Language Lessons

Richard and I are currently taking Italian lessons in preparation for our upcoming hiking trip in Italy. Blame it on too many traumatic high school French classes…but Richard did need to be gently coaxed (read here: DRAGGED kicking and screaming) to join me in this course. Despite this initial setback, we are enjoying our studies, having fun, and are already experiencing multiple benefits of our language learning.

You may be thinking — what in the heck are two seniors doing learning a brand new language?! Researchers in this area not only confirm that older adults CAN learn a new language, but that in many cases they SHOULD.  Here’s why:

Learning a new language can:

1.Grow Your Brain. Swedish scientists discovered that learning a new language can increase the size of your brain in ways that other non-linguistic rigorous studies do not. (Source)


2. Help Your Brain Become More Flexible and Efficient. Along with your brain increasing in size, researchers at Penn State University found that new language learning structurally changes the brain and makes it more efficient. (Source)


3. Slow Down Decline in Mental Ability. Studies at The University of Edinburg, as well as at The American Academy of Neurology, found that (on average) bilingual/multilingual patients developed dementia four-and-a-half years later than their monolingual counterparts. (Source)

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Pop Zebra, Unsplash.

4. Show Others that you are Open-Minded.  Demonstrating that you have taken the time to learn the local language indicates that you have an active interest in new people and cultures. This gesture alone speaks volumes.


5. Provide a Broader, More Global Perspective. By learning a new language, you gain a better understanding of the people who speak it, their country and their culture. Language lessons teach much more than just language.


6. Simplify Travel – Being able to read local signs, order food, ask directions, and make reservations can make travel more enjoyable and help you to feel less like an “outsider.” This skill can also help you to travel much more independently.


7. Help You Meet New People (and Open the Door to Further Interaction with Them). A world of opportunity awaits you. Communication and relationships provide the key!

With all of the language learning options out there (apps, websites, online tutoring, conversation partners, local classes…) there’s no excuse not to try. You set the terms of what you wish to learn, what works for you, and the pace that suits you best.  There are multitudes of FREE Beginner YouTube tutorials available in most languages. In addition, online language programs geared toward children are a perfect way to learn numbers, colours, months as well as the days of the week. (Just sayin’!)

Have you studied a new language recently? If so, what was your experience?

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Stella di Smit, Unsplash.

Ti auguro buone vacanze con la famiglia e gli amici.

96 Replies to “Language Lessons”

  1. Hi Donna! Ciao! Bella! My husband was born in Italy and I can understand and read but don’t like to speak it with my Aussie accent. I love visiting Italy and hearing him speak in his native tongue. It is good that you and Richard are both learning together so you can practice together. Hanno una bella giornata, mia amica. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Sue – Richard isn’t one to do homework or language practicing (at least not until the very last moment). But these lessons are a great shared experience. Our classes are a two-hour drive each way (crazy, I know)! On the upside, we now have all of the uninterrupted time just to chat about non-urgent, but important stuff! Wish you lived closer, you could help me with my Italian! 🙂

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      1. Along with my classes, I’ve been using “15-Minute Italian” (which takes MUCH longer than 15-minutes per session, trust me)! I have also been using YouTube videos which I’m finding to be very useful (almost like having a Skype language partner). I haven’t tried Duolingo but have heard good things about it.

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  2. My husband tried learning French several years ago – we could hear him repeating all the syllables with the CD (pre-youtube tutorials!) It didn’t last but I hadn’t thought about doing youtube kids ones for a starting point. Food for thought – and good on you both for diving into the Italian lessons – great idea!

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  3. I had to study Latin at school which at the time I thought was a waste of time but I now find I can understand a lot of Italian. I did French and German as minor subjects at University and can still understand them both quite well
    I go to U3A German and French groups. One of my son’s lives with a Spanish girl so has learnt spanish. He taught it a couple of years ago in a London school so I know some Spanish as well.

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  4. Hi Donna – I was useless at all languages at school … but am glad I went through some Latin, and for us obviously French, then tried Italian – as one of my brother’s would tell you – I’m the only person he knows who has got Italian O level twice … typical brotherly love!! I then tried evening class German … and then Afrikaans when in South Africa – regretfully it is not my forte – though all however poorly understood are useful at times.

