily perfect English, though he had never lived in an Anglophone country. It was strange. We hung out with him a lot because he had a car and we didn't, and he had a crush on our friend Ruth and she didn't.

One day, a bunch of us get to our friend Scott's house, which was a villa with a wall around it, and Scott had forgot the key to the gate. He says, "Aw, fuck, we're going to have to climb over the fucking gate," and Fred was like "See, I would have said, 'we're going to have to fucking climb over the gate," so that brings up my biggest remaining problem with English, which is where to put the 'fuck' in the sentence."

We were all like wherever you want it to go, man: just say we have to fucking climb over the fucking gate, and that one has stuck with me for 35 years, now.
posted by outgrown_hobnail at 11:26 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]

Thinking of high school French class, I remember one day we were all quiet at our desks, heads bowed, filling out a worksheet or something. Suddenly the Known Idiot of the class piped up, "Is France anywhere near Paris?"

As one, we all looked up from our work, then swiveled our heads to look at her with a furrow of disbelief between all our eyebrows. It was a magical moment of perfect comic timing that I've always cherished.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:29 AM on July 8

Though once in the South of France I realized the vocabulary for "motion sickness" was utterly outside my knowledge, resulting in my brother and me making an increasingly bizarre series of gestures at a pharmacist until finally she handed over a box of Nautamine.

*another snerk* So, about 10 years ago I visited Rome; I learned only a few basic phrases that time. I was there in late May, but my last night there was unusually chilly. And so when I decided that my last night would be a wander around getting great food, one stop was a cafe that my guide book said was known for its hot chocolate.

I stopped in and asked the clerk for a cioccolata calda. She shook her head, and tried speaking to me in Italian. I stopped her apologetically and asked "parla inglese"? She paused, then made the "only a little" gesture. But she did manage to say "cioccolata calda...we not have."

"Ah," I said, nodding. Then I held up my guide book and pointed to it - "malo!" I think that was what I'd been told was "bad". No worries, the book was wrong, no harm no foul.

But then she frowned a bit, which puzzled me. "No, no malo..." she said. And then hesitated again, thinking; she spoke little English, I spoke little Italian. So then, she started making a series of seat-of-her-pants charades - first pointing at a fake watch on her wrist and then gesturing 'No", followed by waving both hands over one shoulder like she was throwing something behind her; then pointing out the window and shivering, then gesturing towards a calendar. And that's when I got it - she was trying to tell me that hot chocolate was only a seasonal offering, and they wouldn't have it until fall. I laughed and thanked her and ordered a tea or something; she had gone to ridiculous lengths to communicate and I really appreciated that.


In other news: I'm holed up inside pretty much all day today, as it's hot as balls. Technically I could be hearing about a possible temp gig any day now; I'm hoping they actually follow up until tomorrow, so I have one more day of fun stuff. And even if they say no, I've also got a first-round interview tomorrow, and just got word of movement on another couple options. So I'm not stressed.

I also did a little re-organizing of my home bar; it's a very minimal setup in one of the living room windows (the window looks out onto an alley and gets no light). I wanted to open that window for a crossbreeze (it's also got bars over it so I can leave it open, yay); and that meant taking everything out of the window to access it. I re-sorted and re-bottled a couple things as I was putting it all back, and in the process discovered I have gin, Lillet, Pimm's, and some coconut rum. So I could make myself some very lovely cocktails, I think.

Speaking of which - I also have a quart of cucumber sorbet. I put together a mashup of about three different recipes; all of them called for two pounds of cukes, but then some added mint, some added basil, some added lime juice, and there were differing levels of sugar syrup. I had mint to use up so I threw all that in, and left out the basil. I made up the sugar syrup, but only used a fraction of what I'd made; I tasted it after just a bit and it was plenty sweet. I also went with taste for the lime juice. And - it's pretty good! It's definitely got a cucumber note, but the sweetness helps; it's got a sort of cucumber-meets-melon vibe.

And since I have the Pimms and the gin, now I'm wondering if I could do some kind of cocktail application with it....any ideas?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:49 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

otherwise: high summer. Bikes (rebuilding and riding)

I want to get a lot better at fixing bikes but... that requires parts and tools and having those around requires space I don't have, at least not enough space to keep my wife happy.

