Thursday, September 11, 2008


"How is it you speak so many languages?"
Basically, learning languages has been a life long journey.
Like the typical American, my first language was English
When I was young, I started looking up words I didn't understand, building a pretty good vocabulary.
In Seventh Grade, I started learning German. Since, I had a German last name, I remember feeling some connection to the language. I continued in 8th and 9th grade.
In 10th Grade, to protect my grade point,(that year I had all A’s except for a B in Honors Geometry) I gave up German and substituted Latin. Latin was great because I started learning great words like ameliorate, pejorative, etc.
Then, one day in 11th grade, someone showed me a New Testament with a beautiful Greek script on one page and the opposite page was in Latin. It is a wonderful black leather book with gold edges on the pages. I still cherish it. I remember the excitement and eagerness I had to learn Greek, the original language of the Bible.
Since my grandmother was Icelandic and I was socializing in the Scandanavian section of Seattle, WA (Ballard), I started to pick up some Norwegian. I had a few friends that I liked to talk with and that time I was singing gospel songs like, Han skal apne perle porten (He, the pearly gates will open) O store Gud (How great thou art)
Previously, I had intended to be a medical doctor, now I wanted to study the classics: Ancient Greek and Latin.
So, I started the University of Oregon studying the Classics (I did some running but that is another story).
Later, I went to the University of Washington continuing my classics studies but adding another language: Hebrew. Again, an excitement and another change. I changed my major to Near Eastern Languages therein studying: Arabic, Aramaic, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Sumerian, Akkadian—I might add that since my professor had studied at Tuebingen in Germany and stated that the most important language for Near Eastern studies was German, I began working hard on my German—cultural events, listening to German shortwave broadcasts, subscribing to newspapers and magazines, visiting German churches, making German friends. I remember going to a German church and meeting some of the Germans at a social gathering at Ilse Kneifel's house. As she stuffed me with food she assured me I could not refuse because, "It is the German way."
French was added in an intensive summer course.
My Hebrew was practiced because my Hebrew teacher was a Rabbi (I recently spoke with him) He had us going to the synagogue (Schul in Yiddish) and he taught us a bunch of Hebrew songs. At one point we were commuting from Edmonds where my grandparents lived and another commuter who was studying Russian had us singing the Volga boat song in Russian!!
I also began to read the Icelandic sagas in Old Norse because my professor had said they had a unique place in literature and also since my grandmother was Icelandic.
I also took note of English dialects. When my wife and I were invited to a couple from Oklahoma for dinner, we were informed the Vernon had spiced up the olives becauase otherwise they were too "DAY ed"
My language studies took a hiatus for some Army training (however I did add to my knowledge of American English and added some profane words and phrases to my passive vocabulary always listening intently to the instructions of the drill sergeants.
Off to New Jersey, I began adding Spanish by listening to Spanish television. I also continued to subscribe to German periodicals and used to read a French paper from Louisiana Akkadia.
In Alabama, I sponsored a Saudi Arabian student(saw him in 2001 in Egypt during a Bright Star Exercise after 911, he is now a general) that was good practice for my Arabic. (one interesting moment in Egypt was when I was talking to an Egyptian officer. He was having trouble with my English and of course, I was having trouble with his Arabic. Somehow, I let him know I spoke German and then we were set since he had gone to a military school in Germany. It was funny, I was asking him in German what he said in Arabic and he was asking me what I said in English)
Spanish continued to be reinforced in Texas(also learned to love Jalapenos and the Cotton-eye Joe)
Later, I was the liason to students from 40 countries in the Army Infantry Advance Course-speaking Arabic, French, German, Spanish, (came in handy with the Columbians-they usually relied on Puerto Ricans to get them through the classes.) I befriended a Greek officer and we went to Greek Churches and other Greek cultural events. At this time, I began my study of Italian. (It helps to marry into an Italian family, my studies have slowed after the divorce but I really love to sing opera in Italian.)
I worked on my French by trips to Quebec in Canada(they have great food) and Martinique in the Carribean(more great food)
I got a job teaching English for a while in St Petersburg, FL and had Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Cuban, and Central American Students(helped with the Spanish)
I applied for a job claiming knowledge of French and was granted an interview. For 6 weeks, I really worked on my French speaking. I had a tutor that had taught French in the South Vietnamese embassy. When I told him I had only had 6 weeks formal training, he said, pas beaucoup. Not enough. But, when they tested me on the job interview, I was facile enough to convince them I spoke French.(wish I could have gotten the job, I would have been off the West Africa every 2 weeks marketing helicopters(I used to fly helicopters in the Army)
A trip to Korea for a month brought me a temporary knowledge of the alphabet(Hangul) and a smattering of phrases I use when I see Koreans(usually at the cleaners, Gamsa Ham ni da-thank you, comes in handy) Interestingly enough, I met someone from Switzerland that spoke no English, but we conversed in French.
I became interested in Sushi and at one time had about 100 Japanese words. Wasabi(horse-raddish sounds a lot like Wuz-up? I enjoy Japanese food.
Recently, I took a 5 week course in Farsi which is the language of Iran and its dialect Dari is the language of the northen half of Afghanistan. There are a lot of Arabic loan words in Farsi(about 50 percent so it was a good review for Arabic.
I took a 6 week refresher in Arabic and then I was soon off to Iraq where I added the Iraqi dialect to my language collection. I try to read the headlines from the Iraqi paper everyday but it is sad because they always report on the bombings. In Arabic, I added some greetings to use with Nepalese and Indians(namaste) some Urdu for the Pakastanis( ka hal e: how are you, khodafiz: God protect you)
When I got back from Iraq in 2004, I ran into some Kurds who lived in VA and worked at the courthouse. It was great to exchange greetings in Kurdish and Arabic (Kurdish is very similar to Farsi.
2008 ---- I enjoyed trying to learn some Sanskrit grammar. I know quite a few vocabulary words just by paying attention to popular culture, Dharma and Greg, Yoga, etc. I enjoy listening the Bhagavad Gita chanted in Sanskrit.
2009 --- I am having fun on Facebook. I have friends that speak Afrikaans, Arabic (Arabic, Iraqi Dialect),Chaldean, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German,(Greek,Ancient), Icelandic,
Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish. So daily I see phrases in languages I know to reinforce them and also my friends are helping me start learning Afrikaans and Icelandic!!