    Good for you both though … and congratulations on giving Italian a go … when you get back … time to keep it up – perhaps you can tie in with one of the Italian vineyards owners … they must have local contacts – that two hours is a long way …

    Cheers for now – another comment appearing on one of your other recent posts about your Pilgrimage route … enjoy – Hilary

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    1. Hi, Hilary – Sadly, forced high school classes can have the opposite effect than intended — and can really mess with our self-esteem (even years later). I admire your perseverance in giving several languages a go — even though you believe they are not your forte.
      I did initially try to find Italian classes, or an Italian language partner, closer to my home. I even advertised in our local papers. The regular drive to Victoria has not been that bad — and has actually come with several perks!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that you’re doing this. I was never any good at hearing new-to-me languages, but often I can read the words and understand some of them if the language is Latin-based. I especially like your fact that language acquisition keeps your brain more Flexible and Efficient. I could do with a bit more flexibility and efficiency in my head.

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  6. Hi Donna,

    I grew up bilingual (Dutch and English) – in fact Dutch was my first language despite being born in Canada. I think it’s great to learn a second language or a new language – it teaches you a lot about the culture at the same time, I think.There are some words in Dutch I still use as there are no suitable equivalents in English, for what I want to describe.

    And like you said, it goes over well with the locals that you are trying! As well, I too have heard it’s very good for your brain.

    Good luck with your studies!

    Deb

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  7. Very timely for me, Donna! I’ve been toying with the idea of relearning a language I grew up with in my early childhood—Romanian. I have a vague hope of visiting the country of my origin, and think it would be wonderful to know at least some of the language. Your post is very encouraging!

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    1. Hi, Diane – I love when posts are timely! I believe that it is a wonderful idea to reconnect with the language of your childhood — especially in combination with planning a trip to your home country. You are lucky to live where you do, as there are multiple language courses available all around you. Sadly, that is not the case for Richard and me — but the weekly drive out your way is much easier than we originally anticipated!

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  8. Hi Donna, It is really fun to do something new as a couple. We took dancing lessons once about 10 years ago, before my daughter’s wedding. Resulted in a bit of cursing and lots of giggling. I found your 4th point interesting. I can speak and understand German (was my 1st language) although I am a little rusty. I found that fluent speaking Germans appreciate the effort. It is always an ice breaker, even if I stumble. I look forward to meeting with you soon! Ciao, Auf Wiedersehen

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    1. Hi, Erica – Cursing and giggles?! That sounds a lot like our language lessons! 🙂 When we are on the Via Francigena, we will need to telephone small hostels the day before to ask for accommodations. I was not sure how to successfully get an app on my phone to do this, and knew that we would not always be able to find English-Italian speakers around us to help out. Thus, our drive to learn Italian was born. Now, even if there is an easier way for us to make reservations — I am happy that we have pursued these lessons!

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  9. Last fall I spent a month learning German on-line (my family was bi-lingual before I came along). There were daily exercises. I could mimic the sounds. I got to a part where it became harder because of tenses and idiosyncrasies and I petered out. I may do again. Doing it with someone is always better. I worked with a woman who took conversational Italian prior to a trip to Italy and she said it was great and very helpful.

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    1. Hi, Kate – I admire that you have recently studied the language of your heritage. I completely understand it becoming hard and frustrating. I hope that you do pick it up again. Perhaps Morgan, Molly, Gracie and Shasha could help — they do seem multitalented.

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  10. Good for you and Richard! There are SO many benefits to learning a different language when traveling.

    Which method have you chosen? Online? In person? Paper courses? I LOVE learning new languages. When I backpacked throughout SE Asia, I always learned some numbers and basic greetings in the language of each country I visited. My small Lonely Planet language guide helped with that. Ages ago. Before the internet. 🙂

    In recent years, I’ve only traveled to countries which language I more or less speak, so there have been little challenges. I’d love to travel worldwide again and pick up some new stuff.

    Glad to read that my dementia will happen at a later age.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I did French at school, but more recently faffed abut with duo lingo in the months before we went to France last year. I’ll be learning enough Malaysian or Bahasa to deal with street signs and greetings before we go next Monday. Italian would be a fab language to learn!

