Languages - A Lifetime Adventure

(Please reload to be assured of the latest version)
Bypass my personal history and get right to some useful language-learning links.
Multilinguistics and hyperpolyglots  
International radio sources
Audio self-teaching sources

Much of what follows is simply a method to pass along to my descendents how I got "into" linguistics.  At the end I provide many links to sites that might have some useful material for learning a language other than your own.  For that click on one of the links above.

Looking at my language list you might assume that I have been working overseas, or was employed as a translator or other such.  But I wasn't - I was merely exposed to the idea of "other" languages as a child, I have an insatiable curiosity, and a degree of doggedness which some people nowadays would call a sort of OCD.

For a time reference, "now" means early 2009, I am 71 and working part time in my old UC Berkeley tech job and studying Afrikaans for a trip to South Africa.  I hope this writeup might inspire someone to further their linguistic pursuits or at least take advantage of any exposure to a foreign language because knowing other languages can provide the keys to many worlds.

First update - a new "now": It's mid-2011, and I am doing electronics design and fabrication at home.  Linguistically I decided last Fall to concentrate on getting a solid base in the Slavic branch of the Indo-European family.  I had poked around at several Slavic tongues but I have the most experience - albeit several false starts - with Russian, so I am working on that to give a more solid base for the other Slavic tongues.

First Exposure 

I grew up on a five acre chicken farm east of San Francisco.  We were not a farming family. My grandfather had built his own grocery store in Oakland, California in 1927, but the (first) Great Depression eventually had him being the direct supplier of poultry products instead of running a grocery store.  And on that farm there was a bookcase, not a big one, but it had both my mother's high school French book and a Spanish grammar of undetermined ownership.

As a kid I was skinny and sickly: always had colds and hence missed a lot of school.  Yeah, I know a lot about psychosomatic illnesses now, but if I had the option back then of staying home due to the sniffles, well, there was Arthur Godfrey and the soaps on the radio, hot soup for lunch and always something to read.  Eventually I had down a quite a bit of basic French and knew that there were two forms of the verb 'to be' in Spanish.

But somewhere along the line I heard that "foreign languages" were hard and, as a college-prep, Vocational Agriculture major in high school, I was happy to hear that a foreign language was not one of the prerequisites for the fields of forestry and farming.  And I think that this probably allowed me to learn languages much better, because about 10 years later, after having spent two years in South America, I heard the flat-voweled, typical American accent of those high school teachers from whom I would have taken classes.

Well, that's sort of getting ahead of the story.


You've surely heard the derogatory joke about Americans and our language abilities?  What do you call a person who can speak several languages?  A polyglot.  What do you call a person who speaks two languages?   A bilingual.  What do you call a person who speaks one language?  An American!  Ho ho.

To add to that image (and reality - I witnessed it in action in South America) of the stereotyped American's lack of facility with other languages is (or was) the old label "the ugly American" who, while travelling abroad, would yell at people in baby-talk English to get "them furriners" to do something and/or tell them to learn English. 

Our family was sort of neutral.  No one ran down other languages, races or cultures, and no one objected when my mother re-married to a Portuguese immigrant, even tho' we were essentially of British Isles background, and especially "Scotch" as we called it back then. 

My father, born Bert King, had been raised in Frederick, Colorado by foster parents from Edinburgh, Scotland.  I never met them as he got back together - sort of - with his birth mom and by the time we were born there seemed to be no connection to the Jardine couple except our last name.  On Mom's side of the family were traceable Stuarts back to the north of England by my great-grandfather's declaration on a US census form, "father born in Scotland."  Yes, yes; this is leading to linguistic inspiration!

When my father moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, he found employment with a guy from - guess where?  Yes, Scotland!  He was a Fleming, and had his home-based interior decorating business just down the street from Stuart's Market, yes, the one that my grandfather now rented at High Street and Hopkins Blvd (he lost his own store in the depression).  So a young Bert Jardine bought things from the same store as Fleming and got to know this other Scotch family which included Lucille Stuart, who later became, of course, our mother.

Fleming eventually became our godfather and between that time and my inspirational linguistic event, a lot of water passed a lot of places.  So, I was somewhere in perhaps my freshman year at high school when Bill (ne Alexander Forbes) Fleming's nephew, one Ronald MacLean Fleming, came to visit.  He was attending the University of Glasgow, studying chemical engineering.  He had done the youth hostel travels throughout Europe and the Middle East and had an EUP (English University Press) Teach Yourself series book for the language of every country he had visited.

This would have been a mere glance for me, of course, because young Ronald only visited here for a short time.  Shortly after he decided he would try for US citizenship by enlisting in the US Navy.  He was stationed somewhere in Texas and on a weekend outing was killed in a car accident.  He had left his trunk full of books with his uncle who, after  what I imagine was a brief period, decided that Ronald's books - including a bunch just for his major in organic chemistry - were better off in my care.  I was fascinated and still had these books several years later but the main impact was from those EUP Teach Yourself books (now published by Hodder) in so many languages and that a person whom I had known had been able to use them all in his travels.  

Bill Fleming was also the guy who bought me my first birding book and a pair of 3x binoculars.

It never occurred to me until I was writing this that the trunk was like something out of a fairy tale: an open door to a vast world of the mysteries of human communication, and I am the little boy who found the door in a tree in the woods, went thru and never came back.  :-)

In the Field

In 1957 I was in my second of four years in the US Marine Corps, doing guard duty on a Navy base, when I came across a bulletin asking for 75 NCOs (non-commissioned officers) to volunteer for TAD (temporary additional duty) on special assignment to the US State Department, in short: Embassy Duty.  A trip across the US on a Greyhound bus brought me to F Company, HQMC (Headquarters, Marine Corps) for some six weeks of training.  I finished fairly high in the finals so I had some selection of duty station.  To shorten this part, I tried for Argentina, but that post was full so I took Lima, Peru.

But before this I had thought to take a European post, and Paris was number one:  I would - of course - learn French and I would buy a BMW motorcycle, with a 4-cylinder, horizontally opposed engine and bring it home.  After - again of course - driving it all over Europe.  But then I saw the post description: 100 guards in a barracks with an in-house lieutenant in charge.  For this I could have stayed at the Navy base in China Lake!

Due to a fortunate coincidence I arrived on post in Lima at the same time as a new Spanish teacher (Peruvian, schooled in Canada to teach English speakers) and a new secretary.  The Regional OIC (officer in charge), one Major Flores, said: "Corporal, your lessons will be at 10 each weekday.  Be there."  The course was taught from FSI (Foreign Service Institute) Language Courses, now on line

Previously the guards never got very far with the lessons, because each time a new guard arrived on post, the group would start over on lesson one and the "old-timers" would joke with the instructor, make fun of the new guy's accent, etc.  Nevertheless,  they did acquire a quite a bit of Spanish due to these lessons, plus the daily need to ask things of the house servants, talk to taxi drivers, etc.  A semi-immersion learning environment.

But we were the guinea pigs for the new system and where the other guys had never gotten past lesson 6, our little group passed lesson nine in six months.

In early '58, as I was still struggling to learn my first foreign language, then Vice President Nixon made his South American tour. I was still slapping myself awake after a long, early morning tour guarding the hallway that led to Nixon's room,  when suddenly an American Army officer seemed to literally burst forth from a room down the hall. He appeared to be speaking to several hotel personnel at once, and his Spanish was such a smooth flow that I'm certain that he was part of my inspiration to charge onward into learning Spanish well, and, later, many more languages.  It was only recently that I dug around on line found that this was Colonel Vernon Walters.

As you can see by the article on Nixon above, his visit to Lima had some problems, so I was probably fortunate to get that late night watch.

