Growing up, I was always interested in foreign languages. Accents, foreign places, strange-sounding (at least, strange to my ears) words were all part of the fascination, and I was so excited to get to high school so that I could start studying a second language. I grew up in a very small town, with little to no diversity, so it wasn’t like I was surrounded by opportunities to learn a second language. Plus, add to that the fact that I grew up without any spare money (we weren’t poor, but “extras” weren’t really possible the vast majority of the time) taking lessons wasn’t in the cards for me either.
Once I got to high school, I was given the choice of Spanish or German, the only two languages offered at my school. I started with Spanish I my freshman year, and worked hard at it. However, I learned the most once we gained a foreign exchange student from Spain my Junior year. Virginia was hilarious, and we became quick friends. My background in Spanish helped give me a jump-start, and before long we were talking solely in Spanish, though obviously much of it was Spanish slang. Once she left, and I went into my senior year, I wasn’t able to take Spanish IV, because it wouldn’t fit in my schedule (the joys of a small school means that many classes were only held during one class period, so if it interfered with something else you needed, you couldn’t do both).
After I made my decision on where to attend college (GO HOOSIERS!), I considered majoring in languages. I had tested into 300 level Spanish, but wasn’t able to get into a class my first semester. Instead, I took French 100. After my first semester of French, I was able to get into my 300 level Spanish class, so I doubled up and took Spanish 300 and French 150. It was a bit strange keeping two languages that are so similar, separated in my head, but I managed somehow. That said, at the end of my Freshman year, I decided that I no longer wanted to pursue Spanish or French, and I wanted to focus on something completely different and non-Romance derived.
Which led me to Arabic (and one of my degrees). Sophomore year rolled around and I had chosen to focus on Arabic. The Middle East has also been a huge area of fascination for me (from the culture, to the art, to the food and language), so it seemed like a natural choice. The College of Arts and Sciences at IU requires that you do 4 semesters of the same language, in order to graduate. I had already gained that with my Spanish credits I had tested out of, but I wanted to keep up with my language skills. So, I started with Arabic, just to try it out. After that first year, I decided to add it to my other major, Political Science. I enjoyed all the classes and really loved learning Arabic, and by the time I had graduated, I had a pretty decent grasp of the language. I wouldn’t have been fluent by any stretch of the imagination, but I would be able to get around in an Arabic speaking country.
After undergrad, I went to law school, and stopped studying foreign languages (who has time for anything in law school?). That degree, along with my Master’s, lasted for 4 years, so by the time I’d graduated in 2009, it had been 7 years since I’d studied French or Spanish, and 4 years since I’d studied Arabic. Shortly after graduation, we found out we’d be moving to the Netherlands in early 2010, which meant Dutch would be my new focus. For the first year, I had intensive 1-on-1 Dutch language classes with a private tutor. However, learning Dutch was quite difficult, since nearly everyone spoke impeccable English (and actually preferred to speak English, as it was easier than listening to Americans butcher their language). So, the immersion that I had hoped to gain while living abroad wasn’t quite there. I still learned quite a lot, and because conversationally adequate while living there. While I was in Houston a few months ago for a trade show, I wound up on a bus with 4 KLM Flight Attendants (all Dutch) who were talking amongst themselves. I could understand 100% of what they were saying, and when one commented on my face with “yes, it sounds weird, doesn’t it?” I was able to respond back (in Dutch) with how I had lived in the Netherlands for some time, and was able to speak and communicate in Dutch, and that it was so nice to be able to hear it again. So, after that, I realized that I’d learned far more than I’d thought.
J always teases me because he says that I can eat in 15 languages, but I only speak one. He’s right, somewhat. I learned quickly that food words (and ordering at restaurants) was an important skill wherever we traveled, so I can order food in a number of different languages. Overall, though, I’m only fluent in English. I’d like to go back and continue my Spanish education, since I feel like that would be the most useful for where we live at the moment, but it’s hard to find time with work and other outside activities. Learning Dutch was probably the best thing for me, as it really gave me an opportunity to learn, not only the language, but the culture and the people all at once. It was the full package, which was a great experience!
So, there you go! Languages, and my semi-obsession with learning them. I still have dreams of living abroad again in my life, so who knows, maybe I’ll learn another one later on!