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  12. Well done, both of you! My Richard and I find that even minimal language skills help us when we are abroad and people are so pleased when we make the effort to learn and speak their language.

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  13. You are really putting a lot of thought and prep into this trip – the packing, the language. Two hours each way – devotion! I’ve always admired people who speak multiple languages. I studied Spanish in school and years ago, I believe I could have become fluent if I had moved somewhere that required me to use it. Pennsylvania wasn’t that place. 🙂 In all my years of international travel, I’ve only picked up 2-3 phrases of any language. I’m sure your language skills will make your trip even more memorable.

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    1. Hi, Pat – Although I have been to Spain (and Mexico) several times, I have ZERO Spanish — seriously, none! The language preparation for this trip all started with me knowing that I would need to phone ahead each day for the next night’s accommodations.It’s actually been a pretty serendipitous road as I am greatly enjoying the language study. Hopefully, I don’t completely choke in this department when I need to make those daily phone calls! 🙂

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  14. I heartily agree with the benefits of adults learning a new language, Donna! I just haven’t taken the plunge yet. I can read a lot of Spanish (I also took 2 years of Latin in HS), and I got the jist of your final Italian phrase. 😁 My hubby grew up speaking Spanish and German, so one would think he could just teach me. You’ve inspired me to get my conversational Spanish book out again. I would do best with a F2F class. My hearing isn’t great and seeing the words would really help me along with listening to them. Good luck and I’m sure you will easily get the hang of Italian!

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  15. Wonderful! I dont know about Canadians, but Americans are not bilingual, a shame. Just because the world speaks English should not exempt Anericans from at least try to communicate with others. I felt this first hand when on my camino with my daughter in Spain. So many pilgrims spoke two to three languages and there we were locked out of conversations because all we had was English.

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    1. Hi, Antoinette – I also admire the multiple languages that so many Europeans have. My Grandfather spoke seven! Canada’s two official languages are English and French, so most Canadians have at least High School French. I agree that being locked out of conversations on the Camino, because of language restraints, is very frustrating! Somehow I had assumed that you spoke Italian.

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  16. Good for you and Richard! The list of benefits to learning a new language is impressive. The closest I’ve come is singing in Italian and Latin when I took singing lessons. These are the best languages to sing in since vowels are so open. Is it any wonder that Italy is the home of opera?

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    1. Hi, Molly – I’m impressed that you have learned to sing in Latin and Italian. I love that Italian is so phonetic, pronouncing every letter as it is written. I also like that every Italian word ends with pronounced vowel (unless it is a borrowed, foreign word). How fun is that?!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Donna, this is such a great idea and I agree with all the points about learning a new language, especially together! When one of my daughters was getting married, I encouraged my husband to undertake dancing lessons and he surprisingly enjoyed it far more than he thought! I liken that to learning a new language 🙂 Good on you both and good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi, Debbie: Learning to dance is a great comparison! It also comes with a long list of benefits. It helps to improve our:
    • heart and lungs
    • strength, endurance and motor fitness
    • aerobic fitness
    • muscle tone and strength
    • weight management
    • bone strength (reducing the risk of osteoporosis)
    • coordination, agility and flexibility
    • balance and spatial awareness
    • physical confidence
    • mental functioning
    • psychological wellbeing
    • self-confidence and self-esteem
    • social skills. (Source: The Better Health Channel)
    No wonder we are all so busy in retirement. There’s so much to do!! 🙂

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    1. We sure have lots of opportunities to learn dance steps here at Sun City! One teacher in particular (a former singer and dancer) gives us complicated dance steps every Saturday morning and like a cheerleader she keeps shouting “it’s good for the brain!” as I trip over my feet! It’s like learning anything else… repetition, repetition! practice, practice! repeat, repeat. I started a cardio step class here and it was like learning a new language (turn on the front, turn on the let, L-right, L-left. OH MY!). At first I was stumped and had two left feet, but now I’m sailing over that step! I simply stuck with it and did not give up.

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  19. Wow – I’m not only jealous, but I’m also impressed and inspired. I love how you referenced how it helps with brain health and delaying dementia. Way to go – I look forward to reading about your hiking adventures!

