Around the World in 17 Books

In 2022, I studied 629 hours of foreign languages, mainly Croatian and Modern Greek, plus a 90 day Russian challenge. Now that 2023 has started, I am not particularly tempted by any new language yet, but I do want to continue mastering Croatian, Greek and other languages I’ve previously studied. This makes it hard to set an inspiring new goal. One goal I have committed to, because I’ll do it with a friend, is to read a Chinese novel this year. Which means dusting off my Chinese again. So I had the idea to set a reading-based goal rather than pure numbers of hours spent on X languages.

My goal: Around the World in 17 Books

I looked at my (huge) pile of unread books and decided that the following are a must-read this year, arranged by country:

  • Various Africa and Carribean countries: Conteurs francophones noirs (collection of short stories in French) – contemporary short stories from Congo, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique
  • Australia: Flugi kun kakatuoj (novel in Esperanto) – on Aborigines’ fight against the invader
  • Austria: Anomalija (novel in Bosnian) – the end of the world as a happy end
  • Bosnia: Na drini ćuprija (novel in Serbo-Croatian) – Višegrad from the 16th century till after WWI
  • Chile: La Casa de los espiritus (novel in Spanish) – four generations growing up in Chile
  • China: 姑娘,我们一起合租吧 (novel in Chinese) – one male and three female students living together in Shanghai
  • France: Boumkoeur (novel in French) – on life in the forbidden suburbs
  • Germany: Die verdammte Pflicht: Erinnerungen 1932 bis 1945 (autobiography in German) – Alexander Stahlberg witnessed the transfer of power from Papen to Hitler, attempts to convince Manstein to join the Stauffenberg assassination, and other interesting moments
  • Greece: ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ (ΚΩΜΙΚΟΤΡΑΓΙΚΗ) ΤΟΥ ΝΕΟΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟΥ ΚΡΑΤΟΥΣ 1830-1974 (nonfiction in Greek) – tongue-in-cheek history of the Greek state
  • Haiti: L’Énigme du retour (novel in French) – a Canadian exilee returning to his native Haiti
  • Indonesia: Ik kom terug (novel in Dutch) – a 100yo mother finally opens up to her son about all that she has seen, during her life centered on the Dutch East Indies
  • Italy: Due di due (novel in Italian) – on Italy through the 1968 student movement and beyond
  • Lebanon: Insciallah (novel in Italian) – a 20th century epic on the civil war in Lebanon
  • Netherlands: Een nieuw sociaal contract (political manifest in Dutch) – reforming the Dutch political system
  • Russia: La strato de Tanja (nonfiction in Esperanto) – Russia 1917-2017 through the people living on one street in St Petersburg
  • Serbia: Deseti život (novel in Serbian) – life in the artist scene in Belgrade in the 2010s
  • USA: The only game in town (nonfiction in English) – on Wall Street and the global economy

These are incidentally in all kinds of languages I want to practice, 10 languages in total, so if I manage to read them all, the problem of language-learning hours will solve itself. (In 2022 I read 50 books, but almost all of them either English or Croatian…)

If you have any books that absolutely should be on this list, feel free to comment or write to me.

Review of 2021 and Plans for 2022

So, a new year…

In 2021, my trusty spreadsheet tells me that I studied 588 hours total (not counting hours spent on English or Esperanto because the number would get ridiculous). By language:
321 hours of Modern Greek
150 hours of Serbocroatian
35 hours of Spanish
30 hours of Mandarin
and less hours on various other languages.

588 hours total is better than anytime since 2015, BUT in 2014 I had managed 749 hours and I hope to get back into that range. Ca. two hours per day shouldn’t be that hard…

Also, right now I’m able to have long conversations in Serbocroatian with patient native speakers, but I’m unhappy that speaking it still doesn’t feel as comfortable as speaking French or Modern Greek for example. My spreadsheet tells me that this is because I have only reached 391 hours of study total.

So, new goal: 300 hours of Serbocroatian in 2022 because I am really ready to experience the next level. In exchange, I’m setting my Greek goal to only 150 more hours this year. Apart from that, I want to invest 50 hours into Portuguese LISTENING COMPREHENSION because I’m annoyed that written Portuguese is so easy to understand and spoken Portuguese is totally not (I have not studied any Portuguese before). And 50 hours for Mandarin because I’m rusty. And let’s see what comes up, maybe some Indonesian or a new language in the second half of the year.

Happy 2022 everyone!

Language Plans for the Summer

The Polyglot Gathering was a huge success. It’s inspiring to be among so many people who love languages. I never took that for granted, because in my hometown near Düsseldorf I often felt like a freak for wanting to learn a lot of languages. Well, if I’m a freak, there are hundreds of them and we’re getting stronger. 😉

What I found particularly motivating was to see people who are way better than me. Sometimes I get discouraged: at 13 languages (admittedly some of them quite weak), is it really possible to go much further? Can I hope to bring more of them to fluency? Can I add more languages? Or is it a swap at this point: gain some in exchange for losing others? So my best memory of this year’s Polyglot Gathering was to witness Tim Keeley and Daniel Krasa have a conversation in 22 languages – and not just European ones but languages from 9 language families, including Nepali, Thai, Croatian, Chinese, Hebrew and so on. They actually both speak more languages, but have “only” 22 languages in common. It’s insane. And they’re still learning new languages. So for me that was tangible proof I’m nowhere near the limit and I won’t let those doubts get me now. I am burning to go further!

My latest addition was Hebrew, which I studied in a 90-day challenge from mid-January. I made a lot of progress – more progress than I ever made on similar adventures before. I also studied much more regularly than normally I would have. It’s because of the Add1Challenge, which brought structure and accountability to my wild self-study. Sadly I didn’t manage to keep up my studies since April because of the effort required to organize the Polyglot Gathering. I barely did any paid work either.

My Plan

This summer, I’m turning over a new leaf. I have enrolled in both the June italki challenge and the next Add1Challenge. Both start on June 1.

My plan is to mainly improve my Hebrew, since I committed myself to reaching B1 in Hebrew before the end of the year.

I will also keep working on my Italian, as I need a solid C1 in it before I can tackle Spanish again.

I may do a bit of Norwegian if I have time. I’m meeting a friend from Norway in July and it would be nice to speak some Norwegian, but Norwegian has never been on my todo list until now.

Finally, I will keep up the once-a-week Modern Greek lessons that I’m already enrolled in.

My Chinese debating class is over now and I cannot enroll for Chinese next semester due to my trip to the states (German immersion course and Polyglot Conference), so I think I’ll just revise what I learned and read a couple of the books that my friend left me.

And yours?

What are your language plans for the next few months? Let’s hear them!

If you want to make a lot of progress or develop a consistent language-learning routine, I can recommend the Add1Challenge. Watch what I (and others) have to say about it in this video:

Sign up for the Add1Challenge and let’s learn a language together this summer!

* Full disclosure: the links to the Add1Challenge are affiliate links, but obviously if you’ve seen the video or read my enthusiastic post about my Hebrew results, you know that I am a fan of this challenge and would recommend it anyway.