This past weekend I rode to the top of the mountain outside town. It's a long ride, 27 miles each way with a total of over 7000 feet elevation gain. I've done it twice before but this is the first time in over a year, since I hadn't been able to make it more than halfway since I caught Covid. But I'm not going to try it again for a few months, because it's just too damn hot. I started at 5 am and still got cooked on the way back even though I was mostly coasting down. On the final hill climbs it was freakin' hot, even at 8000+ feet (2500+ meters.) I'll settle for halfway up until it cools down. We topped out at 110º (43º C) that day, it's been like that since and it's going to be like that for several more days. Even though I'm used to heat, having lived in Arizona for all but 1 year of my life, these summers are getting worse. C'mon October.
posted by azpenguin at 12:06 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I have had halting starts in half a dozen languages; I have successfully told jokes in three or four.

I think I get to ten if I include joke languages: Pig Latin, Op language, Ubbi dubbi. When I was eleven-ish I decided that I would encipher a diary in Op language to protect it from spies like my sisters. I found this diary a few years ago and realized instantly that the existence of the enciphered diary is much more interesting than anything it might say.

For the uninitiated:
  • Op language (out of favor; I haven't heard about it in decades): insert an "op" after eachop coponopsoponopanoptop. Much easier to write than to speak.
  • Ubbi dubbi: this apparently was used on a TV show that I never watched. I learned that you insert a "b" sound in the mibiddble obof eabeach vobowebel soubound. Much easier to speak than to write. My former wife and I spoke in Ubbi dubbi to have secret conversations in front of our children; our daughter suddenly started speaking it around age six without any instruction other than occasional exposure. I think there's a dialect where you modify the vowels.
  • Pig Latin, the classic: you move the initial consonant to the end of the word, with an -ay vowel. Erethay areay ialectsday ithway ifferentday opinonsay egardingray ordsway artingstay ithway owelsvay oray onsonantcay ustersclay. I move phonemes, and try to choose words which start with consonants.
If you haven't had a group of friends rolling on the floor with laughter lately, try applying the Ubbi dubbi rules to Pig Latin.

In middle school I took a trip to Japan with a musical ensemble that stayed with local families on tour. I acquired enough Japanese to politely interact with our host family. The best translators were the teenagers who were learning English in school.

In high school I took four years of French and a year of Latin. I think we read The Little Prince in the original; I can still puzzle through written French for the duration of a paragraph or so. My Latin is hopeless.

In college I took two years of classical Greek, reading some Plato and some New Testament. I have basically nothing left but etymology.

Before our kids were born, my former wife and I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. We bought a book called "Spanish in 24 hours," which had 24 chapters, and you were supposed to read a chapter a day for a month. We made it through about eight chapters, and had some vocabulary and some present-tense verbs. We also stayed with local families on that trip — honestly the best way to learn what a foreign country is like. The best translators here were also the teenagers. The language immersion was completely exhausting.

A few years later I went to a conference in Russia. I decided I hadn't tried to pick up a new language in a while, so I bought a book on Russian with a similar title. I opened it for the first time on the airplane and got as far as the alphabet. There was an exercise where you needed to read the names of three famous people; they were Mozart, Dostoyevski, and Jennifer Lopez. On the Moscow metro a local was looking for someone to split his bottle of vodka with, and I said "nyet, spasibo" instead of just shaking my head; he got very excited that I might know more Russian than this, but I really didn't. He split the bottle with a young man sitting next to a young woman who was clearly his partner; the two men drank the whole bottle in about five minutes, and the woman tried to set the train on fire with her eyes.

In 2017, I decided on conversational fluency as a New Year resolution. I had a long, low-stress commute and I chose an audio-only program, partly because I could do it in the car and partly because I really wanted to be able to talk with people instead of just reading. The two languages that I encountered most often were Spanish and Arabic, thanks to a large Saudi community at the school where I was teaching; the coin flip chose Arabic. The audio program was nearly as exhausting as immersion had been in the Dominican Republic, but I was able to have useful conversations with sympathetic listeners in just a couple of weeks. I used news broadcasts and children's television as background noise, and I would find words from my most recent lessons popping out of the background at me even while I wasn't paying close attention. It was also a fascinating experience to be completely, utterly illiterate. I'm no longer teaching at that school, and I've lost essentially all of my Arabic.

