On the cocktail circuit, when I tell people I own a translation agency, 1-800-Translate, the next question is “How many languages do you speak?”
Now Charles Berlitz, also a famous translation company owner, used to say that he spoke “36 languages with varying degrees of fluency.”
What does that mean? “Varying degrees of fluency” gives you a lot of flexibility. I mean I can fluently order a beer in Arabic. Does that mean I’m an Arabic speaker? I suppose it does so long as I don’t run into someone who really does speak Arabic.
So you got to be careful. In Don Dellilo’s novel Names, a bunch of Brit feckless expats run into a bizarre language cult responsible for a series of ritual murders in Greece. Instead of saying “How do you do?” the cult members start their introductions with “How many languages do you speak?” And if you ever run into this crowd, you better be able to tell them you speak a lot of languages, if you don’t want to end up in some Grecian ditch.
So now I’ve got the perfect answer for even the language cultists. “I speak with native fluency in 150+ plus languages, and you can too, with only a few minutes study! Use our telephone interpreters at 1-800-Translate. That number again, 1-800-872-6752.”
Is that a good elevator pitch, or what? Guess it depends on how many cocktails.