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"Paionian—which was spoken in Illyria (or possibly Thrace) some 2,2000 years ago—is one of many languages that have survived only as fragments." (Illustration by Eric Palma)

Fluent in 60 Seconds

Learning a new language is a breeze—as long as it's Paionian

By the time you finish reading this paragraph you will be totally fluent in a foreign language. First, memorize this word: monapos, which means a bull. Next, remember this one: tilon, the name of a fish that once lived in Lake Prasias, Macedonia. Lastly: paprax, another fish that used to reside in the same lake. Congratulations, you now know every word of Paionian! Well, almost every word. There are a few surviving Paionian proper nouns—the names of specific people and places. But the people are long gone, and the places don’t show up on any modern road maps.

Paionian—which was spoken in Illyria (or possibly Thrace) some 2,200 years ago—is one of many languages that have survived only as fragments. Other examples include Sicel (spoken by an indigenous tribe at least 2,800 years ago in ancient Sicily) and Raetic (spoken by inhabitants of the Eastern Alps at least 2,400 years ago). We know about them mostly because some ancient Roman or Greek author scribbled down a few scraps of vocabulary—or because some words were found on archaeological trinkets, such as coins, shovels and wine tankards. Linguists sometimes refer to these dialects as “ruinous languages,” a term that suggests you’ll invoke an ancient curse if you speak them. Trust me, you won’t.

After years trying to learn a foreign language, I realized that my mistake was simply in choosing the wrong ones. In today’s global economy, companies value multilingual individuals. Americans, in particular, are considered exceptional if they know another language.

So, how is Paionian going to help you? 

Step 1:  Get out your laptop. Step 2: Pull up your résumé. Step 3: Add the following phrase: “Fluent in Paionian.” This should take your career to a new level. And try to find a way to mention Paionian during your next job interview.

Question: “So, what would be your greatest strength if you were chosen for this job?”

You: “I believe the perseverance and mental discipline I gained from learning Paionian have given me the skills to meet any challenges this position may present.”

Question: “Are you willing to travel abroad?”

You: “Absolutely. I feel quite comfortable in foreign cultures. That’s what first prompted me to study Paionian.”

The beauty of this approach is that most interviewers will not want to risk appearing ignorant by asking what Paionian is. However, if they do bring up the subject, you don’t have to lie. Simply say—in your most nonchalant voice—that Paionian is a Mediterranean language, spoken for centuries. Just hope the person interviewing you has not read this column. Then they’ll know that you’re full of monapos.

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