For the last couple of years I've been low-grade keeping up with conversational Spanish, concentrating more on listening and speaking than on reading. There's a customer I see daily at work whose English is weaker than my Spanish, and I've managed to tell him a couple of funny stories. I'll occasionally realize that I understand Spanish-language song lyrics. Last year I had a worker outside of my apartment singing joyfully at the top of his lungs, and I suddenly realized that his happy tune was a murder ballad: "Ai mi corazon, mi niño es muerto," or something like that.

How many is that? Ten if I include English and its jokey modifiers; three in school where I got excellent grades but failed at keeping the language; two just for travel; and one that I'd call a success, even though I still don't have much more than present-tense verbs.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:13 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I graduated high school with nine years of foreign language (five of French, four of German). I was fortunate to have traveled to Europe and Quebec to put the rubber to the road, so to speak. I continued language study at university.

I'm pretty good with languages, so I thought to expand a bit. I had a Japanese friend teach me a bit of Japanese... that went pretty well. I also had an Irish Gaelic teacher who stammered. That was pretty much a mess.
posted by workerant at 12:24 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Variously, I learned Latin, Hebrew and Russian. Really, the only thing I've retained is a punny joke one of my Russian instructors taught (forgive the crappy transliteration) "diete minye dyengy, e ya nee shoochoo". Which means, "give me your money, and I'm not kidding". But when you say it outloud, if you also speak English, it sounds like "Give me your money, and I won't shoot you". I didn't say it was a good joke

Also my step-father used to teach Arabic at the Defense Language Institute, so emmling might have ended up taking classes from him. His ability with language is pretty amazing. He was responsible for writing tests/certifications, and ended up being able to work in something like 20 different languages. Not fluent, but good enough to write tests.

In other news, I've been walking a lot, and listening to podcasts (which I'd never done before). The current one is Nerd Poker (Mountain Campaign), which is Brian Posehn and friends playing D&D. It's very amusing. One of the players is playing a Tabaxi (think, cat-like humanoid) and everytime he talks he's like "meow I'll drink the potion meow meow". It's like Henrietta Pussycat with a sword.

And I ordered new fenders for my bike, which have been powder-coated with a reflective paint. More visibility, yay!
posted by Gorgik at 12:35 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

My question is, why is the word for squirrel so strange

Well this is weird, I picked up esquirol last week as the translation of squirrel, and assumed it was from french but it seems I picked up another word in Catalan.
posted by biffa at 12:36 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Sauter Vaguely: German - Eichhörnchen

Nothing weird about Eichhörnchen, in Dutch it's eekhoorn(tje), or in one particular case, ekorren.
posted by Stoneshop at 1:26 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

It's a long ride, 27 miles each way with a total of over 7000 feet elevation gain.

In Arizona in July, even starting at 5am ... I doff my cap to you. I'm still riding with my pals here in Austin, but nothing close to that elevation gain. And I did my last long-distance registered ride for the summer a month ago, so I'm planning on taking it easy until we're out of the hellscape.

I just came back from an extremely restorative week in Provincetown, and I spent the 4th cycling down to the Cape Cod National Seashore outside Eastham, and hitting all the lighthouses (and Marconi Point!) on the way back. I won't get another 60-miler that pleasant until October either. But what a lovely way to see a place I've been so many times before. Best of all, I came back after the parade was over and I didn't have to silently offgas all my dark feelings about the holiday among my friends.
posted by mykescipark at 1:38 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Really, the only thing I've retained is a punny joke one of my Russian instructors taught (forgive the crappy transliteration) "diete minye dyengy, e ya nee shoochoo". Which means, "give me your money, and I'm not kidding". But when you say it outloud, if you also speak English, it sounds like "Give me your money, and I won't shoot you". I didn't say it was a good joke.