Nixon-Lima-58.jpg (1327717 bytes)

Nixon-Walters-LifeMag.jpg (91663 bytes)

53fordgear-58.jpg (53438 bytes)

JS+GB-Lima-58.jpg (216325 bytes)

V P Nixon auto-
graphed pictures 
for staff.
Col Walters translates
for VP Nixon, May '58
Life Mag. photo.
1953 Ford trans-
mission gear.
30 June 58 at Limatambo
airport with a friend of a 
friend, Gladys, a stewar-
dess from Argentina.

I don't know how this would have continued because on a very short notice a situation arose at the embassy in Buenos Aires and they swapped me for one of the guards on that post.  On 30 June 58 I found myself on a Panagra  DC-6 flying over the Andes, thru a lightning storm in the middle of the night.  I have since wondered if our Gunny (military cant for Technical Sgt, one level below Master Sgt) picked me for the swap because I had originally asked for Argentina, or because I was the guy who dropped (destroyed, broke, fucked up) the transmission on one of the embassy's cars (' 53 Ford station wagon) by speed shifting it on the way to work.

In Buenos Aires the contrast in living conditions was like black and white.  In poverty-stricken Lima, little kids had dogged our steps offering shoe shines and others yelled "Cinco soles par' hoy en Callao!" selling lottery tickets.  I arrived in Buenos Aires to a brief early spring and walked about 20 blocks just to find a retiree with a shoe shine stand.

The embassy was also run differently.   There were no scheduled Spanish classes for the guard detachment, but I asked and was allowed to sit in with one of the embassy officers and continue on the FSI course for a while.  Meanwhile one of the embassy local employees noticed my Spanish and asked if I might want to learn French.  Dotty was a linguist, an Anglo-Argentine, from whom I learned not only French, but that the preferred spelling & pronunciation for the adjective 'Argentine' in English - to rhyme with 'wine' - was just that: not 'Argenteen' nor "Argentinean."   

She taught me from a simple and very inexpensive, shirt pocket-size, paperback grammar (can't find a trace of them on line).  She later asked me if I was interested in German and introduced me to Herr Werner, an escapee from Nazi Germany who got me going on German, until I got chewed out by the embassy security chief and our Gunny, for having a 'foreign national' in the embassy while I was on duty.  The fact that it was Saturday, the embassy was closed and several people were working didn't excuse my inappropriate behavior.  

Meanwhile, I had found the other reason that Buenos Aires was a better place to be than Lima: as "the Paris of South America" it was very European and very cosmopolitan.  The bookstores were loaded with publications in many languages.  I bought books on language and later, Cassell's dictionaries (which I still have) in French, German, Italian and Latin, the latter which I also taught myself the basics of with the aid of a COS (College Outline Series) teach yourself Latin grammar.  I went on to get a good start in Italian and made up my first multilanguage dictionary based on the 850-word Basic English which at the time was printed in full in the Desk Webster's Dictionaries.  I recall that at the time I thought four was a good number of languages to impress my friends with when I returned to the States!

JSBADict.jpg (1353990 bytes)

Note: this was typed on a Remington typewriter with only some sort of White Out or Correct Tape forerunner for mistakes.  Also no Xerox and no saving except in a binder I brought back and still have.



My first multi-language dictionary

But it was a true ah-ha! experience for me when, as I began to do the German grammar drills, I noticed the second person familiar verb form had an 's' in it, as did Spanish and French and  - wow! - middle English.  I could see how French and Spanish were connected, being Romance languages, but I knew nothing yet of the Indo-European (IE) language family.  This was the point that took me to the bookstores to look for books about languages instead of running off after yet another one to learn.   In reading Mario Pie's work I learned about the Grimm brothers and Grimm's Law and others who had recognized, studied and documented the IE family history.  I also read (I think!) Language - Its Nature, Development And Origin by Otto Jespersen.  It was by then pretty old (first printed in 1922), and a hard to read book for a novice.   I recall sitting in the springtime sun on a park bench in Buenos Aires, struggling thru it when I could have been with my buddies drinking beer. But not to worry: I did my share of "training drinking!"

So, before I left Bs As  (the Porteño abbreviation) in January of 1960 I had learned the basics of language history and also started on Russian, or at least I bought one of the same grammar series and began to learn to transliterate.  I had also gotten married to an Argentine girl who assured my "continuing education program" in Spanish.

My first wife was Elva (Chela) Garcia.  She was born in Famaillá in the province of Tucumán in the northwest of Argentina to a very white guy from Damascus, Syria, and a French/local mestizo mother.  He spoke a broken Spanish and his native version of Arabic, she spoke a sing-song Spanish that sounded more like a dialect when compared with the Italian-influenced Spanish (Castellano) of the Porteños.  Other than the British English that Chela took in school, the family was strictly monolingual in Castellano. 

During the time we were going together I was sent for a week as an auxiliary guard for a foreign ministers' conference in Santiago, Chile.  This was my first experience with a regional accent in another language.  Of course I had noticed the difference between the Peruvian and Argentine Spanish and was forewarned about it by the guys in the embassy mail room in Lima, with whom I used to practice Spanish.  But now I was using Spanish on a broader front and noticed a stretching of the first syllable in 'claro' (of course).   Both Argentine and Chilean Spanish have what I call an 'Italian accent.'  This statement has irritated a few natives I have mentioned it to.  And it is easy to see why: to the locals, an 'Italian accent' is something that you hear from an Italian immigrant who hasn't learned the local dialect well.  The proper analysis might be that there is a heavy Italian influence in the Argentine culture and it is reflected in the language.

Back in the USA

Returning to the US in January 1960, I had a variety of things to go thru before getting back to languages.  From my aptitude testing on entering the Marine Corps I had been recommended for training in electronics maintenance and - of course - ended up in artillery and later, on guard duty.  I assumed that the testing had some value so I took a 6-month night course (Electronic Training Lab - long defunct) in Oakland, CA and in parallel found an entry-level job as an assembler in a small hi-fi radio equipment company (Sargent-Rayment Co).  Finishing the school I found work in a larger company near home (Sandia, in Livermore, CA) and left my ag studies 'way behind me.

Chela finally got her paperwork straightened out and arrived in August of 1960 and began night school to get her high school (British) English into working order.  To accompany her I took a class called Scientific Russian and at breaks, heard the aforementioned foreign language teachers with their American accents.  Thru the classes Chela met a group of other foreigners who became our circle of friends.

Of course the biggest group was the Mexicans, mostly from the Bracero Program.  And here my to-date fairly snobby attitude about "knowing" Spanish had its comeuppance.  While visiting a fairly poor Mexican family I discovered not only a new accent, but blank stares from them and a blank mind of my own:  We were speaking two different languages!  The day was saved by Chela's knowledge of Spanish as an international language and her higher level of schooling.  She was able to interpret for us from my Argentine kitchen Spanish to the Mexicans' provincial dialect.  Little by little I acquired my third Spanish dialect.  The concept wasn't new to me as I recalled an embassy staffer who had studied her Spanish in Mexico City and was then sent to Argentina, where she couldn't read the menus: they contained mostly Italian and German foods!

The girls at school encouraged Chela to apply for work at Jackson and Perkins, a rose research and growing company.  She did and was put to work in the experimental nursery and we came to know the Piemberts; Raul - the supervisor and a graduate botanist - and Aura, his spouse.  We became friends and Raul became my blackboard.  We both knew Spanish, English and Latin enuf that I could 'create' technical words in Spanish and if I was correct, the conversation continued, if I got it wrong, Raul could figure out what I was trying say and correct me.

In July of 1961 our daughter, Julie, was born. When she was old enuf to leave with a baby sitter, it was to the Mexican families that we turned. Before long her baby talk began to contain more and more "-itas". The Mexicans we knew used more diminutives than Argentine Castellano, especially with children.

