When I go to language events such as those hosted by Polyglot Club, I am often asked how I learnt my languages and which languages I actually studied, for how long, at which level and so on. I’m reposting the answer here.
I usually say I speak 7 languages because people have varying definitions of what it means to speak a language. Here are all languages I have ever studied, in chronological order. I have marked the ones that I’m intermediate or higher in with an asterisk.
01 | * Cantonese – 0 years old – my native language. Obviously fluent in it now, I have created language lessons for it as the creator of CantonesePod and I sometimes teach students.
02 | * English – 3 years old – learned it as my first foreign language at kindergarten. I really loved the language from when I was a toddler, I enjoy learning basic vocabularies with the flashcards made by my mother and I remember correctly my English teacher’s grammar when I was in Grade 5, yes, I was a super language geek from back then. My family immigrated to London when I was 13, and I consider English my best language.
03 | * Mandarin – 11 years old – my second foreign language at school. The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is like the difference between French and Spanish, so it was kind of easy. I made a good Chinese friend, Hantao, when I was in my first year at university, he’s the one who has allowed me to bring my Mandarin to fluency. As for me, learning the pinyin (pronunciation) still required lots of effort. Some Cantonese speakers just learn by hearing and repeating, but I would say that pinyin is indispensable to reach an advanced and professional level.
Portuguese – 12 years old – my third foreign language at school, grade 7 and 8. It was taught so slow at my school in Macau, we somehow only learnt the present tense in two years. My Portuguese knowledge is very passive by now.
(*) Spanish – 14 years old – my fourth foreign language at school (now in London), from grade 9 and 10. I had two great Spanish teachers and I did very well. My Portuguese knowledge did help. I also took one year of Spanish classes when I was at university. I’m somewhat conversational in this language.
* Japanese – 16 years old – this first language I studied on my own. I did attempt to learn the phonetic alphabet when I was like 10. I took the GCSE exam, I studied one year of classes at university and I studied in Tokyo for 2 months. I’m conversational in Japanese and I can attend personal development seminars, etc and I would say it’s at a near professional level.
Ancient Greek – 17 years old. Took a few classes at school and did not really get anywhere so to speak.
Russian – 21 years old. Took a few weeks of classes at university and did not really get anywhere so to speak.
Malayalam – 22 years old. Took a few weeks of classes when I was travelling in India and did not really get anywhere so to speak.
Hindi – 22 years old. I had minimal dabbling with this lovely language. As of 2018-07-16, I am now doing Add1Challenge A1C34 to refresh my Hindi. I will want to work/live in India one day.
Sanskrit – 22 years old. Took a few weeks of classes when I was travelling in India and did not really get anywhere so to speak.
* French – 22 years old – the first language after university. I was working for a French company and we were offered free French lessons, did that for 5 years and then decided to move to Paris to perfect my French, I lived in France for almost 5 years. I now feel very comfortable with this language.
Swahili – 25 years old – took 2 weeks intensive course at SOAS and volunteered in Mombasa Kenya for a few months. I could express myself in simple terms at some stage.
German – 26 years old – took 6 weeks of evening classes but did not really get anyway. Did an Add1Challenge in 2017 and has a basic grasp of this lovely language now.
Arabic – 26 years old – took 6 weeks of evening classes but did not really get anyway.
Bengali – 26 years old – took 10 weeks of evening classes but did not really get anyway.
Turkish – 26 years old – took 2 weeks of intensive classes and travelled in Turkey but did not really get very far.
Polish – studied for quite a few weeks near 2010 but did not get very far. Did a 3-month Add1Challenge from June 2015.
Vietnamese – 28 years old – taking a one-year course in Paris. Loving this language and I have an amazing iTalki teacher.
Korean- 28 years old – did 3-month Add1Challenge from Jan 2015. Didn’t go far at all, but glad that I tried. Built a basic foundation to expand further.
Tamil – 30 years old – did 3-month Add1Challenge from March 2017. Didn’t go far at all, but glad that I tried.
Other languages I dabbled with in roughly descending order of time and effort invested – Toki Pona, Esperanto, British Sign Language , Latvian, Lithuanian, Hakka, etc.
Programming languages 😉 in roughly descending order of time and effort invested – Java, C#, Perl, Transact-SQL, Powershell, Bash, Python, PHP, Haskell, etc
Other language related dabbling – body language, neuro-linguistic programming, Mathematical languages, natural language processing, historical linguistics, etc
Graduate Certificate in Linguistics from Birkbeck University London | 1 year evening course
Yes, I love languages with my heart, mind and soul! 😀 Feel free to reach out to me!