You may appreciate this story Bill Murray told about the Japanese he found "useful" when he was filming Lost In Translation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:45 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I sometimes still feel insecure about never having formally studied Spanish in school, even after decades married into a Spanish-speaking family and now living in a Spanish-speaking country for a few years. But I got a funny moment and a big confidence boost last year when I woke up from anesthesia after flying back to the US for emergency surgery. I started speaking Spanish, assuming I was still back home where I’d recently been hospitalized before flying to the US while semi-conscious. “Why’s this guy speaking Spanish??” I heard someone ask gruffly, maybe thinking they were dealing with some spontaneous neurological syndrome. (I have a very pale Anglo-Irish complexion and name and features to match.)
posted by mubba at 2:40 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I went to Hebrew School from age 5-12 and learned how to read Hebrew, but other than recognizing some prayers and a handful of vocabulary, I never learned enough to craft a sentence. But I can read it (that is, pronounce the letters) properly in temple, when necessary. For anyone who has ever had to learn a language written in other than the Latin/Roman alphabet.

I took French in middle and high school, but never developed a felicity of expression. I could recognize the vocabulary and read simple newspaper stories, but 50 minutes, three times a week, with 30 other annoying adolescents just isn't conducive to learning a language.

One of my biggest regrets from my college years is all the things I didn't do out of fear of failing, and the one I spoke of most often was not having taken Italian for fear of hurting my GPA. Six years ago, a few months prior to visiting Italy, I started learning Italian via Duolingo. With no GPA to harm, I found that practicing has been one of the biggest delights of each day; it reduces my stress, and it was sometimes the brightest spot of those early pandemic days.

Am I good at it? Not particularly. I can read and understand the written word very well; I can write it competently. As with French, I'm terrible at speaking it, and worse at listening unless it's spoken very slowly. But I mostly understand the "rules" in ways I never did with other languages, and with the exception of the past subjunctive tense, I generally get all the answers right. (I don't care about the competitive, gaming aspect of Duolingo.) I've come to realize that I learn best with spaced repetition and humor. I'm sure Berlitz would be a better method, but I doubt I'd stick with it as I have, daily for six years, with Duolingo.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:51 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I'm still struggling along trying to learn basic French. I'm sure my grammar is appalling but my vocab is expanding nicely, but I've been watching various crime shows so some of that vocab is perhaps not the most useful, but I can at least say "This isn't coffee! This is a war crime!" which will undoubtedly be useful some day. However, watching one of my shows and one of the cast was being very nice to the lead character but he was using "tu" at her rather than "vous" and the nuance suddenly clicked, which was very satisfying, and understanding that he was being a condescending little turd threw the scene into a new light. It was so very satisfying having that little "ohhhhh" moment.
posted by ninazer0 at 5:37 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Duolingo has been mentioned several times in this thread. Has anybody any recommendations for useful complementary or supplementary material? I'd be interested in other courses, books, videos - whatever... Thanks in advance.
posted by speug at 6:20 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I've been using to work on my vocabulary and reading. You can create your own flashcards and upload texts from wherever. There are free and paid versions – I've been using the free version for a few years, and it seems to do everything I need.
posted by Crane Shot at 6:31 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I took French all through public school, and while I wouldn’t claim to speak it, I’m always surprised at how much I do understand.

I started learning German on Duolingo, mostly because my husband is the caregiver for his Oma and every so often she breaks into German randomly. It’s helped me pick up a few words when she does this. I don’t expect to be fluent, but to get the gist of what’s being said is helpful. She speaks Plattdeutsch so some of the phrases are a little different than what Duolingo provides.
posted by eekernohan at 6:40 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I've had a fair amount of exposure to various weird languages over the years. My mother's parents spoke Plautdietsch at home, mostly to discuss things the grandkids didn't need to understand. My mother spoke exclusively Plautdietsch until she was five, then dropped it for English, in North Dakota. I didn't discover this fact until I was in my mid-20s. My mother had completely lost her fluency in Plautdietsch by then. No accent whatsoever.
posted by blob at 7:23 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I took French instead of Spanish in middle school because I liked the French teacher better.

French continued in high school, where I also started taking Italian, which I continued in college.

I'm now doing duolingo for Spanish, because that would be most practical in my current job, but the French and Italian still tend to sneak in when I'm grasping for words. I should try to find an in-person class to gain some confidence in speaking- y ese búho verde no sabe ningún término legal, pobre de mí
posted by the primroses were over at 7:35 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Language learning materials I like are:

1. A good podcast series that has transcripts and a lot of beginner-level material. I listened to so much ChineseClass101 and it was hugely helpful in starting to get a grip with tones in Mandarin. If you find a good one, pay money for it. It's worth it. If you're short on cash, subscribe for a month and download as much as you can in that month.

