Let me see now. Since I started studying Russian in the second grade I must have tried learning about half a dozen languages. I only mastered one, mastering here meaning I achieved a reasonable level of fluency. As for the rest, hope springs eternal.
It was obligatory for political and ideological reasons. I had no problem with Russian because I was exposed to it from an early age. It also sounded nice. All went well for a while and then 1989 came and it stopped being obligatory. Which was just as well because memorising declensions was okay in the second grade but not so okay later on when I had many other things to think about.
In case you’re wondering what a declension is, click here. Russian has three of them. Every noun has a dozen endings. Times six, for each case. You’re welcome. Because of my aversion to cases I can only read in Russian reasonably well, I can speak it in informal context, preferably with some alcohol in my so I don’t care about cases, but would not write a word of it because it would be embarrassing.
English was also obligatory. But that didn’t matter. I had discovered The Cure and I had to know exactly what their lyrics were about. So I took additional classes out of school, then had the chance to go to England for two and a half years, then went on to major in philology at university and now it’s my working language. If I have learned anything definitive over the past 20 years it is that English, regardless of what some fans want to make it, is the easiest language to learn. Ever. Crazy spelling and all.
English has no declensions. English has no conjugations, either (that’s like declensions but for verbs). Sure, it has irregular verbs. You think other languages don’t? And the irregular verbs in English have their own patterns so they are easy to memorise. No, really, they are easy to memorise. Right now, I cannot think of a single difficult aspect of English and that says it all.
German happened to me later, when I discovered Rammstein. It’s a thing I do, apparently, fall in love with music, fall in love with language. I did German as a second language at university (Yes, a second language was obligatory). For a while. The moment I got a whiff of cases and declensions my love vanished. I still like the sound of German, I admire the way they make long words out of short words and the way they form larger numbers although right now the memory of that escapes me but I will never learn it even at an average level. Unless someone airdrops me in Germany and leaves me to fend for myself. Actually, Germans are pretty good at English so that won’t work either. Pity, really.
Another — that’s right — obligatory language. Possibly the coolest language since it is so very popular in supernatural and horror movies. All I can say about Latin is: declensions and conjugations. The semester we took Latin was like a punishment for me.
I had a very good reason to start studying Romanian. I went and fell in love with a Romanian man. Unfortunately for my linguistic ambitions, he was fluent in Bulgarian but I wanted to be able to communicate with his parents when things got serious. Twenty years later, my part in the communication process generally consists of very active listening.
Fun fact: Romanian is a Romance language. This means it is a descendant of Latin. It also has Bulgarian and Turkish words galore because, well, geographical proximity and Ottoman Empire on their doorstep for 500 years. It’s a fun language to learn. But it has declensions. And conjugations. I just couldn’t, people, I just couldn’t.
That’s one of my few fond memories from my corporate career. The company I worked for set up something they called a Knowledge Centre that organised various training courses. One of them was Dutch and it was free and voluntary, so I signed up. Regrettably, the teacher was not the most responsible individual so he had to be let go after showing up for classes in a charmingly arbitrary fashion. What I remember is that Dutch is a cute mixture of English and German, that they do not have the sound ‘v’ and pronounce the letter v as ‘f’, and that in the Netherlands, people like moss-covered roofs. Among other things, of course.
Several years ago I watched The Killing. Not the U.S. remake, the original, Forbrydelsen. In addition to it turning into one of my all-time favourite crime series, right there with Midsomer Murders, in addition to having a huge crush on Lars Mikkelsen (Mads is an ugly duckling net to his brother, stone me if you want, I don’t care), I fell in love with the sound of Danish.
I discovered pretty soon that this is abnormal, when friends who speak Scandinavian languages told me I was insane. Apparently, there are jokes about Danish: it sounds like loud vomiting. Very funny. So I started studying it on Duolingo. I did the whole course. I found textbooks and continued studying it. Danish has no declensions and no conjugations. It has a wonderfully simple grammar and even the number-formation quirks and the insane prepositions did not demotivate me. All preposition systems are insane, in every language.
What eventually made me give up was pronunciation, the very reason I’d started studying it. It is nearly impossible for a non-Danish person to learn. The most you can hope for is an approximation of Norwegian, which is almost exactly the same as Danish, only you can make out separate words in the sentence. Also, I couldn’t find a teacher and all the available courses were unsuitable since they focused on future immigrants to Denmark and I’m not a future immigrant to Denmark. That was one sad love story.
I had a run-in with Italian at high school where we had to have a couple of classes every week, what with the school being an Italian school. Note for everyone: many of the top schools in Bulgaria are language schools. Mine happened to be Italian. But the teachers were about as motivated as we were and after grade 4 I had my own opinion of being forced to learn something I did not want to learn. So I hated Italian. With a passion.
That changed this February when Italians helped me survive in Italy and keep my sanity. My latent love for Italy and most things Italian blossomed with a vengeance and now I want to be able to read Eco and Camilleri in the original. It seems 25 years can make a big difference because guess what Italian has? Oh, well, it has zero declensions, that’s what it has. It has conjugations, though, but I couldn’t care less. Verbs have always been easier or so I tell myself. It also has extra insane prepositions and selective inversion of noun phrases but I still couldn’t care less. I’m learning the hell out of Italian and when this whole pandemic affair is over I’m going back and speaking to the locals in their own language. It is pronounceable and you can’t imagine how refreshing this is.