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A Lifetime of Learning Foreign Languages

Updated on August 1, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent a lifetime traveling and learning many languages. He is now conversant in Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, and Thai.

Chinese Language

"Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion" by Wang Xizhi
"Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion" by Wang Xizhi | Source

Awakening an Interest in Learning Languages

I have had an interest in languages throughout almost all of my life. When Sister Julian taught English sentence diagramming in the sixth grade, I was fascinated. Later, as a member of the Foreign Language Club in the ninth grade or first year of high school, I marveled at the many foreign languages and cultures in the world which Mrs. Faust introduced.

Learning foreign languages for communication, however, did not interest me until I started learning Chinese Mandarin in the Navy and using it while in Taiwan.

Throughout my life, I have learned eight languages so far. In this article, I discuss the foreign languages which I have learned and how they have benefitted my life.

Latin Language

Latin inscription on the Coliseum
Latin inscription on the Coliseum | Source

Learning Latin

When I was a high school Freshman, I chose Latin as an elective. It was one of the best subjects I selected, because Latin introduced me to learning a new language, ancient culture, and helped me in studying and learning other languages, especially English.

The rigors of learning Latin vocabulary and grammar turned out to benefit me very much when later studying Spanish in high school. Knowledge of Latin vocabulary also helped me to figure out the meaning of English words formed from Latin prefixes, suffixes, and root words. For example, the English word aqueduct would have been difficult to determine without knowing Latin. But because "aqua" means water, and "duct" means to lead, I understand that an aqueduct is a structure which transports water.

Spanish Language Use in the United States

Areas in green show the states in the U.S. where there are a lot of Spanish speaking people.
Areas in green show the states in the U.S. where there are a lot of Spanish speaking people. | Source

Learning Spanish

After taking Latin for two years in high school, I enrolled in Spanish when I was a Junior. I wasn't really interested in developing listening and speaking skills. Spanish was chosen as an elective because I knew that as a Romance language it was very close to Latin and easy to learn.

Although reading and writing skills were emphasized during my two years of Spanish, I did get to apply my limited knowledge of Spanish listening and speaking on one occasion. On a trip to a lake with my parents, I met a young Mexican boy and was able to strike up a conversation in Spanish. You can imagine how excited I was to be able to use Spanish as a communicative tool.

German Language

A German dictionary
A German dictionary | Source

Learning German

During my college undergraduate years, I elected to sign up for three semesters of German. I did this for two primary reasons: one, to satisfy a foreign language requirement needed for a Bachelor of Science degree; and two, a reading knowledge of German was needed for any student like me who was planning to do graduate work in chemistry.

My three semesters of German were solely devoted to learning vocabulary and developing reading knowledge. During the third semester, more German history and culture was introduced. There was no emphasis at all on listening and speaking.

French Language

A French language stop sign
A French language stop sign | Source

Learning French

As a first-year graduate student in chemistry, I remember learning one semester of French. The purpose of this course was to develop a reading knowledge of French needed to do research in chemistry. French listening and speaking skills were not addressed in this class.

Chinese Mandarin

The two Chinese characters "guan" and "hua" which together mean Chinese Mandarin or Mandarin Chinese
The two Chinese characters "guan" and "hua" which together mean Chinese Mandarin or Mandarin Chinese | Source

Learning Languages

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Learning Chinese Mandarin

While taking aptitude tests during Navy basic training, it was discovered that I had a talent for learning foreign languages. For this reason, the Navy assigned me to a 37-week intensive aural-comprehension Chinese Mandarin course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

Over nine months, I developed listening and speaking skills which I was able to apply during a Navy tour in Taiwan during the period 1968-1970. I was able to use my skills not only on the job but also in communicating with the local Chinese and Taiwanese during my non-duty time.

Following a discharge from the Navy in 1971, I continued my Chinese study at the University of Wisconsin. I enrolled in a graduate program in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature and took classes in advanced vernacular and classical Chinese as well as linguistics and Chinese history courses.

After three semesters and one summer session of intensive study, I went back to Taiwan with the intention of learning Chinese and literature at National Taiwan University. Instead, I got married to a local Taiwanese and spent the next six years teaching ESL and doing translation work. I was definitely applying my listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills.