2. Graded readers. It takes a lot of persistence and hard-headedness to brute-force one's way into native materials at a beginner level. (As a fifteen-year-old, reading all the manga I could get my hands on even if I had to look up every word in the dictionary, I had a lot of persistence and hard-headedness. This is not a great way to learn a language.)

3. A reference grammar. I don't like either Duolingo's "drop you in the deep end with no explanation" method or grammar-translation methods that have you do a lot of grammar drilling. I think it's worth it to read an explanation so that you recognize that you're seeing a past tense verb, or a subjunctive, or the absolute weirdness of Spanish conditionals and subjunctives when you make sentences like "I wish I had known how much you hated clowns before I booked your birthday party, because maybe if I had we wouldn't be scraping cake off the ceiling now." And after you recognize it, you go and read until you've seen it a million times in context and you start to catch on.

4. Comprehensible input. i.e., content you can understand, whether spoken or written. I really do think that most of us who learned languages in school but can't really use them in real life have gaps because... you know how to make the past tense, now you have to see it in different contexts a million times before it really sinks into your head. Novels are great, once you get past the barrier where they're impossible because you don't have enough vocabulary. But TV and movies and social media and newspapers are all great (if the telenovela actors would just speak a little slower and enunciate a little more clearly.)
posted by Jeanne at 7:46 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I took Spanish from when I was 3 until I was 14. I don't speak it at all. The teacher changed every couple years. Every time they started us back over at beginner level. It was a terrible program. I think it only existed so that the people running the fancy private school could say "yes we offer foreign language education from Pre-K to 8th".

Then in high school I chose Japanese. I liked video games. Thought I should be into all that otaku shit because that's what kids who did well in school liked (I've tried anime and outside of a few things it's really not for me). Didn't pick up much more even after a study abroad program. I took it one more year in college and then gave it up.

Swedish was the easiest for me to learn. Similar word order and outside of the gendered language it was close enough to English. I studied up for a couple years before I had to quit because I needed a car and language classes cost about as much as a car payment. And then I spent time in Sweden and even though I could understand them and would reply in Swedish they'd automatically switch to English just because of my accent. It was very disappointing. You're not helping by switching to English. I wanted to practice but no one cared. Be more open to outsiders, Swedes!

Now I speak one language and can't be bothered trying to learn another again. I gave it my all but it was all for naught.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:59 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

downtohisturtles: And then I spent time in Sweden and even though I could understand them and would reply in Swedish they'd automatically switch to English just because of my accent.

Same. It doesn't take me much effort to keep up a bit of conversation in Danish or Norwegian, but Swedes just switch to English. Luckily I understand it sufficiently that the Swedish-only announcement "Train ET360 to Hamburg will leave from track 8" was understood (and acted upon) even in the noisy environment of Stockholm Huvudstationen.

Finnish is the oddest language I know a few words of. Compound words, declensions and conjugations; something clicked when trying to decipher the ingredient list on a package of kaurahiutaleita (oat flakes), a section of which started with the word ravintoarvo. Ravintola is restaurant, so I figured the root ravinto would be food or feeding, and ravintoarvo something like nutritional values.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:51 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

speug — Duolingo has been mentioned several times in this thread. Has anybody any recommendations for useful complementary or supplementary material?

The Routledge Essential Grammar series seem to be well-done reference books. They have an idiosyncratic selection of languages—West Greenlandic and North Sámi are represented, but not Japanese or Russian.
posted by adamrice at 5:50 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

My first language is Taiwanese (because why would my immigrant parents speak anything else at home, despite living in north America), then English. Of course I was immersed in English, and we listened to the radio and I faithfully watched Sesame Street and Mr Rogers daily.

Even now my conversational Taiwanese is good; when my dad was sick and I spent months with my mom & her side of the family, it got great. I was thinking in Taiwanese, which is cool as hell.

I loved learning French formally, starting at age 12. Luckily my brain was still plastic enough that I picked up a lot and retain it to this day, 40-some years later. And so when I picked up Duolingo to learn Spanish years ago, it was much, much easier. (Duolingo isn't perfect, but I have so much vocabulary now, and I can understand sentence structure. I need to start watching the news or join a conversational group, but I'm astonished at what I learned through Duolingo. I do about 45 min a day).

