The Most Difficult Language To Learn, Part II

Yesterday I related a story about how difficult it is to learn the Thai language.  But I know every language requires a lot of effort to master.

The language I’ve actually studied is Spanish (not counting a Latin course in high school).  I was a Latin American Studies major at the Air Force Academy.  Although my best subject is history, I figured that field wouldn’t be of much use to an Air Force career.  Unfortunately, I never received an assignment that needed a foreign language, so my Spanish has gradually slipped away.  When I substitute teach a language now, I always use myself as a bad example of what can happen if you let your language skills languish.

Otherwise, I’ve been fortunate enough to make multiple trips to Europe, so I have picked up some tourist French and German, although not enough to really converse (but it does impress my friends).  In fact, I told a friend from Paris that I’ve acquired just enough French to ask a question, but not enough to understand the answer, so what’s the point?  Although I’ve discovered chocolat is a useful French word to know.

What really blew my mind when I was in Kenya and Tanzania this past July was that many of my African acquaintances could speak three completely different languages — their tribal tongue; Swahili, the national language; and English.  Their English was heavily accented, but that doesn’t detract from an amazing linguistic achievement.

How difficult is Swahili to learn?  I only learned three words, typical for when I travel to a new place.  But in Tanzania the supervisor running the tour company we used was British, and he related stories about his learning the language.  Seems he once got his vehicle stuck in sand, and when he told his Tanzanian friends about his predicament, he accidentally used the Swahili word for oranges instead of sand.  He was describing how “oranges were flying everywhere,” and they were like “Where was this again?”

Next summer I’m planning a trip to China, and hopefully I’ll put up a few useful words there.  Knowing how to say “thank you” is always good.  Beyond that, we’ll see.

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