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      1. You’re welcome. Yes, keeping our brains active brings many health benefits, surprisingly easy to do too. I wish you luck – once you start using and hearing others speak, you’ll find out what stuck and be happy for all your efforts.

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  20. Hi Donna,
    Congratulations on taking Italian. It is a beautiful sounding language and it is so much fun to try to speak the local language. Several people mentioned using an app as well. I used Google translate when I was in Columbia a few months ago and it worked wonderfully. I used both the speech and the print parts. It was really exciting to me to understand and to get whatever I was looking for by using it.
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Fran – It’s wonderful to hear from you. I’ve been thinking of you and missing your posts! Columbia sounds like a very interesting and exciting adventure. Thank you for reinforcing the advice about the language apps – Richard and I will need all of the help that we can get!

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      1. Hi again, I haven’t been writing my blog as I have been working on my memoir and finally got it to a printing stage. Probably will start up again in a few weeks or months. Not sure when you are leaving on your trip but enjoy it!

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Best of luck with your lessons and add a translation app to your phone. I have one on mine and it’s pretty much accurate!

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  22. Hi, Donna. Years ago my organization bought a site license for Rosetta Stone, and online/software package for learning foreign languages. Colleagues of mine swore by it (in English, as I recall), but I never tried it. I wish I had because it was free to all of us at the time. But I think you’re doing it the right way in going to a class with others. – Marty

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    1. HI, Marty – Years ago, I used Rosetta Stone to help with my Mandarin. The very first sentence that we were given was “The boy is underneath the plane” (Háizi zài fēijī xiàmiàn). I am still waiting for the opportunity to spontaneously use that sentence. I’ll let you know if it ever happens! 🙂

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      1. Oh my, Donna, that phrase would have come in handy when an Asiana Airlines airplane crashed upon landing at SFO airport! Sorry to say 😦

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  23. Dear Donna,

    You list so many good reasons why one should strive to learn a second language. In high school and college, I took French and German and enjoyed it very much. In fact if I wanted to earn an easy A, I took a language. It wasn’t because I was a natural, it was because I had a very good memory. But go to Germany or France and try to employ what I learned?? I stammered!

    I had a Spanish CD I promised to put in my car every day on the way to and from work, but that CD sat gathering dust for many years. It wasn’t until I retired that I said “do or die” “it’s now or never” !! I really enjoy learning new things so I went to duolingo to learn Spanish.

    So I’ll share that I do not like Duolingo – perhaps one has to purchase the “Plus version” to get something decent, but the free app is way too basic (they have you saying uno, dos, tres for 10 says in a row. Really? we can’t progress beyond that? 😦 but I’ll stay with the free version for now. I’ve heard good things about Babel. I also have a desire to take in person language lessons at our local desert senior learning center if I ever put down roots in one place.

    Now having said all of that, I think it’s awesome that Richard is joining you in the language lessons. I know it’s all going to pay off and he’ll be thanking you when you are on your trip!

    Regards,
    Susan Grace

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  24. Hi, Susan – We are soooooo alike in this regard. Give me the paper and pencil language test, and I soar. Put me in a real life situation where I need to speak spontaneously, and be understood — there I choke!
    BTW – I always appreciate your thoughtful, insightful and detailed comments. They make me feel like we are having coffee together at The Daily Grind!

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    1. Sorry to be so long-winded, but we never got a chance to have more in depth conversations while you were here ! Yes, I write as if we were sitting at a table in the Daily Grind. Sun City misses you!

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  25. I have school French and German which gets me by, usually. I much prefer German – so logical. We started Russian classes together once, but I gave up when the grammar got too frustratingly illogical! To me, anyway. John is a much keener linguist than I am and is doing really well at his Mandarin lessons. He is quite a favourite in certain Chinese restaurants round here.

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  26. Hi Donna – It’s fantastic that you and Richard are taking Italian lessons together. I hope you both look for opportunities to speak Italian when you are there. I agree wholeheartedly with all the benefits you mentioned. I’ve been taking online French and Spanish lessons, first out of interest, then found them so useful when I travel so I continue after. Since French, Spanish, and Italian languages have similarities, I was able to understand what you and Sue wrote in Italian, too.