I love languages and it is so fun to see the world through another language.
posted by honey badger at 6:15 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]

We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese: Though once in the South of France I realized the vocabulary for "motion sickness" was utterly outside my knowledge, resulting in my brother and me making an increasingly bizarre series of gestures at a pharmacist

Trawling my brain for an appropriate expression: "mal de voyage"? Which appears to be correct, even.

You and your brother could have mimed, one driving a car and the other throwing up after getting increasingly wobbly.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:05 AM on July 9

so i visited finland while on aleatoric vacation — i am extraordinarily grateful for the die roll that put me on that flight to helsinki — and i found myself sufficiently charmed by literally everything about the place that i'm making plans to go back during the winter. i've told myself that i'm not allowed to fantasize about moving there until i have a clear sense of precisely how miserable the months of eternal night are.

people of finland: please help me get over my crush on your country.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 11:09 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]

Trawling my brain for an appropriate expression: "mal de voyage"? Which appears to be correct, even.

"Mal de transport" comes up. (-rimshot-)

Mal de mer is also a thing, and pretty close.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:03 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

It's not about other languages, and it's random, but I have discovered something I MUST SHARE with the world:

The Pimms' Cup Slushie. 1/4 cup of Pimm's No. 1, an 8 ounce can of ginger ale or lemon soda, and three scoops of cucumber sorbet.

It's just the right balance between classy and trashy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:37 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]

This is definitely gin weather. I like to keep the bottle in the freezer, which results in nicely chilled cocktails. And while my preferred garnish is usually briny (olives or caper berries), this heat wave definitely calls for lime instead.

...OR, perhaps use a bit of the lemon-ginger sorbet I already have on hand (thanks for the idea, EC)! That does it, I'm braving the outdoor oven and hitting the liquor store after work.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:13 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I studied Spanish in high school and dabbled a bit in French, but in a lazy sort of way.

When I was a kid I had mild speech impediment, which I mostly outgrew thanks to a year of speech therapy and time. So naturally, I thought it would be a good idea to study German through Duolingo. I stutter. A LOT. I know that Duolingo is not perfect, but I have a decent grasp of written German now and can occasionally catch the offhand comments my colleagues make. I need to find some fun German films (I have Mostly Martha, which I LOVE SO MUCH, her therapist has the greatest facial expressions) and work on my listening skills. I’ll never be able to speak fluently because of the stutter and because my brain does a better job processing the written over the spoken word.

The Pimms’ Cup Slushie. I wish I could find a good substitute for ginger ale / lemon soda (or soda pop in general) as that actually sounds fabulous.

So far this has been a year for concerts. Magnetic Fields, Joe Pug, They Might be Giants and Ben Folds in the books. A friend suggested Norah Jones and we saw her play last night and throughly enjoyed the show. She plays electric guitar! Mind blown!

Same friend and I will be seeing Melissa Etheridge next month (I cannot wait) and Cyndi Lauper in a few months (a bucket list item for friend and I was happy to tag along because Cyndi Lauper is fun). Also have Vertical Horizon coming up. Everyone I asked said “no” to Springsteen. I’m kind of disappointed about that. But kiddo said “hell yeah” to Eminem if he decides to tour and gets anywhere near us, so I guess we might have a wholesome family night out in our future.

(Houdini is fantastic and the video is hilarious).
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:24 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

hitting the liquor store after work.

Cries in Ontario
posted by yyz at 4:33 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

Hey all, weird thing happened--it turns out the roguelike book I wrote is in the current Humble Bundle, the one of Game Development!
posted by JHarris at 5:35 PM on July 9 [8 favorites]

Not to rub it in yyz's face, but cold gin with some lemon-ginger sorbet mixed into it is darned refreshing!
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:30 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]

For a while I tried to make tonic slush on particularly hot days here in New Jersey. It didn't work that well, but I wasn't particularly scientific about it, as I was just trying to sort of granita tonic water. Now I wonder if you could do a tonic infused sorbet that would work better.
posted by mollweide at 6:48 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

posted by Greg_Ace at 7:41 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I happily leave this idea in your and EC's hands. I eagerly await to hear how it turns out.
posted by mollweide at 8:08 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

The Pimms’ Cup Slushie. I wish I could find a good substitute for ginger ale / lemon soda (or soda pop in general) as that actually sounds fabulous.

