My History with Languages
So many languages so little time. How do people keep up with multiple languages?
I have to start off by letting you know I am horrible with languages and always have been. With age I've gained some patience and that has helped me a lot. A few of the reasons why I think I've had problems learning languages is that I don't have great memorization skills and I get confused pretty easily. Luckily I can sometimes be pretty determined to do things.
I was brought up in a Chinese family. We spoke Cantonese and a Chinese village dialect known as Toisan. Even as a young child I interchangeably used Toisan pronounced words with Cantonese. I didn't know the differences at the time and still have problems figuring that out today.
When I went to public school I took English as a second language classes. As I continued learning English I guess I became embarrassed to speak my native language and so I stopped speaking in Cantonese and Toisan. I'm not sure why I stopped all together. I probably wanted to fit in with the school kids. Everyone spoke English at school and there weren't any Chinese students so I kind of wanted to fit in. I regret this because I've lost my native language from not practicing it. Now I'm embarrassed to speak these languages because of my horrible accent.
I was brought into French class late into my elementary years. French is a mandatory class students have to take in Canada. Unfortunately like my Cantonese speaking, I was embarrassed to practice my French because of the lack of French speakers in my school. Needless to say my French development wasn't so great. Due to my lack of practice I never really laid down a foundation for my French so I suffered when I took it in high school.
To make matters worse, I was somewhat forced to go to a high school outside my area for other reasons. One of the requirements of moving over to the new high school was to learn Spanish. Although it was interesting to learn it was definitely not a great idea to add another Latin based language to my growing list of languages to learn. I couldn't even pick up French (another Latin based language).
I was totally confused with languages when I went to high school. I've been caught using Cantonese, Toisan, French, Spanish, and English words to form simple sentences. It was a mess, my mind was a mess. In the end, I quit all the languages in my final years of high school and graduated. I didn't think much of learning new languages until I started work.
I decided to once again learn French since it's one of Canada's official languages. Learning it would help me obtain great career choices. It would also be nice to have conversations with French people. I believe I was in my mid 20s when I first started to learn it again. Still it was a part time learning experience while I was working full time. I did this for a number of years and slowly noticed my growth. It's been years and I still don't have fluency in the language.
Recently in my late 30s I started to really want to take charge in some of my learning and development. I noticed that every year I would stop practicing my French after the semester was over and take a huge breaks during the summer. This year would be different. I would continue to learn throughout the summer and everyday I would do a little 5 to 10 minute exercise. So far it's been working pretty well so I've become a little ambitious.
I decided to learn Turkish because a friend of mine wanted to give me and my girlfriend a tour of Turkey next year. I used the same method I used for French. I may not get years of practice under my belt but it's better than knowing no Turkish when we visit Turkey. To my surprise my friend told me that my progression was actually very impressive for only a couple of weeks! I think the fact that I've been learning French for so many years and learning their language structure really helped.
With my added confidence I added Mandarin to my repertoire hoping I can at least learn to read my native language. I was shocked to realize Mandarin seemed easier to learn than Turkish and French. I thought it's because I have a Chinese background but my Turkish friend agreed with me.
I've found that because of my older age I have lost a sense of ego when learning languages, gained insight into how languages are structured and gained much needed patience. All of these are keys to learning. I still don't know how some people keep up with so many languages in their head. I've heard of people speaking multiple languages fluently. I have great admiration for these people.