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Blogs:JaroslavTulach:Daily Life:The More Languages

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This post is not about programming languages, but about human ones.

Just before last Christmas I took my family to Hintertux to ski. The first day me and my son were trying to get down from a slope, when two other skiers stop by and asked us something in German. I had tried to learn a bit of German for a few months, and the question was so simple that I should have been able to understand. However adjusting to another language is not easy and before I managed to parse the words, they asked again in English. Sure, I speak English well enough to understand any query. But before I managed to stop the thread that was just working with German vocabulary, garbage collect temporary data structures and load in the English dictionary, they asked in Russian. That confused me even more. Instead of continuing the processing in English a part of my brain started to boot up the pieces of Russian I remember which resulted in complete overload of the system and I just stared with open mouth unable to say a word.

At that time they started to chat with each other in a language that I don't understand at all. Probably asking: Who can be so stupid to visit Austria and not be able to handle German, English neither Russian? That gave me a little time to answer:

  • My son is three years old.
  • Er ist drei jahre alt.
  • Эму три года и четыре месяца.

Quiz: Now guess, who could be those strangers? Who is capable to speak well enough German, English and Russian, and ski in Austria just before Christmas? Take your time, enjoy following Hintertux slalom rides and find answer below:

I cannot be absolutely sure, but my guess is that the strangers must have come from Hungary. German is quite often spoken there for historical reasons, English is commonly known as world's lingua franca and Russian must have been taught there the same way it was in Czech Republic (just they were not afraid to use it, I am, my knowledge level is terribly low). Moreover Hungarian is the only language around that is not similar to anything else, so I could not understand their own conversation. Plus who could be skiing in Austria before real vacation season starts? I guess it is clear: the more languages you know, the more you are Hungarian!



Abubakar Gurnah said ...

I like this... i have to learn one of those...

--Abubakar Gurnah 07:53, 22 January 2010 (CET)

Tom Wheeler said ...

"the more languages you know, the more you are Hungarian!"

My most memorable experience with real polyglots was in Aruba. I was grabbing a quick bite to eat in a busy fast food restaurant in downtown Oranjestad one day. There were five or six people in line in front of me and the cashier was able to easily handle each of them in their native languages. This included English, Spanish, German, Dutch and Papiemento (a creole native to the island). This wasn't unusual for Arubans -- most of the people I met spoke at least three languages.

Strangely, this cashier always initiated the conversation and was somehow was able to determine what language the customer spoke before they actually said anything. The cashier just said the equivalent of "may I take your order" in the customer's native language and it seemed she always guessed right.

--Tom Wheeler 16:30, 22 January 2010 (CET)

Laszlo Kishalmi said ...

A fiam három éves.

Just in case you need it in Hungarian.

--Lkishalmi 17:56, 24 January 2010 (CET)

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