Monday, April 22, 2013

One Deux Tres Quattro 五 (MOMM)

With my impending unemployment, I've started (frantically) trying to improve/ refine/ dust off the skills I already have. Of course my major selling point is always the whole quintilingual thing. Just in case there's a possibility that my next job provides an opportunity to use my languages, I've trying to bring them all back up to par.

By using all 5 languages every day.

Of course, I don't get it done every day. It isn't neccessarily hard to find the time to get to all five. I think what's hardest for me is to stop what I'm currently doing and start something else. For example, if I'm reading a book in French, I can't just read it until I'm bored, or I won't get to the other languages.


English is my native language, but ironically, it may be the language I miss most often. I only need to use English if I blog or go on Facebook (which I don't do that much these days), if I go out with the 2 other English-speakers in town, or if I have to teach (which I don't do every day). Any English-speaker who lives in Japan (outside the metropolitan areas) can tell you how much fun it is to forget your native language.

Not that you ever completely lose the abilitiy to speak English. Imagine if you were a professional runner, and then for several years, you didn't run. You just walked. If you tried to run, it would feel weird and you wouldn't be as good as before. That's the English of an ex-pat. I forget technical words sometimes. Like "exfoliate." If I needed to use a word like that in conversation, I would probably not be able to pull it up. I'd have to pause and think, or I'd have to explain the term instead of just using the correct word.

It's not so bad yet, that I'm seriously worried about my English, yet. But I think I should do something to get it back to it's old levels of shininess at some point.


I'm actively studying French, that is, going through a Grammar Review book. I'm surprised to see that I still remember so much considering I haven't studied, or really used, French in 6 years. But then, it's my university major, and I did spend 11 years in school and months (cumulatively) in Martinique and Montreal.

I'm also reading Roald Dahl's Matilda in French. I call this "passive study." It's easier and more relaxed than studying grammar patterns. I think it also helps you to speak more naturally. My current process is to read books that I'm already familiar with. When you read, there are really two processes going on. The first decodes the individual words and the grammar. The second works on the content of the story. Reading in a foreign language is hard because you get so caught up in the language you can't enjoy the story. But by reading books I'm familiar with I can enjoy the story and concentrate on the language.


My poor Spanish. Spanish is a very mixed bag for me. I dropped it like someone else's snotty tissue in 2nd form (age 13), and then continued learning it watching TNT Latin America (true story). Then I decided to major in it (along with French) at university.The interesting side effect of not having really been taught Spanish is that my reading and listening are awesome, but my grammar sucks. Which causes my speaking and writing to also suck.

I'm passively studying Spanish by reading Stephenie Meyer'sTwilight on my Kindle. (There's a language menu on the left in the book section on Amazon, making your Kindle a valuable foreign language resource.) Obviously Twilight is not very difficult language-wise, but I'm still surprised at how well it's going. I've also been off Spanish for 6 years, and it doesn't have 11 years of formal study to back it up.


Sometimes I think I'm only good at Italian because I'm good at French and Spanish. I took an 8-month conversational course five years ago. Then I studied on my own for a month earlier this year. Somehow I've managed to pass an exam that's meant to be taken after 2 years of university study.

Earlier this year, I actively studied Italy. But for the moment, I'm just trying to keep from losing the little skill I have. I'm reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games. I couldn't find it Kindle on the US site, so I had to buy  a hard copy off Amazon's Italian site. (Amazon is a great resource for language learning since they are in so many countries across the world.) Since Italian is my least practised language, it was really really hard in the beginning. But I stuck with it (mostly because I had an exam last month) and it's gotten much easier. In fact, I look forward to my Italian reading the most. Frankly, I think that's a real testament to the strength of the story of the Hunger Games.


It might be easier to ask what I'm NOT doing in Japanese. There's a language course attached to the programme I work for, and I'm studying that. I also was doing the Pimsleur course, but I haven't done any in a while, because I'm way past the level Pimsleur takes you to. I'm also using a intermediate textbook.

For passive study, I'm watching music videos from my favourite Japanese artists on youtube. I also watch tv dramas (rather obsessively). I bought myself a series for my birthday in December. I've watched the whole thing (11 episodes) 8 times since then. Entire sentences will come out my mouth  in a most natural way, because I hear them in that series.

It takes a long time to get to the reading stage in Japanese. You know, the whole 2000 characters reccommended for daily use thing. But I've managed to pick up about 1500 of them, so I can know read like a 14 year old. I'm reading Harry Potter, which is sort of hilarious, since most of the words are made-up. But my reading skills have improved significantly since I started.

I have no idea how many of you blog-reader-type folk are interested in foreign languages or have studied them. But I hope that if you're looking to start one, or improve one you already have, this will help. Plus it's Monday, and that's what's on my mind.

PS. The title of the blog is counting to five in my languages. Deux is French. Tres is Spanish. Quattro is Italian. 五 (pronounced go) is five in Japanese.

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