About this blog

About this blog

Welcome to my blog Language Miscellany. I’m writing about everything that fascinates me about English, other languages and language in general. I’m sure you’ll find plenty here to interest, entertain and delight you.

A good way to find your way around the blog is to go to the tag cloud (on the Home and Blog pages). Then just click on a tag that interests you.

Hooked on languages

I became hooked on languages at the age of 12 and have stayed hooked ever since. Having being mediocre at French in school for 4 years and at German for a year, I suddenly got the hang of German, almost literally overnight.

School

At 13, I had the great luck to do a school exchange to Frankfurt am Main for 7 weeks—something unthinkable now with today’s crowded school syllabuses. The next year brought a 3 week school exchange to La Trinité, a small village near Nice.

I ended up doing French for 10 years at school and German for 6 years, both to A Level (alongside Maths). I also squeezed in 4 terms of Russian (to O Level), a year of Arabic and a day’s taster course on Mandarin.

University

I did a degree in German and Russian at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in a course heavily oriented towards literature, especially in the final stages. I also gained a ‘Certificate of Competent Knowledge’ in French, which involved no tuition, but doing the first year undergraduate language papers and oral test.

Work

After graduating, I trained as an accountant and then spent four years in Luxembourg as an auditor, getting practice in French, less practice in German and acquiring some basic passive understanding of Lëtzebuergesch.

After coming back to London, people asked me several times to translate documents from French or German, or interpret at meetings, so I decided to do the Diploma in Translation (German to English and French to English), a post-graduate qualification run by what is now the Chartered Institute of Linguists. I prepared for this with evening courses at the University of Westminster. When I was 16 I wanted to be a translator, so the Dip Trans gave me a glimpse of what might have been.

From 1994 until retiring in 2021, I worked for the International Accounting Standards Board (and its predecessor body). Much of that job involved writing or reviewing documents (almost all in English), as well as providing on the job training in writing clearly, concisely and accurately for both native and non-native speakers of English. I also did the occasional presentation or interview in German or French, and from time to time found it useful to read technical documents in other languages.

Part-time language courses

Other evening or lunch-time language courses I have done over the years have included:

  • 2 years of Mandarin at the Sun Yat Sen Centre, Luxembourg
  • 2 years of Japanese at the City Lit (City Literary Institute, London)
  • 1 year of business Russian at the University of Westminster
  • 1 year of intermediate Italian conversation at the City Lit

Still using my languages

I still read regularly in German, Russian, Italian and French, and occasionally in Portuguese or Spanish. Over the last few years, my main language learning target has been Hungarian, and I have also become very interested in linguistics, particularly syntax.

Other languages

I have dabbled in several other languages, though not long enough or systematically enough for much of the knowledge to stick actively for long. I have come back several times to some, including Polish, Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian, Czech, Bulgarian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Romanian and Finnish.

Others I have looked at only briefly, often with a coming holiday or work trip in mind. Among these languages are Slovak, Icelandic, Catalan, Basque, Korean, Persian, Malay, Maltese, Welsh, Irish, modern Greek, ancient Greek, Latin and Hindi.

Peter Clark