If you think French is difficult, try Hungarian. It’s a good thing no one wants to learn that language anyways, cause it’d be pretty damn hard. What’s also pretty damn hard is Japanese, cause it requires a degree in Art to be able to write it. You need a pretty steady hand for Vietnamese as well, cause it has a weird character hanging from practically every other letter. If you wanna ask a Vietnamese if he or she speaks English it would be: bạn có biết nói tiếng Anh không? The answer will most likely be: không tôi chấm (i.e. no). And if you think German is ugly, did you know about the unknown but not less respected language Ojibwe? It takes Ojibwe 66 letters to say blueberry pie. Needless to say, this language is threatened with extinction.  

The truth of the matter is, no language is easy. And saying that in Hindi goes something like: koee bhee bhaasha aasaan nahin hai. That’s a lot of funny words. What’s also funny is Chinese, because they’re all the same. Words, I mean, all Chinese words sound the same. Arabs sound like they have a piece of carton board stuck in their mouth, which might be the reason why they spit an awful lot. Rotokos is spoken in Papua New Guinea and sounds as if earplugs are stuffed up the nose. Because this language is so nasal, it’s hard to distinguish people who have a flu from those who don’t. What is also interesting is that most Asian languages don’t use the letter F, which is why many Asians can’t pronounce it either. So if they order French fries, they will say “prench pries”. You can only imagine what happens when pasta al forno is on special. 

These languages make English sound pretty doll. Luckily, any language can be cheered up with an accent. English people are particularly good at accents, perhaps subconsciously to make up for their boring language. The Scots and Welsh took it a bit too far though, which might be the reason they’re not allowed to be part of England anymore. Their accents sound so funny that no one actually understands what they’re saying. Languages also sound funnier when they are sung. Egyptians sound like they’re sitting on a washing machine when they sing. And then there’s yodelling, which is like being in a washing machine that’s bouncing on a trampoline. Another rather special form of art is Mongolian throat singing.

 Speaking of throats, there’s a little language called Dutch. My Russian friend Olga told me it sounds like any other language, but then struggling to find the right frequency on the radio. Russian itself has a certain rough edge to it as well, and it somehow always sounds as if they are drunk. No wait... they probably are just drunk. Alcohol in fact favours certain languages, such as Dutch and Russian, by helping to smoothen the throat. There are also languages that become practically impossible when you are under the influence. Xhosa requires a lot of clicking sounds that can be produced with an agile tongue, but not so much a tequila tongue. Khmer has an astonishing 74 letters, 33 consonants and 45 vowels: you simply have to be sober to memorize them all. 

That’s the problem with languages: we’ve made them so goddamn complicated. Why did we come up with grammar in the first place? Afrikaans has proven that we don’t really need it. They pretty much took Dutch and left out all the difficult stuff. Indonesian never changes a verb depending on the tense or pronoun. A language could be as simply as: hungry, need food, make fire. Or: need sex, bend over, go away. It’d be tricky in crowds though, cause you can’t make clear what you want exactly from whom. You wouldn’t want your fat aunt Daisy to bend over when all you wanted was her home-made pie. The language Pirahã doesn’t even define numbers, but simply refers to few or many. But what’s few for some, might be some for many, and may be many for a few; if you know what I’m saying… 

Chances are you actually don’t know what I’m saying. And frankly, I often don’t understand what you’re saying either. We are lost in translation. Alienated from our own species. Kept apart like a prison wall by an invisible force called the language barrier. We have somehow bothered to invent over six thousand languages, which makes the odds of speaking the same one pretty slim. Most are spoken by less than a thousand people, who consider their unique sounds to be of cultural importance. Most other people tend to disagree. If you zoom in on only the worthy languages, spoken by 50 million people or more, there are still twenty-five of them. It took me a year of studying Spanish to realize that I suck at it, how can one ever master twenty-five?


Ziad Fazah is Lebanese and claims to speak fifty-eight languages, the world record. Learning foreign words is all he ever does. But when he was invited to a live television show for his impressive achievement, he failed at having a basic conversation in most languages. See, learning funny words is one thing, but speaking a language is a whole different world. Even if you try, it only takes one error to turn a perfectly normal sentence into a grand fuck up. A Dutch farmer once proudly told president John F. Kennedy: “I fok horses.” I beg your pardon? “Yes, paarden!” He meant to say: I breed horses (paarden). An embarrassing mistake but fok it, he still got 66 percent of his English right and that’s more than most people. 

Embarrassment is simply part of learning a new language. When I was in Spain, I once tried to tell my friends I was hungry (tengo hambre) by saying “tengo hombre” (I’m a man). I didn’t understand why they gave me supportive handshakes or stared at my crutch, but we ended up in a restaurant anyway, so I couldn’t bother. But then, Spanish for chicken is pollo, whereas polla is a vulgar reference to a penis. And here I go brag in front of everyone that I can order my own meal in Spanish: “quiero comer el polla, por favor.” When the waiter responded by sliding me his number, I still wondered why my friends kindly told him that there was no point in asking me out. 

See, learning a language is like pleasing a woman: no matter how hard you try, you will never get it completely right. And like with women, sometimes it’s just not worth the effort. Luckily, facial expressions are pretty universal. I normally travel my way through life with smiles, frowns and hand gestures. Although you might wanna be careful with the last one too... The gesture for rock and roll or ‘party on’ is quite offensive in Spain, meaning something like devil horns or ‘up yours’. I was, of course, not aware of this at the time. On a positive note, silence has its charm too. An awkward silence can say more than a thousand funny words. And above all, a stupid man in silence is easier to respect than a smart man with a funny accent.