No way. I’m not that crazy.
But I have lived in three countries outside the U.S. without being remotely fluent in any of their languages. And I survived!
Lesson learned: You really only need to know two words in any given language. (And for the rest, Google Translate.)
They are: hello and thank you.
If you can say hello and thank you in another country, you can generally get what you need while still appearing polite. Then you can pull out the phone, the old-school dictionary, or just your hands and play the foreigner card for the rest.
It’s not ideal of course. Ideal would be one language or every person speaking all languages. But it’s practical.
And really the main point is to make an effort. It’s amazing the kind of smiles you can get with a simple thank you in the native language of someone who would otherwise dismiss you as a tourist, a foreigner, or one of those lazy Americans who thinks the whole world speaks English.
And that’s the whole point. To break boundaries and open up communication. To understand each other a little bit more. Even two words more.
So with the arrival of my 30th birthday and a new decade in front of me, I’m making this year the year of 100 languages. Here are the top 100 languages of the world by estimated number of native speakers (thanks to our friends at Wikipedia).
- Southern Min
- Gan Chinese
- Northern Min
- Haitian Creole
- Eastern Min
Okay, maybe I am a little crazy. I haven’t even heard of half of these languages.
But here’s how it’s going down. I’ll learn hello and thank you in two new languages every week for the next fifty weeks. That’s just four new words a week. So really not crazy at all, right?
If you (or a friend) happen to be fluent in any of these languages and are willing to teach me just two words for five minutes over Skype, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or use my contact form to get in touch. Seriously! I want to learn from real people if possible, not a robot translator from the Interwebs.
And if you want to learn with me (or just laugh at my struggles), come back every week to see updates on my progress. Perhaps I’ll even test myself on camera if I don’t get too scared. Yikes!
But it will be fun! You might not change the whole world, but you can always change YOUR world. So let’s begin.