Julie had some interesting structures when she got into Spanish and English at a communication level.  She did the standard reversing of noun/adjective, of course; my mom says I did "engine fire" for "fire engine," etc.  Then she did substituting a Spanish verb with English conjugation while speaking English: "Sac me this, Daddy" from the Argentine sacá (<sacar, to take out).  As many a gringo does with Spanish - adding an "o" to an English word - she merely removed the final vowel from the Spanish and it was English!

In this period I had advanced thru a couple of starter positions at Sandia and was working in a room full of blinking lights and indicators on very expensive electronic equipment.  The lab had a good radio (tho' not stereo yet!) and we could patch it around to various parts of the room.  At 11:45 each day a rather experimental radio station (KPEN, run by James Gabbert - and here for more ) put on a summary of the world news.  I would go out to my car to eat my tuna fish sandwich and sometimes read, sometimes doze, but also to listen to something on the radio.  I finally stumbled onto a Portuguese news broadcast, which, with my Spanish background and having just heard the news in English, I had my entry into language number eight.*

* An aside here:  James Gabbert was also a fluent Spanish Speaker - for a Gringo!  I was listening to his quality hi-fi show back around 1961 or 2 when he played a song by a famous Latin American trio, Los Panchos.  I about fell off my chair when it was over and Gabbert came back with, "Acaban de escuchar el famoso trio Los Panchos, cantando..." in fluent, smooth, American (as opposed to Continental) Spanish. Check out his history here. 

Thru this period I also borrowed Chela's missal which was in Spanish and Latin, and learned more Latin while we attended mass on Sundays.  I also witnessed the slow change of the Catholic Church as Latin was removed from the mass, and the pulpit turned to face the people.  In addition I was expanding my knowledge of IE by spending breaks looking thru a huge Webster's Unabridged for words which lexicographers had dug up cognates for in many languages, both living and dead.  This was the start of dictionary number two.  As my second job at Sandia was in the bindery and print shop, I learned a lot about printing and transferred my original multi language dictionary into forms that I could pre-print to type into.  Yes, that is type, as in copy the whole damn thing!  There were no OCR machines (at least that I had access to) and computers were only good for entering data and printing hard copy, not the current extensive ability to transfer data between several types of processing programs. 

I made up 2-letter word lists: in German and Spanish, for reasons now fuzzy.  Spanish was straightforward, but German was really complex with very few direct translations.

Sometime in 1962 or 3, I helped form the Livermore Latin American Club, writing up the by-laws in both Spanish and English and registering it with the Secretary of State as a California Non-profit Corporation.  I also helped several friends off and on with translations of documents, doctors appointments, etc. (see photo, below)

While at Sandia I also taught myself basic computer programming using first a series of programmed learning books, Tutor Texts (now out of print) and then, from a lent book, Symbolic Programming System (SPS) which was an assembly language for the early IBM machines (ours was a 1401).  I could only get actual computer time during lunch, and after writing a prime number program there didn't seem to be much I could do.  Then I got a flash:  I wrote a language recognition program based on the vowel and consonant grouping patterns of English, French, Spanish and German and I called the program Literal Analysis.  The idea was to punch the first 100 characters of a foreign text onto IBM cards and the program would tell you what language the text was written in and help sort materials into piles for distribution to the appropriate translator.

Yeah, I knew even then that someone with even a minimal knowledge of foreign languages could sort the original documents into a lot more than four languages without having a clerk copy and punch the 100 characters onto cards, but I wanted to do something that combined languages and computing.  And no, I don't think the program ever really worked.  You can see the "report" here.

Now, how was I going to get more language background in this environment?  The Livermore library had very little in the way of foreign language learning materials beyond books and dictionaries.  But the local bookstore had the Living Language series on long-play vinyl, and I slowly acquired those for German, French, Russian, Italian and Portuguese.  Advantages for most self-taught series to the multilanguage student: you can learn a similar vocabulary for each language.

In the same book store I found my first copy of The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages by Frederick Bodmer and edited by Lancelot Hogben.  Of all the books on languages that I have read, this has been the most encouraging to a loner, would-be linguist.  The Language Museum that Bodmer built still fascinates me on the occasion that I actually look at a real book on my shelves.  Over the years I found and bought many used copies of this book to loan and give away to friends who showed interest.  Of course, if I had found this book before I tried creating my own dictionary, I might not have gone thru such a valuable exercise.  Similarly, my probing in a huge dictionary and scribbling onto hard-to-read yellow sheets, would have been greatly facilitated by the on-line etymological dictionary.

Note: the Loom of Language has apparently been reprinted and the link above will give you details on Amazon.

LLACPicnic.jpg (1771318 bytes) LivingL-Russ.jpg (136584 bytes) LoomLang.jpg (746576 bytes) Dict-2.jpg
                        (992223 bytes)

                          (1048505 bytes)

Livermore Latin
American picnic
Loom of Language Multilanguage
dictionary #2
IE "Dictionary"

The Living Language lessons were on LPs and cassette tape systems were not quite around yet, so listening to lessons was limited to sitting near the stereo console.  I did have one advantage here, as I had already learned to wire remote speakers for our house in Lima, Peru.  I soon had speakers out in my shop where I could switch the sound and not bother my wife, nor later, her mother, nor later, our daughter.

Thru all of this, the notion of getting enuf schooling and experience to qualify for an overseas job and another immersion-type language experience was still an active plan.

The Berkeley Move

In late ' 64 we packed up and moved to Berkeley, only ~45 miles from Livermore, with plans for more schooling.  I had worked up to over a year of general ed courses thru Diablo Valley College extension classes at work.  I applied for work at UC Berkeley, but before I had any response I had gotten absorbed in and by the UC spin-off (start-up) circle of high tech firms.

At the same time I discovered the Berkeley (city) library and its fascinating collection of foreign language materials, from companies such as Audio Forum, Listen and Learn, and more.  Click here for a table of that list plus other current audio media language companies.

Chron from 60s On

My involvement in the Berkeley high-tech start-up/spin-off community generally put languages on a back burner, but the following shows the continuing pattern.

1965 - For a couple of years I was a member of the International Institute -  a group of people from various backgrounds that worked to help immigrants - and apparently still do!

1966 - began Japanese, and fellow workers commented that my Japanese sounded like I was speaking Spanish.   Mission Impossible aired for the first time, giving me the notion that my high-tech plus linguistic background might yet get me an overseas job.  Meanwhile, in the real world, our son Jim was born.

Now with two children and a job that paid enuf money to both buy a house in Berkeley's flatlands and to travel, we went to Argentina for the holidays.  Beforehand I thought it would be worthwhile to try to find a job in the high-tech field there and made a list of all of the US electronic companies with reps in BA.  I also took some lessons from a tutor at UC Berkeley to reduce the English accent in my Spanish.

While in Argentina I pretty much hit every company on my list, but there was basically nothing there.  I did get a nice letter from my US job with a check for $60, the amount that had been our Christmas bonus the previous year.  This, however, was a check for one-week's severance pay minus the three days advance leave I had taken to be able to spend a full month with the in-laws.  So my first multi-position (electronics technician, purchasing agent, production foreman), "high"-paying ($3.75/hr) high-tech (sans computers) job was gone.

