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I have been learning languages on and off since the age of 11, way back in 1981. I speak five more or less fluently, can get by fairly well in five others, and have a basic knowledge of nine more. The table below shows the languages I've studied/am studying in more or less chronologial using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to indicate my level in each one. It doesn't include languages I've only dabbled with.
|British Sign Language||A1||-||A1||-|
I have done exams in French (A Level, grade A), German (A level, grade B), and in Chinese and Japanese (BA Hons 2:1), but haven't done exams or proficiency tests in any other languages. The CEFR grades above are based on my own estimations.
My native language is English. I speak it with a fairly neutral British English accent, though this tends to change depending on who I'm talking to. I enjoy trying to mimic different regional accents, which is possibly one of the reasons why I developed such an interest in languages.
I grew up in Lancashire in the north west of England and used to have a bit of a Lancashire accent. Some of the characteristics of which include dropping initial Hs; short As (/a/ rather than /ɑː/), and substituting /f/ for /θ/ and /v/ for /ð/ in some words. So I pronounced bath /baf/, laugh /laf/ and heather /ˈɛvə/. I still do sometimes.
The first foreign language I encountered was Welsh: my mother's family are originally from south Wales and my mother has tried to learn Welsh a number of times, without much success. So there were Welsh language materials around the house and I picked up a few words and phrases.
At secondary school, Ripley St.Thomas, I learnt French, which was compulsory for the first three years and optional thereafter. I also learnt German, which I started in my second year, mainly because I thought it would be interesting, and partly because choosing it enabled me to drop metal work, one of my least favourite subjects. At the age of 16 I had to transfer to a different school, Ulverston Victoria High School, because I was the only person who wanted to continue studying languages. Ironically Ripley later became a specialist language college where you can study French, German, Spanish, Russian, Greek and Japanese.
After finishing school in 1988, I resolved to learn two languages per year: I thought 6 months was enough time to acquire a reasonable knowledge of a language. I spent a year working in various places in England, France and the Channel Islands. During this time I became fairly fluent in French, picked up some Portuguese and tried to teach myself some Italian, Icelandic, Japanese and Welsh, without much success, due mainly to lack of motivation and self discipline. At first I tried to study a bit every day, but after a week or two I started having days off from studying, then days off became weeks off until I gave up altogether.
Originally I was planning to continue my studies French and/or German at univeristy and possibly to study another language and a business-related subject as well. For reasons I can no longer recall, I decided on German and Swedish and was all set to study these at the University of Wales, Lampeter (Prifysgol Cymru, Llanbedr Pont Stefan).
Then I thought that my chances of finding a good job after graduation might be improved if I chose a more unusual language. I considered Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Arabic and eventually decided on Chinese and Japanese, which I studied at the University of Leeds. During my second year I spent a semester studying Chinese in Taipei, another semester studying Japanese in Osaka, two months travelling in China and two months relaxing in Hong Kong.
After graduating from university, I won a scholarship to study more Chinese for a year in Taipei, during which I became fluent in Mandarin and learnt some Classical Chinese, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Korean.
When my Chinese course was coming to an end I was considering going to look for a job in Hong Kong or Singapore, but was offered the first job I applied for, as an Education Counsellor at the British Council, Taipei. In all I spent four years working for the British Council, during which time I was using my Mandarin all the time and learning more Taiwanese.
Since returning to the UK in 1998, I've taught myself Welsh, Irish and Esperanto; more Spanish, Scottish Gaelic and Portuguese, and bits of Italian, Arabic, Latin, Turkish, Hungarian, Urdu, Russian, Manx, British Sign Language (BSL) and Hindi.
Since 2005 I've been to Ireland every summer to study Irish for a week or two at Oideas Gael, an Irish language and cultural centre in Glencolumbcille in County Donegal. In 2007 I went to the Welsh language summer school at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and in 2008 I spent a week learning Welsh at Nant Gwrtheyrn on the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales.
In 2006 I discovered a useful site called Mixxer, where you can find native speakers of languages you're learning who want to learn your language, and then contact them via Skype. Since I added my profile to the site, and to a number of similar sites, I've chatted to people from all over the world. This is a great way to practice your languages and to meet people.
In July 2008 I moved to Bangor in North Wales, partly so that I could use my Welsh more often, and to do an MA in Linguistics at Bangor University. In September 2009 I finished my MA after writing a dissertation on the revival of Manx, which spurred me to learn more of the language.
While I was doing my MA I was a member of the Bangor Welsh Learners Choir, where all the songs and most conversations were in Welsh. This choir competes regularly in eisteddfodau (festivals of Welsh language and culture), and we won one of the learners' competitions at the National Eisteddfod in Bala in 2009, as well as wining competitions at local eisteddfodau on Anglesey.
In September 2009 I started learning British Sign Language (BSL) using online resources and books. So far I've completed one online course and could have a basic conversation, though have yet to meet any BSL users.
In May 2011 I started learning Hindi with an online version of the Rocket Hindi course, which I enjoyed and found interesting, but gave up on after a few months
In October 2011 I was given free access to the online language courses at Language101.com in return for writing a review of the site. I decided to have another go at Russian, and to concentrate mainly on Russian during November and December 2011.
In November 2012 I decided to start learning Russian again, after neglecting it for nearly a year. In December my brother married his Russian girlfriend and I found what little Russian I knew by then very useful when speaking to her relatives and friends at the wedding - my sister-in-law speaks English very well, but few of her relatives speak any English.
I also started learning Breton in November 2012, having previously only dabbled with it briefly. This was partly because I hosted some Breton-speaking couchsurfers at that time, and because I was curious to know how Breton is similar and differs from Welsh.
In February 2013 I set up a polyglot conversation group in Bangor, which gives people opportunities to speak and hear various languages, and to pick up odd bits and pieces of others. Languages spoken in the group include English, Welsh, Cornish, French, German, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Portuguese and Spanish.
At the moment I try to learn some Russian and Breton every day; listen to radio stations in Welsh, Breton, Russian, Irish and Scottish Gaelic regularly, and sometimes to radio stations in other languages, particularly Czech and French. I read novels in various languages, especially Welsh, Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and French, and sing in a variety of languages in the Bangor Community Choir. I also go to a French conversation group and a polyglot conversation group, and generally find whatever other opportunities I can to use and improve my languages.
Welsh, French, German, Italian, Icelandic, Japanese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Korean, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Esperanto, Hungarian, Turkish, Arabic, Czech, Irish (Gaelic), Latin, Manx (Gaelic), Russian, Urdu, British Sign Language (BSL), Hindi, Breton
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