How many languages can you speak? Which languages can you read or understand?
I can definitely speak and read English, yay! And my knowledge of Australian and British slang is pretty good too so I'm all up in the know about English.
Chinese is where we get a little iffy. I'm pretty good conversationally with Cantonese. My Mandarin is TERRIBLE and my Shanghainese dialect is way better than my Mandarin. But really, all that's saying is that I can do a pretty good deep South accent–as in, totally useless (deep South accent is to newscaster English as Shanghaineses dialect is to Mandarin, the offical dialect of China).
What happens in my brain when I try to speak Mandarin is that I think of it in Cantonese and then I try to see if I can change the "accent" so that I will be Mandarin. This sounds plausible, right? Well really, it isn't because Cantonese is pretty close to being a totally and completely different language. The Western equivalent would be me trying to think of something in English and then trying to say the same thing in colloquial Cockney slang. Kind of works, but not really and you end up sounding like an asshole.
In high school and college I took Latin and Ancient Greek as my languages. I mean, one of my majors was Classics. Yeah. Turn that loser/nerd/geek arrow right over here, buddy. You're reading the blog of someone who thought it was totally legitimate to name her cat AENEAS. LIKE THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT NAME. Again, the equivalent is someone naming their cat Uranus. The normal sector of my brain failed me on that one. I can translate Ancient Greek and Latin pretty well, but I cannot speak it and I definitely cannot "read" it, although during my last years in college I was really close to being able to just read it–which was actually pretty awesome, honestly.
Learning Latin has given me the ability to understand French pretty well. I've had a lot of exposure to French through various means (such as learning simple French in middle school, having a high school friend/college roommate who is fluent in French, visiting France a couple of times, and working with two French post-docs in the lab) and I know a bit of vocabulary and I can understand bits and pieces of what people are trying to ask/say. It's very rudimentary, but I can almost get by in France as a tourist, which is nice (aka, I would like 10 baguettes, please give me that Nutella crepe, no I don't want to date you, you creepy, creepy guy).
When I was young I went to what almost every ABC in this country goes to and that, my friends, was Chinese Language School. Here was where you did the homework in the car on the way to school and then zoned out for a few hours while the teacher spoke to you in a dialect you didn't understand (Mandarin) and wrote sentences on the board in Chinese characters (that you didn't know). Repeat this for every Sunday from 2nd grade to 7th grade. Of course, looking back on it I wish I was able to spend more time to learn more characters and to learn more Mandarin, but at that age you just want to play on Sunday, you don't want to go to more school that also happens to be just as if not more challenging than your regular school. I can read probably about 5-10% of the characters in a Chinese newspaper. Not nearly enough to get the meaning of sentences. Hopefully this will be remedied during some mid-life crisis when I throw myself into the studies of my long lost tongue.