Table of Contents

  1. Parlez-vous français?
  2. Time to go to the spreadsheet
  3. Which language?
  4. Language Inventory
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Parlez-vous français?

On the eve of Bastille Day, it seems fitting to talk about the topic: learning a second language.

Like many of you, I am inspired by ideas while in the shower. My latest came as I was puzzling over how to source certain products while we travel around the world. Originally, when we thought RJ Slocum would fall through, Andrew and I were prepared to move to Germany and apprentice in the Sirius boatyard and as a result, we would learn German as our second language.

Well, that didn’t end up happening, and so any inclination to learn a second language died along with that option.

Now that I am thinking about acquiring certain products I’m used to in the US, I thought it was high time to start leveling up on some language skills, namely pick up a second language.

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Time to go to the spreadsheet

In my zeal, I started to put together a spreadsheet (old finance habits are hard to break) and listed words that I would want to know from English to French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese (simplified).

As you can see, I stopped when I got to carrot.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if there was an easier way rather than compiling an exhaustive list in a spreadsheet. Additionally, I wanted to be sure I was choosing the most useful second language.

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Which language?

When I first queried google, I came across sailing anarchy, a forum for cruisers, in which this question was asked in early 2011. Here’s what these cruisers said:

  • French - 13 (in the near-term)
  • Mandarin Chinese - 9 (in the long-term)
  • Spanish - 4
  • 1 each for Kiwi, ‘Merican, ‘Straylian, Portuguese, Latin, Tagalog, German and Norwegian (to sail with the vikings)

Finally, there was a strong recommendation that regardless of the second language you want to pick up, whatever you do, learn to curse in as many languages as you can!

Taipei 101, among the tallest buildings in Taiwan
Taipei 101, among the tallest buildings in Taiwan

Yacht designer Bob Perry also happened to chime in and offered his experience:

My modest attempt learn to Mandarin has served me well working in Taiwan and China. They just seem happy and surprised that I even wanted to learn. I had many, many “teachers”. I would never dream of speaking Mandarin like a native because I will never think like a Chinese person.

Once, I asked a Chinese client how do you say, I forget what it was. He said, “We wouldn’t say that.”

“OK” I said, “But if you did want to say that how would you say it?”

“We would never say that.” was his answer.

Standing on the deck plug in Taiwan years ago with the client, the yard owner and the foreman, who spoke no English, we pondered making the gate to the cockpit wider. We finally decided to enlarge the opening by 2”. I took a piece of chalk and wrote on the plug the Chinese character for “gate” + 2”. The foreman looked at the yard owner and said in Mandarin, “I think he is God.”

I was waiting to be picked up one morning in Taiwan, standing in the hotel lobby. The intercom system announced something in Mandarin but I paid no attention. After a few repetitions of the intercom message, I realized they were paging me in Mandarin. I was so proud.

Mandarin or whatever you choose to call it is a beautiful language, a real challenge and fun to use.

Read more about Bob Perry’s Taiwan connection on his website.

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Language Inventory

Lucky for me, I studied French in junior high, high school and college, so I have passable reading, writing and to a lesser extent speaking skills. When I was in my 30’s, I studied Mandarin Chinese when my best friend Lisa who was a Hapa kicked my ass busting out fluent Mandarin on me. I now have elementary school level Mandarin, although better understanding and speaking than reading and writing.

Andrew, on the other hand, knows Romanian and has a working knowledge of German and Latin.

Needless to say, we both need to brush up on our language skills. One of the keys of immersing ourselves in the country and cultures we intend to visit will be going native, so to speak, which means learning a second language or perhaps a third, fourth or fifth language.

Thanks for reading!

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