About Fun Eating Travel

Natural Languages

I like learning languages and about linguistics. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at it, so it takes a lot of time, especially getting beyond the initial excitement of being able to say a few words and phrases.

Following is any language I have attempted to learn, how far I got, and my current abilities.

FamilyLanguageExperienceSpoken vs. Written
English Since pre-school

While no motivational speaker, I was able to become gainfully employed!

And it seems I was able to write well enough to get into college and grad school.

Cantonese Mother tongue

Not as good as I used to be, since I now speak English most of the time. Based on where I live, I am also am more likely to hear Mandarin than Cantonese.

Aside from comics, Colloquial Cantonese is rarely written. In terms of Traditional Characters written in Standard Chinese, based on mostly self-study (and 3 quarters of first year university Modern Chinese), I can read at the pre-school level. This primarily has to do with my being spoiled by Simplified Characters, introduced in the second year of university Modern Chinese.

Fun fact: When I read written characters, I usually read them in Mandarin, even if it's traditional characters in Hong Kong, because I never learned the Cantonese pronunciation.

Mandarin Two years university + online + self-study

Probably not as bad as I think it is. There's a lot of pressure to speak it well if you look Chinese, vs a lot of forgiveness if you don't. While I can probably make myself understood about almost anything day to day, my tones are probably off and I sometimes fall for false cognates with Cantonese, or I'll use the Cantonese grammatical structure instead. If I've never heard a particular vocabulary term before, even if most speakers have, I'll probably not understand.

Despite writing Simplified Chinese since my second year of university, I've been told I write like a foreigner (alas, but also to be expected). I also am better at typing based on pinyin than I am with handwritten characters (horrible handwriting), even those these are Simplified Characters.

Shanghainese Self-study + osmosis by listening to CL

I think I can say maybe 50 words, excluding numbers, and understand about 40% of a meal time conversation topics because of similarities to Cantonese and Mandarin.

Shanghainese does not have a standard written language. Sometimes, similar sounding characters in Mandarin are used, even though the Mandarin meaning is different. I can read probably half of what I can say.

French High school French

I used to be pretty good in high school. After years of disuse, I discovered that I've fallen back to the high school French 2 level. This is suffcient for tourist French (get around where you need to), but rather sad given how much time was spent. I think my American accent has increased as well.

It's good enough to read menus, order food, and read museum descriptions. But essay writing would require a lot of dictionary work, and likely to sound non-native.

Spanish Took an intro class once + lots of self-study

Tourist level. Good enough to order food, explain what we want, and get around in taxis in South America and Spain. Must remember when to switch pronunciations (There are variations within South America, not to mention the lisp in Spain).

By relying a lot on French, museum Spanish mostly makes sense. Food Spanish is sufficient.

Italian A few weeks of self-study before our trip to Italy

It used to be at the tourist level. Now it's pretty much non-existent.

Pretty terrible now, although some words look like their French counterparts

Japanese Self-study

I can only say the names of foods I like

In 2012, I learned both hiragana and katakana, so I could read most signs, although I did not necessarily understand what I read (airport signs were usually ok).

Kanji characters were usually pretty easy to read, and more so than the romanized names (in romaji) on the subway, because there was no need to parse out the syllables. But a pitfall was that some characters had different meanings in Japanese than Chinese (for instance, 玉米 means Corn in Chinese (literally Jade rice), but 玉子, which looks like "Little corn/jade" is actually tama-go/egg in Japanese!)

Arabic Self-study

I don't know how to say anything in Arabic except for (in Moroccan Arabic): Shuma (shame on you/shameful), Mskin/Mskina (poor thing), and Habibi/Habiba (sweetheart) - not used together though.

I once learned the Arabic alphabet well enough I could read the road signs for Mecca from a photo, as well as an ID card. Like Japanese, sometimes I read things whose meaning I don't know.

Hungarian Self-study

I spent several hours listening to Pimsleur's Hungarian on CD while driving. Which was completely unnecessary because

  1. Pretty much everyone in Hungary speaks English or German
  2. Hungarian is very hard because it's so different from other languages.

I currently only remember how to say Hi/Bye (Szia, sounds like See-ya).

Czech Self-study

Like with Hungarian, I also spent several hours listening to Pimsleur's (Czech) on CD while driving. Like Hungarian, it was quite unnecessary to learn before traveling.

I currently only remember how to say Please (Prosim) and Thank you (sounds like D-yeh-kwee).

Programming Languages

Currently playing with Python, JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Previously in C, C++, C#, and Java.

Constructed Languages

Back before there was AirBnB, I heard that learning Esperanto would make it possible to travel the world and couch surf on fellow Esperanto speakers' pads. I learned a little bit, but now I've completely forgotten all of it. :(