In 1980 I obtained employment with the federal government as a Chinese translator. I did this work for 27 years until my retirement from federal service in 2007.

While with the government, I received more advanced instruction in Mandarin which included one year of study in Taiwan during the period 1984-1985.

Taiwanese Language

An issue of the Taiwan Church news in Romanized Taiwanese published by Presbyterian missionaries in 1885
An issue of the Taiwan Church news in Romanized Taiwanese published by Presbyterian missionaries in 1885 | Source

Learning Taiwanese

I learned Taiwanese after I got married and lived in Taiwan in the 1970s. With the exception of six months of classroom study, all of my Taiwanese was self-taught and learned from communicating with my Taiwanese wife. Later, while working for the government, I was able to do some Taiwanese translation and interpreting.

Chinese Haw Mountainous Area in Thailand

Mountainous area in northern Thailand near the Burmese border
Mountainous area in northern Thailand near the Burmese border | Source

Learning Chinese Haw

While working with the government prior to my work assignment in Thailand, I learned Chinese Haw for six months. Chinese Haw is a dialect of Chinese Yunnanese which is spoken throughout the mountainous Burmese border areas of northern Thailand.

Thai Language

The Thai alphabet
The Thai alphabet | Source

Learning Thai

Thai is the last language which I have learned so far. My first course in Thai was at Berlitz in the United States prior to my work with the government in Thailand. While in Thailand, I also received tutorials in Thai so that I could better do my job. Thai has also helped me in communication with my present wife who is Thai.

Summary

Of all the languages I have learned, I can use and communicate the best in Chinese Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Thai. Learning languages will always be my passion, and I am currently trying to learn how to speak Isan or Northeastern Thai which is a Thai dialect. I would like to learn this dialect since it is my wife's native dialect in addition to Thai which she learned in school.

© 2015 Paul Richard Kuehn

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    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 19 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      @Japantics , I'm elated that you liked this hub. I'm sure that if you continue interacting with the Japanese every day, your communication skills will be more effective.

    • Japantics profile image

      Japantics 19 months ago from Nagasaki, Japan

      Wow, great article. I have been living in Japan for a couple of years and studied Japanese for around three, but still struggle in gaining the skills I need to be able to communicate effectively. Reading this has given me an extra boost of motivation. Thanks!

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 2 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Please read as: Hope you will find them and read.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 2 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      @Paul Sir, I shall check the sites you suggested to study French & German. Malayalam is the language of Kerala better known as "The God's Own Country". Please note that I have done several hubs on Kerala, Malayalam and other religious and linguistic features of my great nation India. Hope you will find the and read. Thank you for the suggestion.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
      Author

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      If you want to learn French or German, why don't you check out Alison.com. They offer classes in these languages free of charge. Where is the Malayalam language spoken? I have never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing this hub.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 2 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Oh! It is really amazing to note that you have learned some toughest languages in the world. I know four languages-English, Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil but my proficiency is not in equal degree. I love to learn atleast one foreign language. The French or German may be fine for me but I am yet to be motivated for this great task. You are a great achiever and I do admire you. Voted up and shared.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
      Author

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      For a lot of languages, It seems to be easier for me to remember the spoken word rather that the written word. Thanks for voting up this article. pinning it, and sharing.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      I have only known one other person who spoke so many languages and he could pick them up so easily it seemed -- a professor at the university I attended. I have had 3 years in striation in Spanish but I can't speak it very well. I can read it if it's pretty simple. It's easier to recognize the printed word than to try to remember the right word and what form.

      Voted up and useful/interesting. Pinned to Awesome HubPages and will share.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
      Author

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for sharing your language learning history, Larry. Thanks for your praise of this hub.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
      Author

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Your knowledge of Romance languages is interesting. Have you used Spanish much in your life?

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I've studied French and Spanish, but I'm not really competent at either. Wish I were.

      Great hub!

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      mikeydcarroll67 2 years ago

      It seems like you and I share a lot of the same languages. I had two years of Latin in high school, switched to Spanish (majored in it in college), learned two semesters of German to help with my history degree (I have a dual major when I graduated). Maybe that is why I find your hubs interesting!