Honestly, the bigger hurdle would be the cucumber sorbet, since you're not likely to find a storebought substitute for that. But maybe some seltzer with lemon juice?

And the cucumber sorbet is worth trying to make on its own! It's a little unusual, but it's not bad at all. Cucumbers are in the same plant family as melons, so if you add a little sugar it has a sort of melon vibe. I sort of punted with my batch - I checked about four or five different recipes, and they were all wildly different when it came to how much sugar to add. One also suggested adding mint, another suggested basil, and a couple of them also suggested lime juice. I ended up going by taste with the sugar - all of them said to blitz the cukes in a food processor first, so I did that and then I made about two cups of sugar syrup and started drizzling scant amounts in and tasting. I think there was only about a third cup of sugar syrup in the batch I made since that seemed plenty sweet enough. The lime juice was similarly to taste; and I did go with the mint since I had to use it up anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:50 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

You and your brother could have mimed, one driving a car and the other throwing up after getting increasingly wobbly.

This is basically what we did, with the addition of bobbing up and down like people on a boat, and also just sort of gesturing to head and stomach while saying "vous nausée, en la voiture?" Which seemed to make the very young pharmacy worker think we were talking about a car with a tummyache for a minute.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:19 AM on July 10

a car with a tummyache

brb, going to develop an idea I just had for a children's book
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:25 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

*dramatic late entry after mysterious dissappearance*

*cymbals flourish*

*silenced by broken bits of numerous languages exposed to in peripatetic multiculture hopping childhood cycling through brain looking for coherent sentence*

posted by infini at 8:13 AM on July 11

I’m just gonna leave this here

Video shows shipment of live eels spilling at Vancouver airport
posted by eirias at 6:13 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]

Hello from Cojocna, Romania where we are swimming with the sea monkeys! (Literally. There's a salt pond for therapeutic soaking and it has a nearly infinite amount of tiny brine shrimp in the water. Sounds gross, but they're very small and they don't bother you.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:20 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]

I didn't realize that the Vancouver airport serviced hovercrafts.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:20 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]

I haven't abandoned my movie watching, even while on vacation. I'm just using my (limited, of course) viewing time while in Romania to watch stuff I can see here but not at home. So I've seen Katalin Varga, Metronom, Balanța, and some other stuff. But generally speaking, I don't like to make FF posts that boil down to "Here's something cool you cannot watch for me to talk to myself about!"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:14 PM on July 12

We got some much-needed cooler temps and rain this morning here in was cloudy most of the day yesterday so I was hanging about the house (I got some further movement on the job front, which was encouraging), so I caught up on cleaning. One big thing was to clean the outside of the windows in my bedroom; they look out onto the back yard of the building, which isn't a great view but I love just being able to clean the damn things. Even better - both of the windows are double-hung, but one has a screen that was shoved all the way up to the top pane. My super had a stepladder in the back yard, so I borrowed it to pull that screen down to the bottom pane - so I could OPEN the window and have a screen there. I already have a second temporary screen for the other window and have been regularly leaving that open at night for the breeze; I opened both windows last night, and the breeze coming through this morning in the rain was GLORIOUS.

And the house is already clean and it's only Saturday, so today is going to be about a lot of food processing; cleaning out the fridge and discarding anything truly bad, doing some food prep for the week (which will help cope with the vegetables I regularly get shoved at me from the CSA), and making a couple of catch-all things for the random older veg and fruit I have last lingering trace amounts of; some vegetable stock that will use up celery leaves and carrot fronds, and then a minestrone that will knock out some of the veg, and maybe a catch-all multi-fruit jam or pie with the scant fruitstuffs.

The plum tree in my community garden is still vomiting plums all over the place, too, so there's some roast plum ice cream on deck for today as well. There's going to be even more, so I'll be able to make more jam too in later weeks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:57 AM on July 13

>>But generally speaking, I don't like to make FF posts that boil down to "Here's something cool you cannot watch for me to talk to myself about!"

Good call, that's what Letterboxd is for.
posted by Molesome at 2:30 AM on July 14

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