How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

General discussion about learning languages
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mentecuerpo
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby mentecuerpo » Sat Apr 17, 2021 4:17 am

IronMike wrote:At the age of 19, I enlisted in the (US) Air Force as a linguist. You don't get to pick your language. Back then (maybe still...not sure), at a certain point in basic training, you took 3 tests: the CAT, RAT and APE test. Basically, each test taught you a bit of Chinese, Russian and Arabic (respectively) and then tested you on it. IIRC, they were about 30 min each. After you took the 3 tests and they graded them, you then gathered in a room with your other future linguists to discover what languages were available to choose from!


Thanks for sharing; I heard about someone else being linguistic for the Army.

I am curious, do you need to speak several languages to be accepted as Military Linguist?

Is a USA military linguist a linguist, like the ones who study in universities?

Thanks.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby mentecuerpo » Sat Apr 17, 2021 4:44 am

Iversen wrote:When I started at the university I first chose mathematics because I had liked that discipline in the Gymnasium (high school), but my interest had waned. Then I switched to literature, where we were expected to use Danish, English, German and sometimes French, but not more than that. However communism was rampant in that institute so I did my exam as quickly as possible and hurried onwards to the Romance department where I studied French, but I also followed courses in Old French, Old Occitan, Catalan, Romanian (3 years), Italian and a little bit of Icelandic, even though it was taught in another institute than mine (with less than a handful inscribed students they didn't mind having me sitting in the background). And some more Latin, of course - but not Spanish, because the benches there were full of marxist students with flaming sympathies for Fidel Castro. In contrast, the Italian teachers were just happy to have some more people coming to their courses because it provided more stability.


Maybe it was not just literature alone that got you into languages.

Iversen, I imagine that you play a musical instrument and music exposed you to Italian.

The classical music writing system is Italian-based, I think.

I don't remember you mentioning in your short story about music how Italian became the official language for music scripts. Maybe it has to do with the Medici family in Florence, I am not sure, but I would not be surprised.

I can see the love for classical music mixing well with learning languages.
I know professional singers need to study Italian, French, and German, maybe other languages.

I thought you were a Linguist too or something with computers.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby Iversen » Sat Apr 17, 2021 9:04 am

Actually I don't know when Italian became the lingua franca of classical music, but my guess would be that Italian opera fra Monteverdi onwards is to blame. However Italian is not the only language used in scores, especially from the Romantic period and onwards - the French use French, the Anglophones use English, the Germans use German - like when Gustav Mahler tells the hornplayers in the 1. symphony to direct their Schallstücke directly towards the audience near the end of the 4. movement for more effect. But most of Mozart's operas have Italian names, just to mention one symptom. And it was the use of Italian in music that lured me into studying the language.

As the use of Latin for scientific animal names lured me into learning Latin vocabulary (not grammar .. in the beginning, at least). I remember that I mentioned to my doctor that I had noticed that all birds with leuco- in their species name had something white somewhere, and if the name was "Something leucogaster" then it was the belly. But I couldn't find those words in the dictionaries at the library. He then told me that "gastritis" was a malady in the belly so my hunch was correct, but maybe the words were Greek. Problem: I hadn't learnt the Greek alphabet yet so I couldn't check this out, but of course he was right.

Sula_leucogaster.jpg
Sula_leucogaster.jpg (5.78 KiB) Viewed 1215 times

As for literature ... well, I don't really know why I chose to study literature, but it was a waste of time. At least the damage was limited since I could finish the 'small' exam in "Moderne og Sammenlignende Litteraturhistorie" after a couple of years and then get on to study French (and a bunch of other languages more or less unofficially).

As for music: oh, that's different. I started in some kind of musical Kindergarten when was 6 or 7 years old, then advanced to recorder and from there til violin aand later cello, and finally I added piano playing, which was a problem since my family didn't own a piano - I have to negotatiate access to the grand piano of of the local Gymnasium, and I couldn't play during classes, only during breaks or after school. So my piano playing never reached the level I had with the string instruments. I started to compose music when I was around 8 or 9 years old and continued until the late 90s where I lost my patience with amateur musicians in general and stopped playing and composing myself. But only instrumental music so my involvement with music has nothing to do with languages, except that the two hobbies compete for my time.

