Learning languages

I enjoy learning languages. There’s something about straining to pick
out one or two recognizable words from a stream of syllables, forming
sounds and words and thoughts and sentences that you know you didn’t
know just yesterday, testing new combinations of ideas and finding out
what you can express. Every day is an adventure: what will I be able
to say today? What will I be able to understand? It’s like learning
how to speak all over again, except this time you have the wealth of
your experiences to build on and plenty of ideas for which you can
make new sounds.

Last night, we visited W’s mom at her apartment. W-‘s aunt was
there as well. We had a lot of fun testing the limits of my
conversational Cantonese. They complimented me on my use of tones.
Even Chinese kids born in Canada often speak with flat tones because
they can’t hear the difference. When they spoke to each other, I
couldn’t understand what they were saying—but I could pick out a few
words, and I had so much fun listening and celebrating each time I
heard something I knew!

Someday, I’ll speak more than eight languages conversationally. I’ve
always thought that was a really cool trick, and now I’ve realized
that it probably won’t be as hard as I thought it was—and learning
will be tons of fun, too. Toronto is a terrific city to do this in,
what with all the multicultural communities. Europe would also be a
great place because of the natural mixing of languages. If you’re not
in a place with lots of opportunities to speak different languages,
you can find conversation partners on the Internet, and you might even
find podcasts in your target languages. Try it out!

How do I find the time to learn languages, anyway? Half an hour on the
subway, or the short walk to the library, or while I’m working on
something else (preferably with low verbal interference)—there are
all these spaces that I can use to learn. I’m too impatient to listen
to non-fiction audiobooks, but interactive audio programs are just
perfect. The Toronto Public Library carries the Pimsleur language
programs, which are the best I’ve heard so far. You should try those
out and make the most of your commute or your exercise time. Who
knows, maybe a foreign-language conversation can help you seal a
business deal!

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