1967 - Returning to the US in mid-January I tried to start my first electronics fab shop at home.  I knew it would be hours of boring work so I recorded materials on reel-to-reel tape to listen to.  I would wedge a mike between dowels and the front of the Voice of Music stereo console and hope for no interruptions until the record had finished.  Impedance matching of electronic components was never one of my fortes!  Included were:

Swahili and spider stories
Jacques Barzun

815.jpg (48785
Voice of Music 815

But altho' the fab shop work came around eventually, I was fast running out of money.  I called a friend at the UCB Space Sciences Lab and was working there the next week as a Senior Electronics Tech on a project that would send an infrared spectrometer on a Mars flyby.  In the hallways of the building were a few tables that were dumping grounds for scientific paper reprints and I soon found myself reading French and Italian science journals so easily that I would at times forget they were not in English.

1969 - Sometime early this year I was called to jury duty and after the one-day session I went into the nearby Berkeley office of the FBI and asked about the usefulness of my language background in their field.  I was told basically that most FBI agents were lawyers and that was their job, languages were really not that important.  The agent suggested that I might try the Berkeley PD's reserve program, which I did, attending and passing their six-month training program.  However with my tech background and already having the reputation for being a "computer expert", I spent most of my time on an IBM 1050 terminal, running CI&I (Crime Information Intelligence System)  and NCIC ( National Crime Information Center ) checks on 18-year-old student protesters who were being busted during the war protests of those days.  On days that I did get out on patrol we did mostly responses to 415-f's (family fights) and spent time near stop signs to do reports, hoping for a stop-sign runner to get our minimum moving violation for our watch.  From a linguistics point of view, I certainly learned police talk and street parlance from those we stopped for a variety of reasons:  I felt I was lifting roofs to look into many types of lifestyles.

It was while working in evenings with the BPD that I met a guy, Fred, I believe, who was being re-assigned to Puerto Rico and wanted to have a few clues about getting along in Spanish.  As we went thru a few expressions and the like, he became frustrated with some idiomatic expressions, stuff you couldn't use word-for-word translation on.  He asked, "Why don't they say...?"  Of course we worked out the knots but I was impressed by the concept that people resist things they don't like when studying a language.  Arguments such as, "Well that construction is much simpler in English." or "Why is it so complex?" I think that this sort of resistance makes the learning more difficult.  Languages are what they are, sort of like backpacking in the wildness:  the trail may look long and steep, but it's the way you get to the top, and you can't "adjust" the mountains to fit your needs.

In this time frame cassette recorders hit the market and were affordable so I finally had some way to make language lessons portable.  The recording method was quite crude, however, still using the Voice of Music with the mike wedged near a speaker. 

I was also working as a purchasing agent for Yosemite Labs, an X-Y positioning stage start-up on 4th street in Berkeley.  A recession began in early '70 and I left voluntarily in July when there was nothing to purchase and no circuits to build.  I went to a job shop (register and be sent out on short-term assignments) and ended up at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) where I helped build huge power supplies for Syncrocyclotrons for the Livermore Lab, working alongside of Boeing aircraft engineers who had come all the way from Seattle to find employment.  In October I was offered a job in the same building (Building 46) with the Alvarez Balloon Group (HAPPE), which was funded thru Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab and I was on my second UCB job.

1971 - We moved to Kensington, where I - at least - stayed until 1997.  In January of 71 we went to the Kaiser Foundation Hospital (our new medical provider) for a baseline checkup.  By July Chela had weird symptoms that were eventually diagnosed as multiple myeloma, a hematological malignancy, or bone cancer.  While there was no known cure for this, there had been some remissions with chemotherapy and Chela seemed to hold her own and I learned a new language: medicalese.  I did so by digging thru references and journals in LBL's Donner Lab library (located on the UCB campus), and - of course - I found articles in European language journals and expanded my language skills a little more.  I felt good at least doing something, but find some untried cure I did not.  Meanwhile, as the medical journals stated, x% of chemo-treated patients were able to return to a normal work schedule, and she continued her job as a beautician.

1972 - I bought an old short wave receiver from a friend at LBL and was able to find Der Deutsche Rundfunk on weekends, as well as die Stimme der Heimat on local, or even distant, but strong, AM stations.  Listening on earphones with not very good quality precluded recording of these broadcasts, but the exercise did keep my German somewhat current.

At the end of ' 72 I was contacted by a fellow engineer and went to work for a medical electronics company, Cardiodynamics, in Dublin, CA, as the purchasing agent.

1973 - By June "Cardio" was in trouble, the job bombed, and after shooting off a few resumes,  I headed back to UCB and a job in Engineering Geoscience (in the Hearst Mining Building) that lasted almost 10 years.  Determined to have more business knowledge before I went back into industry (as if that would have helped the Cardio job!) I signed up for UC Extension evening courses: Demotic Greek, Stat and Fortran. 

1974 - Chela by this time was not doing any better, she was housebound but at least stable, so I signed up for Prelude to Calculus, Accounting Principles and 20th Century Mexican Literature.

The literature course was presented by Prof. Cecilia Ross - my first UC Berkeley language instructor.  Dr. Ross was speaking to the class in Spanish and I caught the word "organizata" and asked after class if she might be Italian.  She was a very intense older lady and while a bit forgetful, very-well liked in the language department and my open sesame to many other language classes over the following years.  She even found a graduate student from Puerto Rico to help tutor me in French and Italian conversation.

I only recently discovered that Dr. Ross was one of the founders of the Foreign Language Association of Northern California (FLANC) in 1951.  FLANC is a major force in the advancement of language teaching in our area.

Chela took a turn for the worse in late March and passed on April 10th.  After a short trip with Julie and Jim up the coast as far as Fort Ross, we returned to work and school.  In the years since Chela's arrival in 1960 we had helped her mother, brother and sister and their families immigrate to the US and they were all settled and working when she became ill.  As a result, in spite of an untimely death, she had done a great job in getting her family into an environment with more opportunities than back home and she passed with family and friends nearby.

I continued the classes I signed up for but didn't get passing grades.  After that semester I determined that I would simply work on languages as a hobby and not worry about a degree in anything.

1975 - over the holidays in ' 74 I met Ana Ruth, a Salvadoreña, and we were married in June of 1975. Prof. Ross was one of our wedding guests.  Our honeymoon was in two stages: a few days at a restful lodge in El Portal, near Yosemite National Park with Julie, Jim and Ana's daughter Zirla.  Then Ana and I went off to Mexico City, Acapulco and El Salvador, meeting friends and family along the way.  Riding thru Mexico, DF I noted the traffic patterns - very similar to Lima, Peru.  When we arrived in San Salvador, Ana's cousin offered us the use of their second car and we explored several principal parts of El Salvador, with Ana complaining that I was driving "like these crazy people."  She had never driven in El Salvador, learning only California rules of the road.  No, no more speed shifting and the worst experience was changing a flat in a downpour.

Driving is part of the culture wherever you go.  If you have to drive in a new area, and time permits, try sitting at a sidewalk cafe in a busy part of town, sipping on a local beer, to get an idea of how the flow goes, before getting behind the wheel and becoming yet another ugly American.

Now I learned YAD (yet another dialect) in Spanish and begin the "correct word" battle, culminating in my finding a dictionary for Latin American Spanish in the UCB library stacks and making up a use dictionary for "American" Spanish.  The interesting fallout of this is my current theory/story that we, in our current circle of Spanish-speaking friends, speak Northern California Middle-Class Spanish.  You can hear the accents from five countries, but there is an agreed upon range of vocabulary so that no one is "left out."  If we do introduce a "home town" word it is prefaced with, "Well, back home we say 'XYZ', which means ..."  There is very little English thrown in unless the subject is related to local events and places.

1975-1979 audited at UCB:  German 1 & 2, French 3, Portuguese 3, Italian 3 & 4, and Mandarin 1.

