Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Great Language Game

A screengrab from

I will not pretend to meet the above definition of polyglot in any way. I am effectively monolingual; I only speak English fluently.

After three years of high school Spanish, and opportunities to practice it on service projects and working in a restaurant, I understand most Spanish so long as it's spoken at a slow enough rate, and speak it passably...still thinking in English, translating in my head, speaking haltingly, and certainly making enough errors to cause native speakers to snicker.

I know a smattering of Dutch, mostly because of my cultural heritage. I know how to say the words, but I have no real sense for how to spell them, or grammar, or how to string them together in coherent sentences.

I'm thankful I had a semester of Latin in the 8th grade, because it helps make sense of French and Italian, plus a surprising number of English words with Latin roots.

I had a Korean friend in high school who taught me several phrases in Korean, but I'm afraid to use them, because I don't know what I'm actually saying, and I don't want to wind up accidentally insulting someone's grandmother.

Does this sound like you? Most Americans are functionally monolingual. Some are bilingual. Few are polyglots. I wish I knew more languages. I know I could learn them, if I would devote the time and attention. But that's the hard part--actually devoting the time and attention. In an increasingly globalized society, understanding other languages and cultural traditions are an asset to everyone!

Maybe you don't know how to speak many languages, but do you think you could identify languages by hearing them? Can you tell Ukrainian from French? Somali from Hebrew? Czech from Hindi? You might surprise yourself...check out the Great Language Game to try it and see!

A screengrab from

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