The Quirkiest Studies of Language

Did you study a language in school? Have you forgotten nearly all of it? I’m trying desperately not to lose what I’ve learned. But it’s difficult to find ways to practice when you live in a primarily one-language country.

I studied Italian from middle school through college, sprinkled with attempts at a few other languages. Unfortunately, there aren’t many foreign-language speakers to subject to my failure at rolling my R’s. So instead, I’ve had to get really creative.

Why do I bother? There are countless proven benefits to studying languages. Another language can take you on a journey into another culture. We find what’s important to that culture, the nuances in their speaking. Are there multiple formal tenses? There’s a myth that the Inuit have fifty words for snow. Then there are words that only exist in certain languages, that effortlessly capture concepts English needs a handful of words to say.

I’m a particular fan of Hygge, myself, which is Danish for the lovely feeling you get when you sit around a fire in winter with your closest friends.

And learning a language is good for your noggin. Studying languages has been shown to aid memory skills, prevent Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases, and even just improve your first language. Foreign languages can affect how you think. In my next life, I hope to be as illustrious as JRR Tolkien, who spoke a handful of languages (including the dead Gothic tongue) and invented many others.

Alas, I am not nearly as brilliant as him, but I can try my best. Here are the fun ways I use to study languages.

Try reading your favorite book in your desired language, or a children’s book. I have a copy of Harry Potter e La
Pietra Filosofale. It’s a not-so-epic bucket list item of mine to actually complete it. It’s very humbling to read a children’s book and need to stop for my dictionary every sixth word or so. Clearly, I’d be a terrible witch in an Italian wizarding school.

I also have a very Shel Silverstein-esque book I picked up in Florence with English poems on one side, and the Italian on the other side. It’s called Bestiario Immaginario, by Roger McGough, and I hope he won’t mind terribly much at me posting an excerpt.


Catapillow… or Caramicia?

Songs, TV Shows, and Movies
I’ve listened to Disney songs for nearly every movie in Italian. And watched the movies too! I’ve devoured foreign movies like “La Vita è Bella“, “Amelie”, “Blue is the Warmest Color“, and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“. Youtube is rife with translations of your favorite movies, shows, and songs. The Lion King becomes Il Re Leone. The 2000s show Charmed becomes Le Streghe, or The Witches, in the dubbed version. And you can always poke around Google to find out what the best original works in your language are. Maybe you’ll discover something completely new that you love.

If you live close to a big city, you’re likely to find meet ups nearby for people to get together over a meal, a drink, or some dancing to practice their chosen language. I know New York City has a bunch of these weekly for fellow language enthusiasts. Another way is to open your home to couch surfers or offer tours to travelers in your designated language.

Video Games
Oh goodness, this is slightly embarrassing. But I recently discovered that there are translated emulations available. Let me put this simpler: I CAN PLAY POKEMON IN ITALIAN. YESSSSS.

Other Websites/Apps
I think it’s tremendous that there are so many free resources available to study a language these days. We’re seriously living in the age of information. Some of my favorite resources are Duolingo and the subreddit, Language Learning. There’s a Chrome extension you can use that will randomly add words of your chosen language into your browsing experience. Also – this guy. He kind of rocks.

Basically, if picking up a new language ISN’T on your bucket list, maybe it should be. Maybe your destiny lies in Icelandic sheep herding. Or maybe your soulmate is currently chatting in Hausa and dreaming of the day they meet you. Or you’ll go to Germany and find out you’re the heir of some abandoned castle.

I don’t know. But never stop learning. Never stop trying new things.

I have a secret about bucket lists. The more you put in them – the more room there is to fill. You can never run out of things to do.

So as the Italians say – In Bocca al Lupo!

Con amore sempre,


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