1979 - First trip to Europe and time for yet another dictionary!  This time I entered the material thru an ADM-3 terminal connected to a UNIX system and was able to edit and print, but could not transfer those files to the PCs when they came around.  However I still have the old 14" wide printouts from LBL's CDC 7600, and with OCR I am able to recover most of, yes:  Polyglot Dictionary # 3!  Is this enuf to show my OCD?  Just wait!  Here's a sample, now up to 10 languages, still based on Basic English.  The alphanumeric strings under Greek was all that came out of the UNIX word processor after entering the codes for Greek characters.  Russian I filled in by hand and then Xerox-reduced the listings.

CRoss-1975.jpg (621020 bytes)

Euro79Dict-x.jpg (84314 bytes)
The table this time had:

Cecilia Ross
at our wedding

  • Dutch
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish

This was my first experience with using a bunch of languages in the field.  I collected a newspaper from each country in hopes of learning more when I returned home.  Many years passed before I tossed them, mostly unopened.  I got into a similar loop with multilingual instruction sheets, especially when I worked for a few years on HP printers - they had manuals in 10 (and sometimes more) languages.

We did the EuroRail Pass trip from Paris, across northen Spain to Vigo, down to Portugal and back across the south of Spain along the Mediterranean coast thru France and into Italy.  Had some bad (and some funny) experiences with French; Spanish and Portuguese were OK and Italian worked great.  Ana still claims it was meeting the blond Italian lady on the early morning train into Rome with whom I had a lengthy conversation.

The EuroRail connection from Italy to Greece was either a couple of days north and then south along the Adriatic coastline or by boat.  We were a bit tired of almost non-stop travel so we whipped out our Visa card and arranged to fly to Athens, giving us about a day and a half more in Rome.

At the customs in Athens, I learned a great lesson: knowing what to expect in a response.  I greeted the Greek inspector with "Kale mera," (good day) and "Den exo tipo para ruha"  (I only have personal effects).  To which the inspector responded with a flow of conversation, to which I raised my hands and said, "Sorry, I only speak a bit of Greek," and we finished the inspection in English.

What had gone wrong?  First off I don't speak European languages with an American accent.  As Spanish was my second language and it calls for a single sound for each letter or combination, that is how I start off in any new language, rolling the r's and ahhing the a's.  The other part is learning something other than the text book or language tape standard response(s) to your questions or statements. 

1981 - I tried to start an export business, Jardine Technical Exports, attended several US DOC classes on exporting, but this never panned out.

1983 - Funding ran out in my UCB job so I left and went into to my own business full time.  Now I was isolated from foreign languages except for my recorded materials and one client who had an old German turret lathe that no one could fix, partly because the service manual was in German.  Later that year I worked with an Iranian group on some product development, so I worked on Farsi for a few months.  Most other clients were from the geophysics and computing field.

The job in Hearst Mining Building had given me considerable time not only for the occasional language class as mentioned above, and many morning breaks at Berkeley's International House  coffee shop.  Because I was working in a graduate department, I had some "real-time" conversations with some of our students and articles to read in a variety of languages.  The two principal instructors were graduates of McGill university in Montreal and would occasionally converse in Quebecois.  This gave me my first dialect in French (altho' purists will argue that is not a dialect) and it was amusing to me because of the fuss over bilingualism in Canada when the spoken version sounded like American accented French, filled with anglicismes, which - of course - it was!  Wow, if your native language is not French but you can read French, you'll appreciate the snobbery in this Wikipedia article.  Loanwords or borrowings from English are categorized as "intrusions."

1984 - first cruise - to the Caribbean - first viewing of Papiamento in a newspaper in Curacao.  I brought back a newspaper but it went with the rest in on of my great "I'll never look at this stuff" cleanouts.

Now, this cruise was the inspiration for the balance of our travels.  Ana wanted to go on a cruise and I didn't: pollution, waste of resources, and all of those air-head objections.  It didn't take me long to realize that this was a growth industry, and if I weren't interested, the ships were still going out every week with waiting lists.  On the trip Ana got seasick and I had a great time - but the two results were not related!   

Now, this was a two-week, Panama Canal trip, so it was a little more costly than a five or seven day whirl on the Caribbean, and had very few kids and a lot of older people.  A few of the passengers were on walkers, crutches and even wheelchairs, and several stated that they had saved their whole lives for that trip.  Ana and I determined there and then that we would do our travelling early on, and you can see the result here.  Or goal has been to travel now, and talk about it when we got to the age of the elders we saw on that first cruise.

1986 - The Story of English aired on PBS: I taped and watched it a few times over the years and the color has faded as happens to most magnetic media.  The history of your own language should be a fascinating subject but apparently isn't all that important in the rush of everyday life.  This year we also went to El Salvador again and perhaps this was the first time that I could actually hear my Spanish pronunciation shift over a couple of days as I entrained with the people we were visiting.

An interesting event occurred back in this period.  Many people were coming to the US to escape the problems in El Salvador.  We went to a party at one of Ana's cousins' homes and I was introduced to a recent arrival.  I said all of the correct introduction phrases and welcome to the US and she said, "Como lo siento, señor, pero yo no hablo inglés." (I am sorry sir, but I don't speak English.)  I replied in Spanish that I was speaking Spanish, not English.  She looked at the others around and said, "Que lástima que este caballero tan fino me quiere hablar y yo, que hago si no puedo el inglés?" (What a shame, such a nice guy and he wants to say something to me but what can I do without knowing English?)

Of course I gave up and got a beer - not a new one for my list, unfortunately!  (Actually I hadn't started counting beers yet.)  But this reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson's phrase, “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.”  The lady was in culture shock and I may have been the first American that she saw face to face, and here was the dreaded moment: What will I do if someone speaks to me in another language?

1987-88 - In this period, while working for a former client, Berkeley Group Technologies, and a fellow linguist, Ron Schroeder, in downtown Oakland, I designed and manufactured a few copies of some pressure measuring systems for use in geothermal wells used to generate electricity.  A couple of them went to Japan.  As I worked on these I (of course) studied Japan, its language and culture.  My son Jim suggested that I read Shogun as an intro to the differences between Japanese and Western cultures.  I concluded that if NASA wanted to train Westerners to prepare for meeting an off-planet alien culture, the Japanese culture would be a good stepping stone.

Due to faulty grounding practices during the field installation, a lot of equipment was zapped by lightning strikes, including ours, of course.  This earned me a trip to Japan, courtesy of the Japanese government.  The equipment was in the field in Kyushu in the Sugawara geothermal field in Oita Prefecture, and after a brief stop at GERD headquarters in Tokyo, we flew off to the south.  My guide and interpreter was Kazumi Osato.  

We stayed at a boarding house filled with field personnel from the US and Europe.  The meals were, of course, Japanese, and always featured little dishes of various dried fish on the table, and a rice cooker behind each chair!  The only way I could tell which meal it was was that for breakfast there were eggs on the table, which you either broke over something you were eating or handed thru a counter to the cooks, who would fry them for you.  This was where I heard my first Japanese dialect: the local people had a distinct way of speaking (probably Honichi-ben, a dialect of southern Oita.)

I also noticed that people in Tokyo had the big city defense mechanism in place: on busy streets no one looked at you.  On a couple of early morning bird walks in the town on Kyushu I ran into local residents who looked directly at me and greeted with "Ohiyo gozaimas".

I made two trips to Kyushu and while I learned a reasonable amount of Japanese, very little remains today, in spite of occasionally tuning into Radio Japan Online, where you can listen first to English and then Japanese so that you know the basic content of what is being reported.  Their language coverage is somewhat limited when compared to the state radio broadcasters in Europe, only 16 languages vs 30 plus for others - see sources, below.  They also have Japanese lessons on line.

