In Vietnamese slang, 8 (tám) means to chat, to gossip. So the title says chatting in 8 languages. That’s my new goal: to be able to converse in 8 languages in 8 years. Now, there are different levels of “conversing.” I want to be more proficient than just daily work and traveling talk. I want to be able to discuss various topics in life philosophy, politics, and culture, so close to a B2 level (vantage or upper intermediate) of the European framework of reference.

Which 8 languages? I’m gonna count Vietnamese as the first one. (After all I didn’t say 8 foreign languages). Second is obviously English.

Third and forth are French and Spanish. I studied French for 1.5 year in college and then spent an exchange semester in France. My sister speaks it, and her husband is French. So even though I don’t practice much, I still retain a fair amount. I’d say I’m normally a B1 level, and once I get immersed again in the environment, it doesn’t take long to get back into the mode and I improve pretty fast.

Spanish: I spent a summer in Peru. I self-learned with a pocket dictionary, a “teach yourself Spanish” book, with bosses and clients and friends. I went back to college for my last semester and took a Hispanic literature course. Graduated and moved to Mexico for a 6 month internship. At my job, I learned to write with the wonderful “spell-check” tool in Word and Outlook Mail. It really helped to formalize my speaking. And of course huge thanks to my ex. Along the way, I’ve developed very reliable intuition. I can guess and follow lengthy arguments (except if they’re in all slangs) or García Marquez novels. But the dangerous thing is I never properly learned the grammar and the more advanced nuances, so I always feel shaky when I have to create my own sentences in new situations. I’m dedicating this year to getting a firm grip of Spanish. E.g. I’m reading news articles to sentence structures and not just for comprehension.

Next language is gonna be Portuguese for sure. Why? Brazil! I was given some lessons by a friend back in Hawaii, and also started a few chapters of Pimsleur. I put it aside to focus on Spanish for now. As the two are fairly similar, I’d rather be competent in one first to avoid later confusions.

The last 3 languages are tricky to decide. Here are a few contenders:

Arabic: I’ve always liked the idea of learning Arabic, but have very little experience with it. The pro is the large world of Arabic speaking countries that I’d like to visit one day.

Russian: I love Russian literature, and I love its sound. Like many of my generation and older, I watched a lot of Soviet films and enjoyed its music without understanding the meaning. It’s reputedly a difficult language to learn with a convoluted case system. The pro? One of my closest friends is a Russian teacher; I’m sure she would help me out. And with Russian, I could get by in the old Soviet bloc region, also high on my list of travel interests.

Chinese: Standard Chinese, the trendiest language to learn in many parts of the world as it’s crowned to be the next international language. It seems like everywhere, there’s a thriving Chinese community, not just in Asia but in far-flung towns in Latin America and Africa as well. My main motivation though would be my love for Chinese lit. I read all the 4 classic works (Red Mansion Dream, Journey to the West, Water Margin, Three Kingdoms Romance) in 6th and 7th grade and they’re still among my favorites. Later in high school, I went through a phase of wuxia – martial arts novel genre. Despite all these reasons, I still feel a strong resistance to the language. Sinophobia?

Japanese: ahem, it hurts a little to talk about Japanese. I took it for 2 years in college and spent a summer at a well-known language school. And how much do I remember now? Nada! Ok, a little bit. Sukoshi dake. Maybe if I pick it up again it would come back easily. After all, I’ve spent thousands of grueling hours on grammar and kanji drills. My main struggle with Japanese: kanji. Even at an intermediate level could not read a simple piece of article without furiously scrutinizing for correct dictionary entries. I learn a lot by reading and retain by reading so I stalled. It also explained why I lost the language so fast.

Hawaiian: I was tempted to learn back in Hawai’i, but it is simply not practical. It’s only spoken in Hawai’i, and even there, by not many people. I fell in love with it through hula. It is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and poetic languages that I’ve come to know. I had to memorize quite a few chants and songs in Hawaiian and their English translation for my classes. Perhaps I should learn the most used words to understand songs.

Khmer/Thai/Lao: Because our neighbors speak them?

Hindi: big population in (northern) India and Pakistan. I picked up a little during my internship in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. After a few months I could make myself understood in basic situations through a mix of Hindi, Gujarati, and gesturing. Truthfully though, I learned out of necessity and out of a respect for the environment I lived it. I was never too attracted to it although I do like (filmi) music.

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