Every little helps
In an interview I found the other day, Barry Farber, author of How to Learn Any Language, mentions how he learns a new Tibetan word or phrase from the Tibetan woman who works in a nearby local grocery store every time he goes there. He also hopes to use the same method to learn some Moray from a man from Burkina Faso who works in his local liquor store. He says that there’s a big difference between knowing nothing of a language and knowing a little – if you know a little, you can greet people in their mother tongue and have very basic conversations with them, and that this is a great way to break the ice and to make new friends.
I’m definitely going to try this – the next time I take my laundry to the laundrette, for example, I’ll see if I can learn a word or phrase in Hindi. At the office I can learn phrases in Catalan, Polish, Arabic, Hungarian and Norwegian. Elsewhere I can learn bits of Bulgarian, Czech, Slovak, Dutch, Farsi and probably a few others. Maybe I’ll also write the phrases down in a notebook and/or record them on my mp3 player. This will be fun!
Another point Barry discusses is how to explain which languages you ‘speak’. In fact, he advises that you say something like “I have studied/am studying X number of languages” or “I am a student of X number of languages” rather than saying, as I tend to do, “I speak 10/12/15 languages, with varying degrees of fluency.” or “I speak English and Mandarin fluently, have a good knowledge of 8 other languages and a basic knowledge of 10 more”. Instead, I will say that I’m am student of 20 languages, 15 of which I’ve studied in some depth.