Every time I go to skiing at Vitosha, I end up meeting a German-speaking person. I’ve now begun to ask “govoria Angliski ili Nemski?” after my ubiquitous “Ne razbiram Bulgarski.” It turns out that quite a few (mainly older) Bulgarians do speak Nemski (informal for Germanski,) and this last weekend I actually met a young person who does. Thanks to his Bulgarian father and German mother, this kid (9th grader) speaks fluent Bulgarian and German, an acceptable English, and now is going to a Spanish high school (plus, he says he is studying Portuguese on the side.) As a dual German/Bulgarian citizen, he plans on going to college in Germany. This is one thing that I’ve noticed about Bulgarians; they are quick to add languages to their portfolio. Of course, nearly all nations are better at this than Americans, but there seems to be more of an urgency about this here; in an environment of flux, adding another language to your portfolio seems to be a prudent investment.
Yesterday there were several USAID contractors in the office; one of them was on the phone (Skype actually) with his colleague and was speaking Spanish. Overhearing him ask “Que pasa?” my brain immediately came up with “dobre!”—oops, wrong language. That’s what happens when you only know a little bit of two languages—they sometimes get mixed up. Actually, there are some similarities between Bulgarian and Spanish; for example the word “and” is “и” in Bulgarian and “y” in Spanish—pronounced exactly the same: “ee”
For the fifth Tuesday now, Ryan and I met right after work to catch a taxi to Sofia University’s Department of Language Learning for our weekly Bulgarian class. Now this place is truly “old school.” The peeling paint and ancient equipment makes it easy to image what this place used to be like 20 years ago when fresh-face Bulgarian college kids would have been studying Russian, and other exotic languages of the Soviet Empire in these very same hallowed halls. From the test result sheets publicly posted in the halls, it looks like 50% of the students are studying English, 30% German, 20% French, 10% Italian, 10% Spanish, and a smattering of Greek & Dutch (I know that’s more than 100%; I suspect that some students take more than one language simultaneously—that’s gotta be tough!)