The Asians have devised languages of great complexity in order to prevent Western man from penetrating their secrets

I can only remember doing two things the summer after my freshman year in college, which I spent in idleness in Dubuque (oh the innocent days before I understood the concept of resume-building). I drove with Tom from Dubuque to LA and stopped at a lot of incredible national parks along the way, and I read Spanish-language newspapers online. The idea was that I'd get my Spanish abilities high enough to retake the placement test and test out of the language requirement. The plan nearly worked - instead of having to take 3 quarters of Spanish I only had to take one quarter, which I then put off for 3 years until I had no choice but to do it or not graduate.

Aside from that summer and that 10 weeks of Spanish class in 2000, I haven't studied Spanish at all in the last 10 years. Yet when I got interested in the Peruano elections and started reading articles in El Comercio, I could do it almost entirely without a dictionary. (Altho numbers proved a big problem: every time I saw "4" the only thing I could think of was "sì", and I actually had to say in my head, "uno, dos, tres - cuatro!")

In other words, after the equivalent of 2 years of college Spanish and 6 years of utter neglect, I can now read Spanish newspapers about as well as Chinese newspapers, after the equivalent of maybe 7 years of college Chinese.

Of course I can also talk and write in Chinese, whereas my abilities to communicate in Spanish are nonexistent. Still, it's kind of demoralizing. Those among you who only need to know another European language, count yourselves lucky!

Next step for me: learn Japanese.

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