Hypothetical scenario: What language would you like to know for just seven days?

Here’s the situation:

You’re offered the chance to become fluent in any language that you don’t already know. This won’t work for a language that you can already speak, but poorly. (How? Genie. Or Matrix-style insta-upload. Or both.)

The catch: You’ll retain that fluency for just seven days. After 168 hours, you’ll revert back to your current ignorance of how to speak that language.

The bonus: You get a budget of up to $50,000 and a free week of vacation to make the most of your temporary skill.

What language do you choose, and how do you spend your seven days of fluency?

I’d read Dante’s Divine Comedy in the original historical Italian.

Does it have to be a natural human language? Spoken by at least one other living person? There’s money in being able to understand unidentified writings, such as the Voynich script.

Limiting this to languages I really don’t know any words of makes this more interesting. I can’t offhand think of any words I know that are specifically Kyrgyz, so I will go with Kyrgyzstan. A week in Bishkek speaking fluent Kyrgyz with 50,000 USD will be really, really fun, and I can read some Chyngyz Aitmatov books too.

Polish. I have a bunch of notebooks from my mom’s family that I cannot read. It would also allow me to go to Poland to find out more about that branch of the family.

This would be, to me, very unsatisfying. Sure, I’d take the 50K, I can get by in any country for a week on a couple of hundred, and keep the change.

It would be like asking an obese person what they would do if they could be thin for a week.

Since I’m not bilingual, I’d like to know what it feels like to be bilingual, just like I’d like to know what it feels like to be Derek Jeter with a hot grounder hit to my left and knowing that I can field it cleanly and make the throw, and then go up to the plate and line a hard cutter into the gap with a two-strike count. But aside from the curiosity about how it “feels” to have that skill and confidence, the proposition doesn’t really appeal to me at all.

Quite honestly, I’d hate being able to understand the lame lyrics to the music. For that reason, I never listen to English language music.

Not sure between Japanese, Cantonese, Korean. For the vacation, I’d have to choose between a gluttonous food-extravaganza of Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Seoul. I’m leaning towards Hong Kong, which I’ve heard is the best “food city” in the world.

Depends on what you mean by “speak poorly”. I know a few sentences in Romanian and in combination with some knowledge of other Roman languages I can understand a surprising amount of it (if I know the context of the conversation). Still Romanian… and then have a week of fun with Romanian girls.

I guess I’d choose Rongorongo and get famous for deciphering the Easter Island scripts.

Sign language. There’s a woman who trains at my dojo who is deaf and has never had an interpreter available in class to translate what the teacher has been saying. I’d schedule a bunch of classes and use the money to cover missed work for both of us, and spend a week thoroughly explaining all the basics that, in all the years she’s been studying, I don’t think anybody has ever been able to explain to her.

Like others have said, it depends on how you define “poorly.” My French is really, really bad, but I’d love to take the $50K and the wife to France for a week and just eat our way through the hinterlands. If I speak too much French to qualify, then I’ll choose Mandarin and we’ll spend the week in Manhattan, doing a Calvin Trillin Special.

$50K is the budget, not your pay for the week. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Defining “poorly.” Hmm. I took high school German for four years, and I’m by no means conversational, but I’d say that’s still too fluent to qualify.

But if you can understand a few phrases (like the Spanish you’d pick up from Sesame Street), that counts. You could choose Spanish even if you know that much.

OK, I’d go there and spend $49K on Krugerrands.

Quit fighting the spirit of the hypothetical! You know damn well what the OP means. :slight_smile:

Russian. We’re gonna take the Firebug back to Russia in a few years anyway, so he can see where he came from. Would be great if I could speak Russian for a week of that trip.


And I’ll spend that 50 grand on some recording equipment and try to get as complete a grammar and glossary down as I can in 7 days.

Etruscan. I’d spend the week and the money talking to a video, creating as large a deposit of Etruscan words as possible, and explaining the grammar and meaning as much as possible. Probably would want pictures to point at and talk about for the video, so there’s a correlation that Etruscan scholars can use to reconstruct the language after my week is up.

Portuguese. So much of my favorite music is from Brazil, and I’d finally understand the lyrics, instead of relying on some wooden translation.

Looks like people aren’t all that interested in a week’s vacation and $50K to blow. At the risk of sounding basic and uncreative, I’d learn Italian and spend a very decadent week in Italy, particularly Rome, Florence, and the Cinque Terre (I only get a week, so I gotta narrow it down. Even with just three cities I’m pushing it).

I confess to knowing some Italian words and phrases, but I still don’t think I know enough to even speak it poorly, so I’m going with that.

If we go by the metric of “can’t speak jack shit” in a language, then I’ll go with French, touring France for the week.