In fact I totally refused to sing from the age of 8 or 9, even during music classes - but since I knew all the great composers and could read music and played several instruments and composed music myself my ultrapatient music teachers never gave me a round zero in that topic. On the contrary, during the Gymnasium my music teacher told me to take over the teaching of musical instruments for several weeks because I obviously knew the subject better than she did. And then I came with LPs from the library or my own small collection and taught instrument savvy to my class mates from the piccolo to the double bass plus keyboard instruments and a few words about renaissance instruments - and we finished with Benjamin Britten's "Young Persons' guide to the orchestra" where I got the first page of the score and some pictures of instruments projected to a screen and pointed out which ones had the solos. I had a great time....

And by the way, I almost forgot computering. We were allowed to feed BASIC into a mainframe during my Gymnasium years, but when I left the university I bought a Commodore 64, and that's where my involvement with IT started.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby einzelne » Sat Apr 17, 2021 6:14 pm

“You don’t choose the language; the language chooses you.”
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby IronMike » Sat Apr 17, 2021 6:58 pm

mentecuerpo wrote:I am curious, do you need to speak several languages to be accepted as Military Linguist?
Is a USA military linguist a linguist, like the ones who study in universities?

In the US military, in order to get the linguist job, you don't need to know any languages. Each person enlisting takes a test called the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). There's a listening and reading section. Basically, each section teaches you a fake language then tests you on it. The DLAB supposedly shows the military service you pick if you can learn a language quickly.*

Once you pass the DLAB, you can enlist as a linguist. What that means is after basic training, you'll go to the Defense Language Institute for whatever language the service picks for you. Just because you know another language doesn't mean you'll be a linguist with that language. I know many linguists who came into the career field with good to great proficiency in another language. I also know some who already had a language (e.g. a bachelor's in German) who didn't make it through DLI.

There are some rare instances when an enlistee might have a less common language as a heritage language (say, Pashto) and become a linguist for that language. Still, most services will still put the person through DLI to either improve their heritage language or learn a new one; I went through Turbo-Serbo with a heritage Russian speaker. Most of the time, this is because the linguist needs a security clearance, and before s/he gets it, there's really no work they can do, so might as well put them through DLI.

The military linguist is not like an academic linguist. To be safe, I'll just point you to the websites of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

*My Russian Basic Course started with 140+ and graduated 70-something, and that included people recycled in and out of my class. In the first month we lost a large number of folks, a significant portion of them with crazy-high DLAB scores, like in the 130s and 140s. Most of these losses I would see in their barracks rooms reading comics or books, not studying. I actually heard some of them mention that they had high DLAB scores so of course they didn't need to study. They all failed out. Ironically, the #1-ranked graduate from our class had the lowest possible score you could have (in 1986) to get a spot at DLI for a Cat III language.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby kelvin921019 » Mon Apr 19, 2021 7:28 am

Not sure if people here have ever had a feeling of "calling"
I learn a language when I feel a very strong urge to learn it over a long period of time. No practical reason, just an urge.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby tarvos » Tue Apr 20, 2021 12:48 pm

I, like Iversen, have got such a long and arduous history with many languages that it would take me ages to recount the whole story here. So I'm going to summarize the concept here:

Each language I've learned has a particular reason behind it, but they are not always the same. Partly my choices were based on travel. Partly on my relationships. Partly on my education. Partly out of curiosity.

I should add that I've never been a monolingual, unlike some people here, and I grew up speaking two languages.

But the major languages in my life right now are:

Dutch - native language, language of the country I reside in
English - second native language, language of business and work and the internet
Spanish - I used to reside in Spain, and I use this language for work (interpreter)
Russian - significant social contacts in the Russosphere, used it a lot in teaching, travelled in Russia
Finnish - language of my partner
Swedish - official language in the country of my partner, big interest in Scandinavia
French - language I historically had to learn, spent time in Francophone areas, not currently doing much with it, rusty, but definitely still have skills
German - whenever necessary, old school language, read it fluently, speak it decently, my best friend is from Germany and there used to be some friends with benefits things going on.

Then there are plenty other languages that have played more major or minor roles in my life. I have significant experience using Mandarin Chinese (travel reasons), Romanian (did volunteer work in Romania and one of my exes is Romanian), and a bunch of other languages.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby Leurre » Wed Apr 21, 2021 5:37 am

I've never shared in any of these things on this forum, but it was so nice reading everyone's replies and stories, so I thought I'd add my own.

