I never make resolutions, mainly because I don’t have any bad habits. And bad habits, as we all know, are the annoying things we do in public- anything we do in the privacy of our homes is ours to enjoy.
This year, however, I vowed to learn more languages. I know a lot of tiny phrases in a lot of languages, but I’m not really proficient enough in any of them to keep myself from getting into deeper trouble should I find myself in dire circumstances while traveling abroad. For instance, I can carry on a very rudimentary conversation in Norwegian but, if I had to call downstairs to the lobby to report a flaming hotel room, probably the next thing I would be doing would be filling out a fire insurance claim: “Extent of loss?” “Everything.”
Knowing other languages is good, and very helpful. Not only will it keep you out of the Tallinn Burn Unit, it will help pave the way toward smoother international relations between what xenophobic Americans refer to as us and them. (Them being anyone who grew up east of Long Island.) However, I’m not one of those who insists “this is America! So speak English!” While I do hope that our newest citizens learn to communicate with me, I also think it’s welcoming– and far reaching!– to learn a little bit of the languages they speak.
And you should join me, so let’s begin. “I don’t have time, Jim!” you’re probably thinking, which is why I’m writing this blog. This batch of phrases taken verbatim from language guides will open doors in countries you’ll probably never visit– still, now that many of their people are re-locating here, you’ll be ready to impress them!
Kemi me se të lëvdohemi. We do have reason to be proud of ourselves. Dhe hiqe mushamanë nga trupi! And take your raincoat off! Dhe ai pas tij me cadër është shefi i policisë. And the man behind him with an umbrella is the chief of police.
Hiztegi hau txikiegia da. This dictionary is too small. Lo pixka bat egingo dut. I’m going to have a nap. Ez zenuen ezer erosi behar. You shouldn’t have bought anything.
Perbesarlah lingkaran ini! Enlarge this circle! Menari! Dance! In tibapada hari Sabtu. He arrived on Saturday.
Nkliuto vaz dziernye tsu camailadorrnke opuno takmizyertza!!! No!!! Pastina! Stop before we are forced to contact the highest authorities in the land! Dobrootzye fanoochie niut ledd lemmye davortzienyetzu! Next window, please!
Kbar huma d-dwejjaq tal-fqar. Great is the anguish of the poor. Il-gnejna ta’ Pietru akbar minn dik ta’ Ganni. Peter’s little garden is larger than John’s. Wiccha hmar bil-misthija. Her face grew red with shame.
Blein Vie Noa, dhyt, Ealish. A Good New Year to thee, Alice. Va dy jarroo, agh atreih! Yes indeed, but alas! As feeackle y jiargan nagh bee dy mie. And the tooth of the flea, may it not be good.
Sa-i dam fiacarei infermiere un cadou? Shall we give each nurse a present? Acola este studentul care se tot uita la mine. There is the student who keeps looking at me. Pe cit era de urit, pe atit era de prost. He was as stupid as he was ugly.
Em trai toi noi rat nhanh. My younger brother speaks very fast. Xiec Viet Nam– hay lam. Vietnamese circus– very interesting. To nghi to thich phim hai nhat. I think I like comedy films best.
All kidding aside, sometimes I fantasize about standing up in front of the General Assembly at the United Nations. Like a myopic, half-deaf U Thant, I would raise my hands in supplication– the universal symbol for “why?!?!” Okay, maybe it’s the Italian symbol for supplication, but still– I’m just saying. I would ask them all why they’re so intent on not getting along with one another, considering the fact that languages and racial labels are all artificial and man-made. We’re apparently all descended from a single blob of landed protoplasm, yet we’ve managed to box ourselves off into countries and creeds and language groups, most of which seem to have a pre-disposed affinity towards not living in harmony. Every time a new decade dawns, I think– naively– that maybe this one will be the decade with no wars or atrocities or unmarked mass graves– but it hasn’t happened in my lifetime.
So: it pays to learn a little about different languages and the people who speak them. After a while, we might just realize that we all do a lot of things in exactly the same way, and that the planet can be a lot more hospitable than it is now. To be able to go anywhere and see anything– works of art, ancient monuments, timeless ruins… what a world this could be for all of us.
Happy 2009 !
For more fun with languages– specifically Dutch– go to: