Home > Communication, Dreams, Family, Japan, Learning, Travel, Work > Learning languages: The priceless promise of adventure to come

Learning languages: The priceless promise of adventure to come

I returned from teaching English in Japan eight years ago.

hiroshima9I’ve dreamed of traveling there with my family. I dream most especially of returning to Hiroshima and watching my young sons place their own paper cranes at an angel’s feet.

My husband would like us to visit Australia, where he and other early castaways were sequestered while fellow Survivor competitors finished up their time on the island.

We’d also like to visit places we’ve never been. Time and money are sparse, so we’ve taken to dreaming now of travel later.

I’ll be traveling internationally again soon. My new job will assign me certain territories, and I’ll periodically visit customers within those territories as part of my job.

Which territories? I have no idea, but I’m thrilled all the same. There are very few parts of the world I don’t want to see, and even seeing for twenty exhausted not-working minutes a day is better than seeing for zero minutes over eight years.

My daily commute will be long. I’ll miss being so near my sons so many hours a day. But I’ll use my commute to study languages, the very thought of which makes me giddy. I’ve ordered a conversational Spanish course already.

Will I be assigned any Spanish-speaking countries? Who knows! Whether or not I speak Spanish on my job, there’s plenty of use for it here in Los Angeles. It’s also about time I made good on my long-ago promise to a dear friend, my Peruvian sister, to learn it.

Best of all is the thrill of possibility. My father studied languages for the military; though he’s no longer in my life, his passion for language and travel made me curious about all the places he’d been. If he could go to Greece and Paraguay and South Korea, why couldn’t I? What would see when I exchanged poverty with possibility realized?

So I checked out language books and language tapes starting in sixth grade. I studied bits and pieces of dozens of languages as I dreamed of all the places I’d travel someday. I took Russian, Chinese and German in high school, before those languages were sadly cut as non-essential. I added a couple of years of German, two terms of Russian and a little Swahili in college.

That Spanish course is on its way to me now. Outwardly, it looks like an unremarkable $30 collection of a few CDs. It’s so much more.

It’s the priceless promise of adventure to come.

  1. January 11, 2015 at 9:21 am

    That is one good post you put out there 🙂

    Looking forward to reading more in the future 🙂
    More power to your writing in 2015.
    Cheers 🙂

    If you ever feel like, i’d love your thoughts on the beauty of these pictures taken from space :


    • January 11, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      Thank you! Those are some breathtaking photos. It’s funny how enormous the world can seem, and how small–how closely we are connected, from a distance–all at once. And it’s fantastic, just fantastic, to think we live in a time where people can look upon the earth from space. So rad.

      (I’ve actually just followed NASA on Twitter, thanks to your post.)

  2. January 11, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Travel as part of your job! I hope it’s an exciting and enjoyable adventure for you!

    • January 11, 2015 at 9:27 am

      Awesome, right? And the thing is, it wouldn’t have happened if Anthony hadn’t been sitting right next to me when I took the call. He saw me saying no when I heard the words “international travel” and gestured emphatically that I should say “yes.” “We can work it out for the right job,” he mouthed. So thankful!

  3. January 11, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Love this post for so many reasons. I was reteaching myself French as it arrived in my mailbox. Why? Just because. It has been (gasp) 21 years since I left Japan and I still miss it and yearn to explore there and bring my family. While I have traveled other places, it is never enough. So for now I will learn languages as well. Review Japanese. Perhaps German. Slovak, Russian, Spanish, who knows?

  4. January 11, 2015 at 9:37 am

    This is so exciting! Bon adventures, Deb.

  5. January 11, 2015 at 10:08 am

    I majored in French in college and worked as an au pair in Paris after high school, so there was a time I was fluent in the language. I’ve lost much of it now, but I think I could still get by if I return for a visit. But I really wish I knew Spanish. It would have helped me tremendously in the medical field–no need for interpreters, just get that clinic visit started. I keep telling myself I’ll learn it. Maybe one day. Good for you for tackling it. Sounds like you have many exciting things ahead of you!

    • January 11, 2015 at 10:25 am

      I, too, wish I had studied Spanish! There are so many times knowing it would have helped me, even before moving south.

      The course I ordered is Pimsleur. I checked it out from the library before and it was easily the best for getting me talking. I’d practice while walking my dog, which was enough to begin understanding surprising amounts of what was being said around me … and even chip in! I remember little now, but not for long!

  6. January 11, 2015 at 10:09 am

    That is so exciting! Good luck on your adventures and take lots of pictures! I have never been out of the country and like your husband ld love to go to Austraila!

  7. January 11, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Congrats, and I love the positive feelings you have towards it, it’s so good to hear someone excited about their new job and work and adventure!

  8. January 11, 2015 at 11:26 am

    I just blogged about wanting to travel and feeling restless. Its wonderful to have adventure in life. Good luck on yours.

    • January 11, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Thank you so much! I, too, have missed a sense of adventure, but failed to understand just how greatly I missed it.

