How fluent are you? Find out here.

Though people spend quite a bit of time learning foreign languages in high school and college, their language skills have a way of withering from inattention, like a dried-out potted plant sitting on a window sill.

But just how far have your language skills fallen? Here are some handy categories to help you find out:

Completely Fluent

You can converse with native speakers with ease, with knowledge of idioms and understanding of a wide range of accents. When someone says, “You speak Chinese? Let me hear some!” you answer with something that impresses just about everyone in the room.

You often suggest dining at ethnic restaurants where you can use your language skills to impress your date. When the waiter comes to take your order, you make a point to ask a question about something on the menu in the waiter’s native tongue, even though you didn’t care about the answer.

Partially Fluent

Though you’re approaching near-total fluency, you lack understanding of complicated grammar and certain non-literal expressions. You’re proficient at conjugating verbs, but uncommon tenses and certain irregulars can present problems.

Your rejoinder to the “Lemme hear some Chinese!” demand is still quite impressive, and virtually indistinguishable from the completely fluent speaker to the untrained ear.

Most importantly, when people ask if you’re fluent in a foreign language, you assure them that you are– completely.

Intermediate Skills

You have a good mastery of vocabulary, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. You can assemble multi-clause sentences, and understand the language when it is spoken clearly and slowly.

You’ve mastered several impressive-sounding phrases that you’ve basically adopted as party tricks. When you’re out on dates at ethnic restaurants, you can successfully order in a foreign language. Still, both the waiter and your date think you’re an asshole.

When asked if you’re completely fluent in a foreign language, you invariably answer, “No, but almost.”

Elementary Skills

You’ve memorized a number of basic nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and you can put together simple sentences. You spend the majority of your language classes reading and reciting banal conversations, as in:

“How are you?”

“I am well. Do you want to go to the discoteque?”

“Yes, I go to the discoteque with you.”

“Thank you.”

You really cannot foresee yourself ever becoming fluent, ever.

Smile and Nod

To put it bluntly, you haven’t understood a word anyone has said for the last hour. You have virtually no knowledge of any words– nouns, verbs, adjectives. Even if you did, you’d have no idea how to assemble those into anything resembling a coherent phrase.

You’ve perfected the art of the smile-and-nod. You think this is faking people into believing you know more of the language than you really do, but this is unlikely.

Your constant nodding has signified that you’re in agreement with everything that people have been saying– no matter how objectionable those statements might have been. You may well have just agreed with the assertion, “You know, Stalin wasn’t bad; he was just misunderstood.”

During conversation, you punctuate others’ statements with an agreeable “Ah!” or, alternatively, you furrow your brow and give a thoughtful “Hmm…”

When asked if you’re fluent in a foreign language, you– no surprise– smile and nod.

The many languages of Suriname

If you’ve been following any of the recent language controversy in Philadelphia, you begin to see that a country’s language is a constantly evolving mix of the cultures, customs and the people who use it. Here at home, this interplay is at often work between our country’s de facto official language, English, and an increasingly populous minority of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Now imagine this same language debate among as many as ten languages, and you begin to get a picture of the small South American nation of Suriname as featured in this article.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America. Due to the country’s colonial heritage, the official language is Dutch. But continuous waves of immigrants have left a unique mark on the country’s language culture. This includes a recent influx Brazilians, who speak mostly Portuguese, a small population of Chinese-speakers from the Far East and Indonesian residents of Suriname who speak Javanese. Add to this mix a local language called Sranan Tongo, a dialect passed down from West Africa by many of the former colony’s African slaves, and local indigenous languages like Arawak and Carib. AND, on top of all this, politicians in Suriname are urging the government to adopt English or Spanish as the new national language, hoping to create closer ties to with neighboring countries. Sound confusing? I’m with you.

It remains to be seen how this complicated language issue will play out in Suriname, but it raises some interesting questions. What factors should determine a country’s official language? The U.S. for instance, will always speak English, but what concessions, if any, should be made as our country becomes increasingly multi-lingual? Should we base our decision on economic circumstances? Political? Cultural? It seems to me it’s some combination of the three. What do you think?

[Via the New York Times]

Word for the Travel Wise (02/11/07)

Should you be in Somalia and in need of a lift call out for one of these…

Today’s word is a Somali word used in Somalia:

tagsi – taxi

Since Somali isn’t spoken by a large population learning the language online for free will be a difficult task to accomplish. Start with this Fortunecity site. They offer a 600 word English to Somali dictionary and vice versa. You maybe able to find an exchange partner online at My Language Exchange, provided there are Somali speakers registered with the site. Your best bet would be travel within the country, finding a local tutor or purchasing language software from African Language dot com. Their CD-ROM is priced at $99 USD, so may wish to shop around before buying.

Past Somali words:
maxaad shektay, qaalin, khapar, aabbe, waddan, magacaa, Igu celi

Word for the Travel Wise (02/10/07)

This evening while chatting with a pal from Iceland who was looking for some first-time NYC travel advice, sights to see, etc. I kindly asked him to return the favor of providing any info with some vocab out of Iceland. As of right now I haven’t really any suggestions, but I told him I’d think up something in the next few days and here is an idea as well… If you’re in NYC, wanting to go to Iceland and found this word useful, perhaps you could leave some suggestions for my pal in the comments below. Otherwise it’s time for me to start sniffing around for some not-so-touristy ideas of things to do in the exotic Big Apple.

Today’s word is an Icelandic word used in Iceland:

framandi – exotic

Háskóli Íslands, one of the universities offers an excellent free starter course to learning Icelandic. Pictures, text, and audio for sample conversations are included. European Youth Portal points out other sources of study within the country and distance learning. I’ve met several speakers with My Language Exchange. Lastly, check out the BBC for a few easy phrases to help get you around the town.

Past Icelandic words: söngkona/söngvari, himnaríki, velkomin, dýrt, menning, bless

Word for the Travel Wise (02/09/07)

You’d think I’d never traveled to a Spanish speaking country in my life the way one of my close pal from Mexico and my strict Peruvian co-worker are cracking down on the Spanish language lessons. To help prep me for my upcoming trip to the Republica Dominicana (no longer the Dominican Republic) I have been hit with tons of new Spanish vocabulary and useful phrases. Since this is a two way street; they get the enjoyment of laughing as I painfully try to get the double ‘r’ sound followed by a vowel and then another ‘r’ out right – I get to make a list of words I think I’d want to know. Considering how much I like the fruit mentioned below, I thought it would be a good one to practice on now.

Today’s word is a Spanish word used in Mexico:

toronja – grapefruit

Amerispan, Cactus Language and IMAC are all good starting points to learning abroad. A free membership at Spanish Unlimited gives you the opportunity to learn a new word everyday by email, gain pen pals and hear audio of the words. Their website is actually a good resource tool for many different Spanish related topics. I won’t even begin to list some of the texts out there that could further your studies because there are entirely too many. If you know of some language books that would be useful please feel free to list them.

Past Spanish words: escalar, cercano, realidad, enfermo, jalar, isla, timbre, viajar