A strange bit of synchronicity occurred here.  In 1961 or 2, while getting my start on Portuguese by listening to the station from San Jose, the announcer was Joaquin Esteves.  He was coincidently from the Azores, as was my stepfather, Ted Cabral.  On the ground floor of the building that BGT was in, on Broadway in Oakland, near 14th Street, was a news and book shop, reminiscent of those seen in large cities around the world, with newspapers and magazine in a variety of languages.  I was looking for something to enhance some language when I noticed a headline on the local Portuguese paper: "Joaquin Esteves Desapareceu!" (disappears).  I thought it was synchronistic that I would walk into that shop some 25 years after listening to his radio broadcasts and find that headline.  See this link regarding his fate.

1989 - worked with Norwegian techs on equipment to be shipped to Norway.  "Don't waste your time on Norwegian," advised one of the guys.  "If you do go over to install the equipment, everyone will want to practice their English on you!"  With a background in other Germanic languages I made pretty good progress anyway.

1990 - somewhere here - Ana was told by a polyglot friend, Manón, "You're thinking in Spanish!  And you're translating on the fly."   Ana did - and still does - have a noticeable accent and I think that Manón was correct, there is what I think of as 'automatic' talking and 'rehearsed' talking.  I didn't discover rehearsed talking until I was possibly in my 40s, when I noticed that I no longer 'blurted out' what I had to say, but was selective in speaking.  Now I find I have 'drifted off' and sometime "blurt" and other times think out what I want to say.  I wonder if it's related to the amount of writing one does?

Anyhow, even tho' Ana may be translating on the fly, which results in some direct, word-for-word translations, she can easily track conversations or tour guides speaking in English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, and she has better communication skills than I have, as you'll see below.

1992 - Business was booming, I had five clients for whom I was doing design and manufacturing of electronic devices, so we planned cruise number four to Scandinavia and Russia, and ended up by driving the British Isles.  We travelled with our friends, Frank and Margaret Lynch, who were both natives of Ireland.  From this trip came the concept described here and the radio/cassette was a constant companion as I "dx-ed" local radio stations along our route, but using the auto-search function of modern radios and switching to the tighter frequency spread of the European transmissions.  

Of course I worked on my Russian, Danish and Swedish and got into Finnish.  An interesting note came from our guide in Helsinki, who explained that the Estonians, just 50 miles across the Baltic, were learning a good deal of Finnish by watching Finnish TV broadcasts.  Along with Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian are part of the Finno-Ugric  language group, with no known connection to the Indo European families.

We did the cruise thru the Baltic first, following on the heels of a May storm, and two weeks later, back in England, we rented a car and drove north, thru Leeds and on up to Edinburgh, staying in bed and breakfasts as we went.  Ana and Margaret got tired of seeing sheep, Frank and I got tired of driving.  In spite of the travel being mostly on the motorways, I was still able to hear and even record several varieties of English.

1993 - I had joined the Caledonian Club of San Francisco in '92 and was elected Third Chieftain (secretary) at the end of ' 93.  Any accents I might have missed on our trip thru the British Isles, I heard here in our meetings.  Not only heard, but heard again and again as I transcribed the meeting from tape to presentable minutes for the next meeting.

1994 - back to UC Berkeley.  Another recession started in 1993 and my clients all stopped building stuff, so I began "running for cover" by shooting off resumes to UCB again.  By now this could be done "on-line", via slow modem.  I got two responses and ended up interviewing for the EECS department in Cory Hall.

On interview day I found an article in the Daily Cal, about Johanna Nichols' book, Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time.  I found it in the UC library, checked it out and read it.  For me it enlarged my time span conceptualization:  altho' I know that languages change subtly and possibly daily at the "street" level, the idea that it would take an average of five thousand years (of pre-mass-communications era time) for two branches of a language to become mutually unintelligible was quite astounding.  

I started work on my 4th stint at UC in March of ' 94.  The guy in next cubicle was an Argentine native married to a Salvadoreña.  The boss was the son of a Hungarian father and a Serbian mother.  He was born in Serbia, raised here.  Another tech was from Vietnam, and a lady engineer from Taiwan:  I was the only white, local born guy.

Somewhere here, in the newly re-built UC library, I found a book in Catalan and tried to figure out what language it was.  It was on my IE word search list and I had read about it in the books, but I had no idea it was a language that had a broad spectrum of current literature and science. It was fun, tho', trying to figure out what it was:  This word looks like Spanish, but the plural ending lacked the "e" between a consonant and the "s", the next word looked like Italian because there was a double -ss-, but then this consonant combination....

I was doing the newsletter for the Caledonian Club and looking for other Scottish-related organization to connect with and found a group of Scottish country dancers who met each week to eat on the lawn near the UCB Men's Faculty Club, the lady doing their newsletter was Victoria Williams who later became the editor of the newsletter for the Berkeley Language Center, which was created that year.  A fellow traveller in the world of language exploration, Victoria has been a rich source of information on the happenings in the Berkeley language department.  She is also the current vice president of FLANC mentioned above.

1996 - first internet-planned trip - to Central Europe.  I had lots of fun with "ancient" internet connections and having to work thru several very slow-loading web pages to find overall train schedules.    

An interesting event occurred in Krakow.  Tho' I had worked on Polish a bit, and brushed up on German (our train trip started in Berlin and ended in Stuttgart) in our hotel in Krakow we could not get people to understand what we wanted in the restaurant.  In addition to the language barrier there was the newness of tourism and our hotel was a student-oriented one, without any reasons to go out of their way for Americans.

So my Polish didn't work and I switched to German, which most employees knew, but it was a variety that I couldn't grasp and my "official" German was too limited to call up alternate words.  In the end, Ana was the communications expert: she used sign language (i.e.: gestures and arm waving) and finally discovered that there was no decaf, "French" bread is called "Polish" bread in Poland, and catsup was tomato sauce and was sold in little paper cups.

I compiled a collection of "Hungarian and Uralic Comparative Linguistic" (binder title) notes from the internet and asked the assistance of a Hungarian woman at work to record a few phrases for practice.  What little Finnish I studied in ' 92 may or may not have helped.  I also worked on Polish and Czech for this trip but cannot recall anything except that good day in Polish is the reverse of Russian: dobre dehn is dehn dobria.

1997 (March) - Orient cruise from Singapore up to Hong Kong.  I reviewed Cantonese, tried some Vietnamese, basic Thai, Tagalog.  

1997 (November) - Middle East.  We made reservations for this trip in March, and later decided to move to our current condo.  This resulted in moving on a Friday and flying out on Monday.  I prepped in Hebrew and Arabic (for a side trip to Egypt) but we wound up in Turkey with no prep, due to a terrorist attack on tourists in Egypt.

1999 - My last year before retirement at 62 from UCB.  I audited Prof. Nichols' Linguistics 121 as an introduction/refresher to the current status of language history.  I had also gotten to know Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, who taught Dutch at Berkeley and sent her students shopping in Holland on the internet.  She taught a class,  Education 246, which covered the evolution of the theories of teaching second language acquisition (SLA), which I audited in the fall of ' 99.

2000 - Australia - a cruise from Sydney, down the coast, to Tasmania and then up New Zealand's east coast, giving me  Australian English to absorb and understand.  Even tho' we were not going to any non-English-speaking areas,  before leaving I still had listened to Radio Australia's broadcast of Tok Pisen, an English-based pidgin, and the official language of Papua New Guinea (PNG).  I had heard about it in Prof. Nichols' class on Linguistics and thought it was fascinating that a European-based, "bastardized" (according to purists) language could become an official tongue.  It was in this period that I realized that there was a problem with the concept of any language being "pure".

2001 - Central America - we travelled thru Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.  Not much new in linguistics but I did increase my beer brands and birding lists.