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  27. Well done for learning a new language, Donna. I was never very good at learning a new language when I was at school. I failed German, French and Latin. Could not get my head around it all. I admire all those that speak more than one language. Many years ago, I did do a sign language course, but don’t use it very much so have forgotten much of it.

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    1. Hi, Hugh – Like you, Richard did not do well in HS French or German — but he is being very successful in our Italian course. He can fluently roll his r’s — so his pronunciation is way ahead of mine. I would love to learn sign language. I’m not sure where I would use it — but you never know!

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      1. I had a couple of deaf friends during my early days of living in London, Donna. I was amazed at how they danced to music just by feeling the beat through the dancefloor. I wish I had kept using sign language.
        Richard sounds like he would make a great guest speaker at a dinner.

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  28. Hi Donna. I just found your blog and it’s fab! I’m not retired yet, just started a new business, in fact. But, I totally agree with you about learning new languages. Hopefully someday we’ll retire, just not yet. It’s fun to read your reflections and dream about it, though. Cheers!

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  29. So impressed by you both. I try to pick up a few useful phrases whenever we travel to new lands (your #7 was my biggest driver to learn a bit of Bahasa, Vietnamese, and Malagasy) but I’ve not tried a full on course since college. So excited to hear of your upcoming travels to Italy!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa – #7 is also a very attractive reason for me as well. Despite all of the times that Richard and I have travelled to Spain and Mexico, I have learned ZERO Spanish. So many opportunities were lost because of this. I am hoping to change that around on this trip (at least a bit)!

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  30. Italian is such a beautiful language. I found that my high school Spanish helped me a bit when I traveled there many, many years ago. Now that we are traveling to Mexico more and more, my Spanish is getting better, but I feel my learning curve is slowing down. We English-speakers can get so lazy since so many people speak our language. Good for you and Richard for making the effort!

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  31. Bellissimo! This is wonderful about learning Italian! I love all the points you make so persuasively – and the idea of exercising the brain makes a lot of sense. I can speak Afrikaans. Here in SA we have a variety of African languages, none of which I’ve mastered although Zulu is the most understood one. There is a thought that since we’re being colonised, that Mandarin may be a good and useful language to learn — 🙂

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    1. Hi, Susan – Mandarin is definitely a fun and interesting language to learn. After four years is not using it, I was afraid that I was forgetting most of it. But now when I try to speak Italian, my Mandarin comes out — no problems at all! 🙂

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  32. Hi Donna,
    So exciting that your trip is coming up soon. And a great idea, for all the reasons that you mentioned, to learn the language a bit before you go. While doing my own brain research about keeping mentally sharp while we age the benefits of learning and speaking a second (third, or more) languages was clearly documented. And I love to read your posts where you detail your evidence and research. This is important to me and how I roll, too. Is it that education background thing???

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    1. Thanks, Nancy – As with you, citing sources is definitely ingrained in me from my work life. Richard and I are both enjoying studying Italian, and are once again reminded of our very different learning styles! 🙂

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  33. I have a great fascination for French, right from my school days. Finally, in my 30s I learnt French at the Alliance Francaise. I did up to pre-diploma. I can manage if I am lost in a crowd of people who know only French!
    You are right. Learning new languages is a positive attribute, and broadens our horizon and understanding of the world and its people.
    Bonne chance, avec les cours de Français! 🙂

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    1. Hi, Pradeep – Congratulations on taking the initiative to follow your fascination and learn French. I have basic High School French which (unlike my basic Mandarin) has been very useful in helping to to learn Italian!

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  34. Good for you! I’ve been working on refreshing my Cantonese and Mandarin a bit — and a student I tutor often needs help with Spanish, which I haven’t touched since my high school (pre-Chinese learning) days. It is amazing what comes back! Good luck with Italian and your trip!

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  35. At various times, I have studied French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, two First Nations languages, and American Sign Language. I’m fluent in none of them! But I can read menus, ask where the bathroom is, and say useless things like “the girl has a xylophone.” I’m presently using Duolingo daily studying French and Greek.

    Jude

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