19 July 2015


A Eurovision Eurolanguage Blog

When people hear the list of languages I've studied, they tend to ask some version of the same question: "No Asian languages?"

And I find some tactful way to say: "I have no interest in modern languages that weren't formed under the Cross." Unless I have a really compelling reason to make an exception, Filipino will be my only Asian tongue.

So it's clear why some languages just won't make the cut. But this doesn't explain why some did. I've been recalling why I started learning those that I know, and the connection between each starting objective and what I ended up with when I decided to stop is telling.

Why French? Three reasons, for three different times in my life. Back in high school, it was the only foreign language offered as an elective. I was taking it up for the sake of taking any new language up--and if an Asian one had been my only choice, the introduction to this post might be very different. =P The summer after high school graduation, a classmate told me that she had enjoyed our lessons so much that she wanted to continue taking classes at the local Alliance Francaise. Would I like to join her? I said yes, not because I had grown to love French, but because I had grown to like her. We're still good pals today. =) It seemed logical to keep going when I went off to uni, and I enrolled for an intermediate paper as soon as I got there. But the momentum from high school and from that great summer lasted no longer than one trimester. When I saw the full course catalogue for languages later that year, I knew that I could dump French for a new love without a single regret.

For what I saw was Latin, the language of my soul. Give me a choice between Latin and any other language, and it will be no contest each time. Long before I had Catholic Nerd pretensions, I had been fascinated by the idea of ancient manuscripts, medieval universities, and a language so dead that it might as well be a secret code. But by the time I started learning it, I was all about the Church. And sure enough, although I stopped working on it before the classics stopped being a struggle, I can still pray anything you throw at me, tell you which Gospel passage I'm reading after ten words or less, and understand Aquinas in bite-sized excerpts. Early graduation left me with over half the Oxford Latin Reader to get through, but I didn't continue studying on my own for two reasons: a) my brain pretty much crashed after uni; and b) working alone was depressingly inefficient. As before, I can't regret this decision when I've come far enough to make myself happy. Though it would have been nice to show all those passages from Cicero and Virgil who should get to be boss.

So why German? As I've said in previous posts, I wanted something so different from all the languages I already knew that they wouldn't be much help to me . . . and I wanted to read the original, untranslated novels of Michael Ende and Cornelia Funke. But though I started my lessons while working with German, Austrian and Swiss trainees, I never really thought of Deutsch as a way to communicate better with them--or with anybody really. =P It would have, had I passed an internal test, given my salary a bump; but I didn't even work toward that end. I might as well have been studying Qenya or Klingon! Well, due either to coincidence or to some universal rule about ends being in beginnings, German has indeed been the hardest language I've taken up and my reading skills far outstrip my abilities in speaking, listening, and writing. I can't really be surprised at how the cards have fallen, though now that I've tried learning a new tongue totally on my own, I wish I hadn't just lain back and let the class syllabus bear me along like a litter. There was no reason I couldn't have leaped ahead to the Imperfekt tense, especially since it is the one used for writing novels.

And as you know by now, my latest project is Italian. (Do Italy get robbed every other year or what??? But I'll admit that Hungary were my favourite of Eurovision 2013.) It would have been totally impractical to sign up for a second language course when all I really wanted (or so I thought) was to understand Italian pop songs well enough to sing them in the shower; so I decided to learn on my own using books and videos. Who knew that appreciating the lyrics would lead to wanting to understand the interviews . . . and that loving that interviews would make me want to talk to Italian people about the music they like? I have been trying to track down my favourite Italian trainees from my old job just to have native speakers to prattle with. So far, I've found one--and if I didn't genuinely miss the others, she would be plenty.

No, I don't know any Russian; but I'm leaving this here anyway because it is next, for sounding like such a fun language to sing in. Apparently, it really does seem to be about music for me. But I also think that having to learn a new alphabet is also the logical next step, and I'm encouraged by the Russian friend who promised that it would "break [my] brain." Though, given what has happened with German, that's probably not the best thought to have in mind going in . . . =P


cyurkanin said...

Made it to about the 30 second mark before I hit the gong on the Russian one.

Enbrethiliel said...


I almost embedded the Tolmachevy Sisters for Russian. (I'll give you 40 seconds on that one . . . unless you take that as a challenge and listen until the end just to be able to say you did. =P)

cyurkanin said...

You're kidding, right? LOL That is infinitely better. I think you just like boy singers. ;)

The lyrics:

We like the light and shadow. Like night and day. We are looking for some warmth. You cry, I am silent. You whisper, I cry. Our little game. All drunk to the dregs. Not my fault. The fact that we're not alone. Broken window. Old Movie. Only all the same. Half of happiness. Half of heart and soul. Tearing me apart. In your footsteps to leave in a hurry. Half wants to forget. We must break in order to live. Just allow to be close, but close. Just call. Last goodbye. Radio plug. Radio tired of love. I know how to forgive. I remember how to forget. Weak I only look. I look into your eyes. Falling tears. I'm sorry, I did not want to press. It was all over long ago. Old Movie. Only all the same. Half of happiness. Half of heart and soul. Tearing me apart. In your footsteps to leave in a hurry. Half wants to forget. We must break in order to live. Just allow to be close, but close. Just call. Half wants to forget. We must break in order to live. Just allow to be close, but close. Just call.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm listening to Alexander Rybak again and I don't know what your problem is. ;-P

The Russian version of Shine is so much stronger than the English version in every way, and I wish it had been the official Eurovision entry. But of course everyone wants to sing in overrated English . . .

r said...

What about Chinese? Remember, Matteo Ricci was right!

Belfry Bat said...

was right? about... the idea that confucian philosophy could be fertile ground for catechism? Or something else?

Enbrethiliel said...


Chinese would be useful and relevant because of our large Chinese community here, but I've never felt drawn to it. Japanese and Korean both stand a better chance.