Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Linguaphiles Unite

Oh, it’s wonderful to be a linguaphile. For each new language you learn, you gain a whole new perspective on life, access to an entire culture, including the literature, and insight into a place and a people, among many other benefits.

I would imagine that a number of us linguaphiles long to learn as many languages as we can, even if we can’t or don’t learn them all fluently.

So what languages do you know and what’s on your languages-to-learn list? And why?

As for me, I started out with Latin (okay, technically I started with English, my native language), which I think is a great place to begin because it’s the basis of the Romance languages and has had a big influence on English as well. I moved on to Spanish and then Swedish. Swedish became my first love, linguistically speaking, and it’s still the language I work most with now, as a researcher and a translator. I’ve also worked a bit with Norwegian and Danish. In the past few years, I’ve taken classes or studied on my own Portuguese, Italian, and Finnish. And I’ve got Japanese, Polish, and German textbooks at home that I’ve scarcely touched yet. So I can’t claim to be all that good at most of those languages, though I’ve enjoyed my exposure to them. I often feel that I ought to try to learn some French and I’m fascinated by and drawn to Faroese and Icelandic. But I seem rather stuck in Europe for the most part, so at some point, I’d like to take a class that would move me to another continent in terms of my language skills. Any suggestions?

You might want to check out this list of difficult languages. Do you agree? Are those some of the hardest ones out there?

I’m lucky to be able to work with language and literature. Hurray for linguaphiles!


pennifer said...

My first second language was German thanks to going to a Bavarian elementary school in 2nd and 3rd grades. However, that's been mostly subsumed at this point by Russian, which I majored in in college and have been specializing in ever since. The German comes back but only ever to a basic level, although I understand a lot of conversational stuff. I spoke pretty decent Serbo-Croatian for a few years, working with refugees, but it's fallen mostly by the wayside at this point due to lack of practice.

I would love to re-up and increase my fluency in both German and Serbo-Croatian (I know, that's a loaded term - I learned a mixture of the Serb and Croat variants).

Looking at NEW languages, I need to learn some Spanish to make life easier at my horse's ranch. I want to learn Italian and Czech, just because.

Rachel said...

Hooray for linguaphiles! I love learning languages. You have quite a language collection, yourself.

I speak English natively and Spanish fluently. (I am a Spanish>English translator, which is great fun!) After living in Barcelona in college, I studied Catalan, which I also used a bit in graduate school. I can't say I speak it as well as I would like, though. I also studied Japanese in college, but I have gotten rusty. I loved learning it, though! I decided I wanted to learn it when I was five years old and made friends with a girl from Japan, so it was a long time coming.

I have been studying Farsi for a little while now. It is more for personal reasons, but I am finding it hard simply because there aren't very many structured learning opportunities around here. Thankfully, I found a good course online to get me started and have someone to practice with regularly.

However, my most recent addition is German. I studied German for a year in elementary school, and I never thought I would pick it up again! As it turns out, I may be moving to Germany in the fall; I figure I better get a start on it. I'm not complaining. :) (Plus it's the easiest language I have tried to learn since Catalan!)

Anil Sharma said...

Learning a language is hard, pronounciation even harder.
But translasting is not too hard considering you have a wide array of different translation services online. I think for most people french translation services are needed as some words do not translate directly into the english language.. Another thing is that having the ability to have these translations done are what makes others want to learn the language other than to just translate parts of it.

Anonymous said...

Growing up, my first two languages were English and Urdu. I really want to expand to French and/or Spanish, which I think shouldn't be THAT bad, but still would need some work to build up proficiency. German comes after that :)

Mireille said...

I grew up with French and German, majored in Russian at university and became a Swedish>English translator because we lived in Sweden for 12 years. I would also put Russian in the list of "difficult languages." It's not the Cyrillic alphabet; that's easy enough to learn. It's the SIX cases and the declension of nouns that, imho, make it so difficult. Not to mention the prepositions. Looking back, I can't believe I ever learned the language well enough to use it in my first job after graduating! Next on my list is Italian....

AF said...
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A.Z. Foreman said...

The list is you link to at the end of your post is, well, rather blinkered at best, and an insult to my intelligence at worst. Since I am suffering from someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet-itis, I will expound:

For example, take the little bit about English being a "German derivative." Come the bloody hell on. Is a person who doesn't know the difference between "German" and "Germanic" seriously pontificating about language???

Also, the claim that English "features more interdentals than any other language, including German."

Huh? German doesn't have ANY interdentals!!!! Did they not even Google this? Moreover, English only has two such sounds (the "th" sound of "this" and of "thin"). Many languages have more. Standard Arabic, for example, has three.

Then the bit on Arabic has this to say:

Considering Arabic’s widespread status, moving from classroom studies to real-world applications will mean navigating an especially complex (and likely unfamiliar) series of regional and dialectical differences.

It's true that Arabic has register differences that result in different colloquial dialects in different areas that, under other circumstances, would be considered separate languages. (For example example "That's not what I want to tell you" will be Hada mush illī biddī a'ullak iyyāha in colloquial Palestinian Arabic but Haða laysa l'amra llaði urīdu an aqūlahu laka in standard Literary Arabic.)

But this is not particularly far removed from the situation in, say, the German-speaking world where, for example, Bavarian or Swiss German is no closer to Standard German than Spanish is to Italian. Speaking of Italian the speech variety known as 'Sicilian', thought of by many as an Italian dialect, actually can be shown to form its own separate branch off of Latin. Similar issues of diglossia crop up everywhere- from Finland to the Balkans to Indonesia, and sometimes in ways that are even MORE annoying than Arabic (e.g. nynorsk and bokmål, for one.)

And then the Korean bit: To get around, one must memorize 1000 Hanjas.

WHAT? Modern Korean texts rarely use any Hanja at all, outside Academic publications -and even then only rarely. The only really vibrant use of Hanja anymore is to disambiguate homonymous lexical items (a classic example is 囚徒 'prisoner' and 隧道 'tunnel'. Both pronounced "sudo.") and even that is mainly limited to dictionaries.

Does the author of that post WANT to sound ignorant?

Really, which kind of idiocy is this? I'm playing moron-bingo here and I want to know if I have a winning set.

I'd go on with regard to other ways in which the post makes an art out of being uninformed, but I think you get my point by now.

B.J. Epstein said...

Yes, I do get your point. I don't know if everything I link to is correct -- I'm not that knowledgeable, alas -- but it can be of interest and it can, obviously, spark debate!

Best wishes,