People often ask me, ‘So how many languages do you speak?’ And I usually answer, ‘One and a half.’
It is incredibly easy to learn a few words in any language, even to learn how to pronounce them properly. I can probably manage a few words in at least 20 languages, two of which are dead. It’s not even hard to get a language up to an A1 level. But to truly master a language takes a lifetime.
So why did I learn the languages that I actually can speak? At least a bit.
I didn’t have much of a say with either English or Russian, my parents made that choice for me. As for French, I really liked the culture, the music, the beautiful gardens. And then of course there came a moment when I tried to read Agatha Christie, and found that I couldn’t, because the brilliant Hercule Poirot used French in every single sentence. Or almost every single sentence. To be completely honest, I haven’t read that much Agatha Christie since, but ‘the damage was done’.
As for Spanish and Italian, the answer is every more simple, and can be summed up in one word. Food.
I confess, I’m a food person. And Spain and Italy just happen to have some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted. Of course, there’s the salsa, the tango, the music, the beautiful architecture of Barcelona and Rome, and so many places to see in Latin and South America. But Food came first. There can be no denying that simple fact.
As for how and where to learn languages, it is probably not as simple as it seems, and I don’t think there is such a thing as a one-fits-all solution. Reading helps, that’s for sure.
So read, and read as much as you can, watch films and series, listen to music, and travel, most importantly, travel. Then you will get a chance to actually meet the people who speak this language, taste the food, marvel at the culture that it represents, its heritage, its history, its architecture, and then you will have a better understanding of the language, the people that speak it, and the ideas and beliefs that make them.