Of course we couldn't sit still with this; we went on a cruise from Japan to Vladivostok and into the PRC.  A refresher on Japanese was useful until I had to communicate to a taxi driver that his meter read higher than our remaining yen and would he take dollars to complete the transaction.  I don't recall working on Mandarin but how could I help it?

2004 - SA loop and internet radio.  As a follow-up to our Central American loop, we worked out our own trip  to the ten major countries of South America.  We had a good time, conversing with a variety of people and listening to variations in local speech.  I did listen to internet broadcasts from each country at home, and concentrated especially on Brasileiro so that I wouldn't use continental Portuguese.  It did not work.  Oh, sure, I got out "sim", and "não", and other simple requests or responses, but when I tried to form a sentence, it came out in Italian!

I don't know what psycholinguists would say about this, but - just as my using Spanish pronunciation with any new foreign language - I think I have L3 (language #3) set for Italian.  I normally communicate in either English or Spanish, and the "other" language is Italian, so forget those other guys!

An aside here.  Maybe you could use the current vernacular and call it a reality check.  On this trip I sighted 69 new birds and tried 68 new beer brands or types and considered some numbers.  There are some 6,500 languages still around today, there are some 9,200 species of birds, and there are new beer types and brands coming out every day.  Since languages are so difficult to work up to a useful level, and because there are almost 50% more birds than languages (and all I have to do is spot a bird) birding would seem to be a more satisfying, greater bang-for-the-buck hobby than linguistics.  Carrying this theory a bit further, finding new beers is certainly less expensive and even less complicated than going after little balls of feathers and the struggle to work out a specific ID, and satisfying as well.  

It would be nice to apply logic to this situation, but I guess my age allows me to be set in my ways, and I will continue my OCD-driven language pursuits till the end, with a beer in one hand and binoculars in the other!

2005-6 - the "great experiment": we planned a cruise to the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean so my goal was to try to get a working knowledge of seven languages; 3 reviews (Italian, Greek and Russian) and 5 only barely looked into previously (Arabic, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Croatian and Rumanian) in ~ six months.  Results: not willing to try speaking in country very much, and people dealing with tourists have learned English to make more money, not to give lessons in their language.

But on the other hand, knowing "pivo" was 'beer' in the Slavic-root countries allowed me to collect 22 new beers while spotting a reasonable 24 new birds.

2006 - the family gives me a gift card to B & N and I start on John McWhorter's books, my favorite being Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of "Pure" Standard EnglishFrom reading these and my experience with the guy who said, "Why don't they..." I came up with the phrase, "Never argue with a language."  And late in ' 08, wrote this poem:

Language in the Morning

Language arrives with the dawn
Crisp and fresh and carrying on.
Never a pause to even think
It charges forth before you blink.

In the night while we’re asleep
Language goes on thru the deep.
New words you heard yesterday
Bounce thru your dreams in play.

‘How they talk now,’ the old folks say
But it’s just old language having its way.
‘Doesn’t anything stay still?’
Never has – never will.

                         Jim Jardine 2008

2007 - Transatlantic cruise starting in the Catalonian homeland, Barcelona.  One of the 47 extant Romance languages and dialects, Catalan (mentioned above) was one of the proscribed languages of Spain, but now is one of its official languages, as well as the official language of the tiny country of Andorra.  It was interesting to learn, and listening to the radio on line beforehand allowed me to be up to date on local happenings.  But I had to look around in Barcelona for a newspaper not in Spanish and the only real utility for me was to be able to read menus and signs in small restaurants.

2008 - Papiamento for Aruba.  A nice little Creole that is drifting so much toward Spanish that when heard on the street there were only a few non-Spanish words that are hard to distinguish, and everyone is fluent in Spanish.  The all-inclusive hotel advertised "free Papiamento lessons" but the instructor always seemed to be elsewhere!  At least the beer was free, and when you think of it, given the chance to booze it up for free, the offer of free lessons in a little known language isn't exactly an "amenity!"

2009 - post-South Africa: as I studied Afrikaans I also studied some local history and discovered that where we were going and people we would see would have no or very little interest in speaking "the language of the oppressor".  Altho' Afrikaans is still of the 11official languages of South Africa, the most used and heard is English.  This was also true of where our safari took us; the area close to Victoria Falls.   The safari album is here.

So while English was all we needed, I at least looked and listened to bits of the local tongues, can still use a bit of Afrikaans, I got a respectable 17 new beers and a whopping 139 new birds.  This brought the totals to 45 languages studied or explored, 404 beers drunk and 800 birds seen and identified.

In the fall we were in Italy, first on a 12-day Trafalgar bus tour of South and North Italy, which we finished with two days in Rome before embarking on a Costa Lines cruise that I hoped would allow me to use a bunch of Italian, some Spanish, Catalan, Mallorquín, Darija, Maltese, and Siculu.  I did manage to record samples of street Italian thruout the trip.

So, score: Maltese, refresh in Arabic, lots of Italian usage, including getting samples of 9 dialects recorded,  then 28 beers but only 6 new birds...

2010 - I found the NLSC National Language Service Corps.  Their theme is "Use your language skills to help others."  To qualify for membership one takes the ILR-based self-evaluation exams, which have no testing but a personally selected level of ability over a broad range of language ability parameters.

Of course I had to try this and am now on the list for Spanish, but not accepted for Italian nor whatever the other two were that I submitted.  There doesn't appear to be a place anywhere for a language generalist.

As mentioned at the beginning of this writeup, toward the end of 2010 I decided that I had scattered my energy on trying to pick up the basics of a good number of Slavic-root languages and that getting back on track with Russian would both finish up a long-neglected project and give me a better grasp of the most-used of the Slavic family.  I found stuff on YouTube such as Vyacheslav on to be very useful to supplement working in my Russian grammars - all now 40 to 50 years old!

2011 - First a trip to El Salvador for Ana's cousin's 50th wedding anniversary.  Very few - if any - linguistic stuff to report, 4 new beers and 7 new birds.  And soon after a trip to Louisiana and a drive thru six states in the Gulf area, listening to the varieties of changing "down south" English.

In studying Russian now I noticed a strange phenomenon; I began to observe was how many phrases came back to me in German as I listened to and read Russian samples and lessons.  I got a boost in my practical Russian (synchronicity in action again?) when I had to attend a series of therapy treatments where one of the receptionists was Nadia, a Russian native.  It became quite routine to say our greetings and goodbyes in Russian, getting me past that tongue-tied startup stage. 

Finding the hyperpolyglot group

In ~2008 I e-mailed a Berkeley professor about auditing a class, but her planned syllabus and my needs did not match.  In our conversation she mentioned Michael Erard and a book project "about language superlearners and the upper limits of the human ability to learn and speak languages."

I e-mailed Michael, did his on-line survey (one for each language you might know) and learned about Prof. Richard (Dick) Hudson, at University College, London, who coined the 'hyperpolyglot' term in 2003.  Dick's no-nonsense webpage covers his areas of interest, and his report "The Limits of Multilingualism" is an "all you ever needed to know about multiliguistics" primer.

From way back in my language acquisition days I got the notion that most polyglots are illiterate.  They were poor people brought up in port cities or international crossroads where knowing a few words in a second language could lead to a job, then onward and upward.  Here's another Hudson page that you might like: 

Prof. Hudson is also the developer of a branch of linguistics called Word Grammar, (see also the Wikipedia backgrounder) a rather advanced field expounding on how our words interact and our thought processes that utilize the words.  In his  An Introduction to Word Grammar he has many links to expand upon the various segments of the book.  It was there I discovered the link to the on-line etymological dictionary mentioned above.

