English, German And Russian (and How I Got To Speak French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese And Mandarin)

I was born to Russian-speaking parents. My dad taught me English and sent me to middle school in Ohio so I could stay with two families of native speakers and learn from them. I started learning German when I was about 8 or 9 and had it as a second language all the way through middle school. I hated the drills but I was ambitious and having been born in Russia I believed that German was important for any kind of business in Eastern Europe. It worked out fine although I had to spend a lot more time on it and the local dialects drove me thoroughly mad at first.

These three languages I never stop learning.

Any subsequent language is marginally more complex to me. There is a benefit to people who are bilingual or virtually bilingual as you recognize patterns faster. It is harder too because you can't get rid of these other languages in your head, and I really didn't want to appear 'slow' especially in high school.

When I was in college I learned French primarily for aesthetic reasons and spent three years with a really outgoing tutor followed by a short two-week immersion period. That was terrible. I can never be like other bilinguals who immediately recognize the different meanings in 'supporter'/'support' and many other cases. I didn't have much practice and quit learning in a few years.

I applied for a non-degree program in a Japanese university for a variety of reasons and that was overwhelming. I never had any clue how different that could be. I had to consider culture and although I learned kana quickly kanji was very mentally challenging. It did teach me a little something about our planet and the notion of how the world is getting closer together. There is this outside appearance that we are the same but surely I am different from East Asians in ways I hadn't imagined.

This experience was intriguing and in about seven years of working in the private sector I moved to a college campus of a certain school in the western part of New York State and attracted a bit of attention taking care of undergraduate students from East Asia. There were many Koreans and even more Chinese.

To impress my future wife, who is originally from mainland China and speaks Mandarin, I took her on a tour of Europe and made sure I spoke Spanish and Italian on the way. I took two crash courses before about two weeks each and it wasn't as hard as I had expected. Much of language learning for me was finding the right motivation, you see. She was impressed and we got married. There was a reception in her home town in China and I memorized a speech in Mandarin, which (thanks to my new father-in-law!) was apparently clear enough to be well-received.

I continue to be a student of Mandarin to this day. A big help was establishing myself as someone who isn't as embarrassing as 'foreigners' could be and knowing some Chinese characters from my time spent in Japan. That helped reduce the distance - if you find yourself in China you may not readily identify with the people and the culture, at least I think that's how it was for me. It's hard not to be insincere if a culture is shocking to you, and knowing where to go, recognizing the characters helped me enjoy the process, which is crucial in a personal relationship.

We are back stateside, and we're raising a daughter now. I want her to speak English and Mandarin before she is in early education.
alpet alpet
26-30, M
2 Responses Sep 16, 2012

Wow, are u interested in teaching

Great experience! Keep your passion on languages!