I am such a linguaphile, I can’t even help it. Too young to attend school under the French Immersion program like my older brother, I made up my own language to compensate. Obviously, I refused to ever let my brother in on its secrets, which annoyed him to no end. In seventh grade, I attacked French with gusto. In ninth grade, I traded all my high school electives and part of my summer for the chance to take Spanish. In college, instead of just testing out of both languages, I let my scores stagnate and struggled through Arabic. And oh, have I struggled.
So when I found out I was going to Greece, learning the language seemed like a no-brainer. I got a phrasebook, I signed up for language-learning software via Odysseus, and I started trying to re-learn the Greek alphabet (with correct pronunciation, no thanks to the Greek system of American Universities.) I know from my experience with Arabic that truly knowing the alphabet through and through makes a huge difference, and I intend to have it fully mastered, along with basic phrases, before I leave in September. When I’m in Greece, I fully plan on auditing one of the Greek 101 classes that my students take.
Since then, however, conversations with several people have caused me to question my resolve. How realistic is it for me to become conversational between now and December, when I return? How often will I used Greek after this trip?
I suppose this really gets at the question of why do I study languages? When people ask why Arabic (no one ever asks Why Spanish? or Why French?) I sometimes answer, “because I wanted to read the Qu’ran.” That’s true, but I have no intention of reading it in its entirety in Arabic (I’ve read passages in class, but lack the stamina and vocabulary to do the whole thing), and it is widely available in English. When I started learning French, I had no thoughts on going to France. It isn’t that I didn’t want to go; it simply wasn’t on my radar or in my mental conception of the possibilities of life. I did, however, start Spanish with a clear head. I knew two things: First, speaking three languages instead of two would be both challenging and a feather in my cap. When it comes to education, I am equally seduced by the challenge and the accolades. Second, I knew that a person who speaks English, French and Spanish can talk to the majority of the world’s population. Adding Arabic to that list definitely reduced the number of people in the world with whom I cannot communicate.
So going by this criteria, learning Greek will definitely fire me up with the challenge of it all. Plus, it’s a different alphabet (which ups my linguistic cred) and if I ever want to catch up with Theresa Hines-Kerry I need to get a move-on. (She speaks seven languages at my last count.) Greek will definitely add a lot of people to my can-communicate list, however it has nowhere near the numbers of my other three languages. While Greek will be super-relevant for three months, it likely won’t be much use after that, unless I apply to work for a study abroad provider in Greece after I graduate, which is not out of the question.
I’ll keep you posted on my trials and tribulations, and in the end work may keep me too busy, but I think what it boils down to is this: I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try.