Of course the question arises here: am I a hyperpolyglot?  Not if I am to be compared to the many on-line references to people who spoke several or even many language with useful fluency.  On getting out of the military I decided to become a generalist.  This title I later modified to Practicing Generalist and the concept has stood me well over the years,  allowing me to run a one-man shop and repair most anything that breaks.  So I guess I can coin another self-descriptive term:  a General Linguist.

Multilanguage Resources

I found for a good course for general language learning from Penton Overseas by Graham E. Fuller, a retired spy-guy: Secrets of Learning a Foreign Language.  Graham talks about language learning, but emphasizes multilanguages.   I actually bought this 4-CD set which includes a 6-language sampler of Penton's Learn in Your Car series.

BTW, trying to track down Fuller to see if he put out any other language material leads you to discover that this was just a sideline.  His bio leads from CIA linguist to Station and then Regional Chief, National Intelligence Council, the RAND Corporation and all the time writing about the areas he worked in.  A very versatile and knowledgeable person.

During all of the language classes I audited over the years at Berkeley I always heard people making comparisons about how various languages were more or less difficult to learn in parallel with others.  The best method may not be so obvious, as languages of the same family ( e.g.: Spanish and Italian) may cause more confusion than help, whereas working on two languages with more separation (e.g.: German and Russian) may give better results.  There are many other considerations, including what you would like to work on and what's available and/or required in your situation.

Here are some links

About Pimsleur's samples: When you click on a Free Lesson, you'll get a overlay screen where you put in your name and e-mail.  Click off the followup boxes below and they will only send you a single e-mail acknowledging, suggesting, etc., no harassment.   3/12 - just discovered that some people have been posting the text for these voice-only lessons.

When the black playbar appears, you have your recording software ready and then click on the arrow to record the session.  There is no written material to view as you listen.  Of course, other than some printed pronunciation aids, there are no printed materials with the Pimsleur method at all: it's all well-done immersion-type learning.

* Also notice how many different ways our English word "go" gets translated into German.  

Some rules suggestions for language learning


Pocket watches - Finding an application for what you have

When I was somewhere under ten, I began to get pocket watches that had stopped working.  Maybe it was to keep me from taking other things apart!  My disassembly tool was usually a kitchen knife.  The problem was that they were broken watches, and were not going to be repaired by me, so I would take all of the parts and try to build something else.  Of course I couldn't but I did learn over the years how to make many things work, from cars to computers and a lot of time inventing new widgets to connect one or more existing parts to arrive at a new product.

But the pocket watch syndrome still haunts me with languages: can I get enuf of the components together to do something useful, such as basic conversation?

Some Sources

Finding self-teaching Sources

Commercial Sources

The list below has the types I found in the Berkeley library in the 60s, and several newer guys.  The links default to Amazon French lessons, but you can jump to whatever language you are looking for from there.

Company Began in Current # of 
Languages *

Company      Began in Current # of Languages *
Audio-Forum 1972 142
Barron's 1941 18
Language 30 ???? 33
Berlitz 1879 52
Listen & Learn   1965 17
Pimsleur ~1970 42
Living Language 1946 27
Rosetta Stone 1992 30
Teach Yourself 1938 65

* Count is either from the company's website, or my own count from an on-line list.  I did not count other-language-to-English titles.

Not listed: a bunch of specialty systems:  Bilingual Baby, Family Circus, Cerebellum Corporation, Transparent Language, Language 911, Easily Pronounced Language Systems, Syracuse Language Systems, etc.  And these were only from my local library system.  They represent a variety of styles, systems and target audiences, and I am certain there are more if you want to search.  The idea is that your local library should have at least a couple of systems to try before investing money, but don't be discouraged if you try one and it doesn't "work": hunt on line for samples, such as Omniglot and Pimsleur.

Reference Sites - people who have posted a lot of info to guide wannabee linguists to their goals

A recent discovery on my part is the iLove Languages website. This is their intro statement: "iLove Languages is a comprehensive catalog of language-related Internet resources. The more than 2400 links at iLove Languages have been hand-reviewed to bring you the best language links the Web has to offer. Whether you're looking for online language lessons, translating dictionaries, native literature, translation services, software, language schools, or just a little information on a language you've heard about, iLoveLanguages probably has something to suit your needs."

Another great site to explore is How to Learn Any Language.  From their intro: "This website is made for people who love languages. It is totally independent and is based on my personal experiences with languages and on the site's discussion forum."  If you're looking for a new language to learn, you might like the site's "Choosing a Language to Learn" page.

To see some examples of multilinguists "in action", you might want to see ProfASAr  on You Tube, or visit his website, Alexander Arguelles

And for anything spoken, don't forget You Tube.  Simply enter something like "French Lessons" and then sort thru all of the links for something at your level.  For any on-line materials you find, the easiest way to repeat them is to use bookmarks or favorites, but if you want to save the audio portion and edit, combine, etc., then I suggest Audacity as mentioned above.

Country Specific

Since my first sound card I have been finding local broadcasts around the world thru COMFM, based in France.  You can select region, country and type of broadcast on radio, TV, and more.  When you see a station you'd like to try you click on the site icon and you will usually go to the station's site.  One note of precaution: rock and roll and other current-trend stations typically feature British and USA rock music with DJ comments in the local language, peppered with computerese, English tekkie and music terms.  Not exactly helpful when you are in-country and want to ask where the bathrooms are!

On the site, if you don't know the language yet, look for an icon usually found to indicate Listen Live.  Examples:

Here are countries with national radio stations broadcasting in several languages.  A caution here - I've tried to provide links to the page that will get you to the organization's multilanguage select page.  The problem is that these sites change things around fairly frequently and the page may not be there when you try:

Country Name # Languages 
England BBC 32 English
France RFI 19 French
Germany DW-W 30 German
Greece EPT 13 not found
Italy RAI not found Italian
Japan NHK 18 Japanese
Russia RIAN 10 not found
Russia RUVR 33 not found
USA RFE/RL 28 not found
USA VOA 45 English

Of course as you advance, these on-line news broadcasts are a great help.  At first you'll recognize only an occasional word or root but then several and - with patience - actually get the drift of what the report is about, assuming you are progressing with written and recorded lessons in parallel.

"Official" language ability vs. real world.

Many people that we meet are fascinated that I can speak Spanish, and even more so when they hear I am not stumbling for words.  Does this means that I am fluent, or simply that I surprise people because most Americans don't get this far?  I believe this to be viewpoint related.  For instance Ana tells Americans that I speak like people from her country, and by this she means using the vocabulary and dialect of El Salvador.  At home she daily has to correct my gender mismatches

Why do it?  English is the language worldwide.  It's not easy to learn, many never master it, but it has had the draw of money and prestige now for a couple of centuries.  Most everywhere you travel you will find it difficult to find people who don't speak some English.

Why this paper?    What's it all about, Alfie?

One day I was leaving our public transit system and walking to my car.  It had been raining but at that moment there were blue skies between the clouds and I heard the words, "You've got to give it all back."  Seeing as I had never robbed a bank, nor embezzled funds, I assumed that my message was related to all of the knowledge I had acquired in my random walk thru life.


Putting this together brought so many thoughts to mind that I had to start Volume II of stuff to put into the second edition.  But to get something on-line before I run out of heartbeats demands that a line be drawn, so here it is:

Wait! Wait!  I forgot the final score!!

As of  Languages Birds Beers
25 July 11 47 837 532
29 Aug 11 47 837 539
1 Mar 12 47 838 552
21 Oct 12 47 842 580
10 Jan 13 47 842 590
27 Nov 14
17 Dec 14 47 844 631
2 Mar 15 47 844 634
4 Apr 15      

Watch this spot after April and our trip to the Caribbean!



Back to JES home page

To the root page

Copyright © Jardine Electronic Services 1997-2015
Last update: Dec. 2014 . Comments or questions?