  9. January 11, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Travel with works sounds wonderful, Deb!

    But careful with trying to learn a language while you’re doing something else. Before we went to Switzerland, I played French vocabulary tapes. They said the word in French, then in English. While I was vacuuming, though, it switched to saying the English first without me realizing it. My french vocabulary never really was all that great!

    • January 11, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      LOL! I don’t expect I’ll pick it up as quickly this time because driving takes so much more focus than walking the dog, but I’ll be jazzed about whatever little I do take away. (Did I mention I’m excited?)

      (Also, whenever I multi-task by listening to someone while “just checking something” online, I’m reminded how much I suck at it.)

  10. January 11, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I didn’t know you taught English in Japan. Very cool. I’m currently in Yokosuka for a three year tour, one more year to go. Love Japan so much. I hope you can return at some point with your family.

    • January 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      I graduated law school and packed for Japan instead of prepping for the Bar. It was a beautiful experience, though achingly lonely at times, and a part of my heart will forever belong to the mountains of Nippon.

  11. January 11, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    You sound like me. Although many of my adventures were before my kids were born, I managed to squeeze in a few more countries while they were growing up. Now that they’re out on their own I’m still looking to add a few more.

    • January 19, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      I’m excited to see where else your travels will take you!

      I’m looking forward to locking on our first family destination with Anthony. It will probably be months to a year before we do that, but knowing it’s coming is a rush all the same. 🙂

  12. cardamone5
    January 11, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Congrats. Enjoy your new enterprises.


  13. January 11, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I LOVE learning new languages – it’s such an eye-opening experience! Have you noticed how, when all you know is your native language, you take those communication patterns for granted? Like, the idea that certain concepts could be grouped differently into different words just doesn’t occur to you until you see it in action in another language. And then as you get more advanced in that language and more immersed in that culture, you start to be able (just barely) to intuit that culture’s priorities because of how certain things are expressed in their language. It really broadens the mind to SO MUCH on the continuum of human experience!

    Anyway, I took Russian in high school, and I struggled with the grammar, because there’s a lot of it. Then when I was in the Air Force they had me learn Chinese(*) – which is relatively easy to speak (but hard to learn to read!). I had never really had interest in learning Spanish until recently – my brother was in town and we overslept on Sunday morning so we went to the only Mass left – a 7:00 p.m. bilingual Mass. It was really neat to hear the priest go back and forth between Spanish and English, and then to hear the congregation around me all say the responses in Spanish – I LOVED it! And it really underscored to me that I really should try to learn Spanish.

    I have unfortunately lost most of my Chinese, but I knew enough to say “Hen gaoxing renshi ni” when we got a Chinese client at my company, which is WAY more Chinese than anyone else at my company is able to say. It is kinda cool, though, that when I need documents from them, they can just give me the Chinese documents and I can find the info I need well enough.

    Anyway – have fun with Spanish!

    (*) Random side note – there was a Navy guy in my Chinese class who struggled with even the little bit of grammar that Chinese has. Now, military logic says that if you can’t learn a Category 4 language (the most difficult out of four tiers languages are classified into), they should take you down a tier into Category 3. Here’s the problem – there is NO consideration of WHY someone was having trouble. So they took him from Chinese and put him … into Russian. And of course he couldn’t do that one either. Poor guy.

  14. January 12, 2015 at 1:09 am

    Wow 🙂 sounds great! Hope that all works out for you 🙂

    Do you have any tips for teaching English to people who already have [huge] problems with reading, writing and grammar in their own language?

  15. January 12, 2015 at 3:17 am

    I am so excited for you, for your new job and new adventures!

  16. January 12, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Every time I travel, I come back thinking “I want to sit down and learn languages.” I pick up so much when I’m immersed in another culture, with another language . . . but the desire leaves shortly after I get back, every time. Last time, it was French, thanks to a bad experience in France where I was only able to determine that the person set to help me was, in fact, making fun of me to another airport coworker, but wasn’t actually able to discern what was being said.

  17. January 12, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    After your go through the Spanish CD’s try learner.org, Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish. It will put the vocab and structures to work for you. And, it’s free! Once upon a time it was a very expensive program and now ~25 years later, it’s free and timeless if you’re learning Spanish.

  18. January 25, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Awesome (and I see now I’m catching up on your posts backwards and have answered the question from the last comment I just left)! I love languages, and was fortunate to marry a man with Russian background, so I get to pick up on that language! It’s fascinating.

    • January 26, 2015 at 5:10 am

      I finished the Spanish conversational course pretty quickly, so I ordered a Portuguese one (since I’m working with at least one Brazilian customer) to bide the time until the full Spanish course reaches me. It was so much different than Spanish that it weirded me out the first couple of days because I kept thinking of them as “roughly the same.” Once I stopped thinking of Portuguese as “weird Spanish,” it came a lot easier. I’m already excited for this morning’s lesson, though it’s a couple of hours away!

      I was considering buying the Russian one. And the German one. And pretty much every other conversational course they offer, because I’ve got the time! There’s also a place that sells popular college course CDs, and I’ve been thinking of buying some history ones … if I make it through all Pimsleur’s intro courses! :p

  1. January 18, 2015 at 6:57 am
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