I grew up speaking both English and French, generally French with my father and English with my mother, and attending French school (albeit sometimes in English-speaking countries) until I graduated high school.

I lived in both Haiti and the Dominican republic for 4-5 years growing up as well, where I picked up my Haitian Creole and the beginnings of my Spanish. In this case, it was a little more of a choice for these languages, in the sense that I actively chose to speak Kreyol to friends at school in Haiti, and I remember really wanting to learn to speak Spanish as well. I continued Spanish through to college, mainly through classes and some limited interactions with people in the city in which I lived and while travelling.

Korean was my big choice. I remember registering an account on HTLAL when I was a freshman in college, so about 10 years ago now, and creating a thread asking if I should do a beginner's level immersion in Korean through a government scholarship I had gotten, or pass on that to go study Spanish. Someone, I forget who, made a compelling case for Korean, and I made my decision based off that. So the next 5-7 years were really focused on Korean, and I got rather good at it, met my future wife in college and never looked back :)

Japanese came through Korean, being in touch with other Korean learners, the majority Japanese. I learned to a fairly passable level, equivalent of about N2, but then dropped off in around 2015 when I decided to focus a lot more on work, and grad school applications and everything...

Chinese, I chose to learn after visiting a small village in central Darfur, in Sudan, for work, and seeing that there were some Chinese people there. Granted they were not speaking in Mandarin, but it was enough to make me really feel the usefulness of Chinese and to want to learn all the more (I had previously just flirted with the language).

Italian, these days, is due to work--while not required for my work, the organization I work for is headquartered in Rome, and I lived there for a year previously, just using my Spanish to get by. I have a lot of Italian colleagues and the more I hear the language, the more I like it. Also, candidly, it's much much much easier for me than Chinese, and it feels good to be able to talk to people from Day 0, to be able to start reading novels, to watch shows and understand so much, right off the bat.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby MrPenguin » Wed Apr 21, 2021 6:39 am

Strangely, while I've had an active interest in languages for a good twenty years now, I never actually made very much of a conscious decision to learn any of the three languages I've actually stuck with long term:

English - compulsory in school, and given its usefulness I've just naturally ended up using it a lot.
German - when it came time to choose a second foreign language in school, it was either German or French, and since my older brother had chosen German, and he was my role model in pretty much anything and everything, I naturally ended up making the same choice as him.
Finnish - I was given a Finnish textbook by a relative, and having made attempts to read the Finnish text on shampoo bottles throughout the years, and having heard (from my German teacher) that the language apparently had a ridiculous number of cases, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued, and so I started working my way through the textbook. Turned out Finnish was even cooler than I could've imagined (both linguistically and aesthetically), and thus I was hooked.

I've had brief affairs with other languages as well, some of which I might pick back up (though I probably won't) once I'm satisfied with my Finnish:

Spanish - I was looking for language courses to take at university, and Spanish seemed to be the most interesting of the ones available. And while changing circumstances prevented me from actually attending any classes, I still ended up studying the language for a bit on my own. It's become one of my favourite languages from an aesthetic standpoint (up there with Finnish), especially some of the Iberian varieties.
French - I started learning this one entirely because I'd become hooked on Assimil (having used it for Spanish), and wanted access to as much of their course catalogue as possible.
Japanese - a manga series I was following was several volumes behind on its translations, and thus I had the idea that I might learn Japanese to gain early access to the rest of the story. Unfortunately, the translations caught up before I could make headway, and thus I lost my motivation for studying it. The same pattern repeated recently with light novels.
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Re: How do you/did you choose which languages you learn/ed?

Postby sporedandroid » Wed Apr 21, 2021 9:48 pm

MrPenguin wrote:Japanese - a manga series I was following was several volumes behind on its translations, and thus I had the idea that I might learn Japanese to gain early access to the rest of the story. Unfortunately, the translations caught up before I could make headway, and thus I lost my motivation for studying it. The same pattern repeated recently with light novels.

Same thing sort of to me with Hebrew. I loved the show Shtisel. I was wondering if I could learn Hebrew fast enough to watch season 3 early. Season 3 got delayed a lot, so that helped. I did get to watch parts of season 3 early. My level was just high enough I could make my way through TV shows. Couldn’t make it through the whole season. When I finally got to watch with English subtitles I had to admit I enjoyed it more.
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