Studying the languages has really added to my life. It is amazing the rapport you gain by saying a few phrases in someone's native language.

Here are some of my Best Defense Language Proficiency Test Scores

Language Listening Reading
German 2+/ 3
Spanish 2 /3
Italian 1+ /2
French 1+ /2
Farsi 1 /1
Arabic 0+ /1

General Description of the Test

Explanation of Scores

New Test

Languages for which I have college credits:

Greek (Ancient)
Hebrew (Ancient)
Arabic (Classical)

1 comment:

Gary DeVaney said...

Hey, Sir Kirk Fechter!

Wow! I am certainly impressed with your knowledge of all those languages - and - all we have spoken together was in my only language, English.

I have known you for what - about 16-17 years? We were both Captains way back then. I did know that you were fluent in some - but not all of these languages.

So, how do I beat you at Buzz-time bar-trivia 40% of the time? You seem to always capitalize on my 3 weak categories - food, bar-drinks and music. Maybe your not drinking booze helps. I’m not going to give up my beer just to beat you 10% more!

When you sing Karaoke before the masses and perform your insane Joe Cocker songs - I hide in the corner with horrified embarrassment with all your rolling around the stage - et al - until the audience always goes totally nuts with laughter and deafening applause. You rate right up there with John Belushi. Being a S.A.G. actor since 1977, I can appreciate that - even somewhat envy all that awesome talent. But, as an aerobatic stunt-pilot, I’d have you there. Whazzsay we rent some special, high-performance planes and dog-fight sometime?

I'll bet if they did your brain-scan, the language area of your brain would compare to a Carl Sagan at his peak.

I also perceive that if all that brain power went into your becoming a Medical Doctor, as you originally planned, today, you would be recognized world-wide for your life-saving accomplishments for mankind. You have a good heart and you are a brilliant, multi-talented friend.

Your good buddy, Gary DeVaney