The lure of the unknown

Learning a language related to your mother tongue is generally less difficult than learning one that’s distantly related or completely unrelated. However, getting to grips with a language that’s very different to the ones you already know can be very interesting and exciting. Such languages can seem strange and exotic, and other people may be suprised, amazed and/or find it hard to believe that you’re studying them. Once you become more familiar with a language, the strangeness tends to diminish. Perhaps that’s when it’s time to have a go at a different, even stranger language.

What’s the most unusual language you’ve studied?

Addition: by ‘most unusual language’ I mean the language that’s most different from the ones you’re familiar with. For me it’s Chinese and Japanese – everything about them is different: the grammar, the pronunciation and especially the writing systems. This is one reason why I chose to study them at university rather than French or German, which don’t seem very exotic to me.

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

26 Responses to The lure of the unknown

  1. Weili says:

    Being a native-Chinese speaker, English would be the most “unusual” language I’ve ever studied ;)

  2. Frost says:

    I learned Korean as part of a job I had, and it’s by far the most different from English. I studied a little Finnish and glanced at Turkish, and they didn’t seem too hard due to being in the same family of languages.

    Right now my current interests are Faroese and Icelandic, although they’re not as distant.

  3. TJ says:

    1. Arabic
    2. Irish

    these are the languages that mostly amazed me!!

  4. Bill Walsh says:

    I’ve goofed around with a lot of stuff. Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish are charmingly alien. Arabic is tough and odd. Probably for sheer bizarrity, though, I gotta go with various North American Indian languages. I’ve done Navajo to some basic extent, and my brother-in-law has tried to give me some tips on Ojibwe (a/k/a Chippewa). Bi-zarre stuff.

  5. AR says:

    I like bizarre, unusual, or unheard-of languages. I started learning esperanto, but people kept telling me it was a waste of time and useless. It seems to me that people who aren’t interested in languages have no interest in learning languages that are not “simple”, “useful”, “widely-spoken”, “necessary”, or “ancestral”.

  6. I’ve always thought it would be neat to learn a unique language such as that. The languages I’m learning (Spanish, Latin, and Greek) are all Indo-European, and although Greek is different, I would not call it unusual. I may be learning three languages, but they’re all related! Sometime I’d like to branch out and try something exotic.

  7. Declan says:

    Well Irish I’ve been speaking since I was about four. French and German at school, but they are all very similar. The most exotic would be Ido, Soresol or Esperanto because they are not natural.

  8. gee says:

    Toki pona (http://www.tokipona.org/) is easily the strangest language I encountered.

    Thanks to the fact that it has about 120 words it is very easy to learn but in my experience it is as easy to unlearn it. It took me two weeks to learn and about the same amount of time to forget everything^^.

  9. Adam says:

    The most unusual language I ever studied was ancient Egyptian. I was lured to it because of the beautiful writing, plus I wanted to see how similar it was to Hebrew, a language I already know. It turned out not to be as similar as I expected, except for the consonant-based vocabulary and a few cognates.

  10. I’ve just barely started to scratch the surface on Hebrew, which is the furthest from English that I’ve ever tried to study.

  11. The most unusual language I studied are Russian (good level) and Chinese (very, bery basic), which I’d love to pick up again. Oh, does Dutch count as well? ;-)

  12. Sean Flanagan says:

    Without a doubt, Georgian is the most exotic language I have studied, both from the point of view of grammar (complex and bizarre even compared to Hungarian and Arabic…two other languages in my repetoire) and sound system (no real human being could ever have been meant to pronounce those “harmonic clusters” of ejective stops). It’s fantastic…a free reading grammar with exercises can be found on http://www.seelrc.org

  13. Sam says:

    It all depends on how you define “unusual.”

    If non-Indo-European languages are more unusual, then it would be Hebrew or Japanese. More people in my country (the United States) seem to be studying Japanese than Hebrew, so maybe Hebrew is therefore more unusual. I’m not Jewish, and my sense is that a good number of Hebrew students in this country are Jewish.

    I’ve studied Esperanto, and it’s more or less Indo-European, but has few speakers.

    My sister is a Tibetan Buddhist and has suggested that I try Tibetan. I’m certainly willing to give it a look, and it would probably be my most unusual language.

  14. Laura says:

    I’ve studied French, English and German at school and being Italian this comes to 4 languages spoken. I decided at that point that it would have been more of a challenge to study something totally different, therefore I moved onto Russian and I’m now looking into more Slavonic languages. Interesting enough to learn a bit of the old Slavonic languages.

  15. Sam–That raises an interesting question: I don’t get why more Christians don’t try to learn something of Hebrew and Greek in order to know the original language of the Scriptures. When I hear some of the debates people get into over translations (ever heard what some people say about the King James version??), there are times I start to think seriously that Islam was on to something when they suggested scriptural translation was a problem. While I wouldn’t take it quite as far, I don’t understand why more Christians don’t go through more extensive language training the way many Jewish and Muslim people do.

    That could be a whole debate question: when does translation cause more problems than it solves??

  16. Zachary R. says:

    The most unusual language I’ve studied would be Japanese, not because it’s really different from English, but because I don’t think I’ll ever grasp onto the idea of different word/verb tenses related to hierarchy/politeness.

    I’ll have to agree with Minstrel, the scriptures are quite modified except they say the catholic Bible is the least edited of all other christian faiths. But then again, I don’t think it’s about the differences in the stories, it’s the message that really counts. And why shouldn’t every person in the world not have the right to understand each other in their own language?

  17. Zachary–I don’t disagree that one should have a right to scripture in one’s own language. That’s where I feel Islam goes too far. But I think more encouragement and access to Biblical language classes for those so inclined would be SUPERB. :-)

  18. Sam says:

    Minstrel–I agree that encouragement and access are a big issue for many Christians. It’s a matter of time and money, and many Christians seem willing to go along with whatever their pastor or evangelist says about the original language texts. I find that many people lack a certain curiosity about many things, and languages are perhaps the most glaring example.

    I had a few weeks of Hebrew as an undergraduate student, and I found that the King James Version (KJV) of the Old Testament was closer to the Hebrew texts than any of the contemporary translations we compared it to. At the same time, the KJV is perhaps the most misunderstood translation for many contemporary Americans.

    When does translation cause more problems than it solves? There’s probably no easy and brief answer, but some languages frame ideas so differently from the way English does that there’s bound to be considerable difference in meaning.

    Many languages don’t have a word that conveys all of the ideas and feelings that go along with our word “home.” The German word “gemutlich” doesn’t exactly mean “cozy.” Those differences don’t seem so bad, but when you get into legal and religious/spiritual concepts, the differences become more significant.

  19. Benjamin says:

    For me the most unusual language is Chinese, which I’ve learned for some weeks already and which I’m going to study at university. While German is a giant bunch of irregular grammar, Chinese nearly has none. The words are completely different and the word order is absolutely fixed, again unlike German, where you can easily switch words (though some combinations will sound really awful).

    I hope one day I can learn Quechua, which will probably be as strange an unusual as Chinese. Perhaps even more, since fewer people learn it.

    @gee
    pona! sina kama sona e toki pona! tenpo pini la mi kama sona kin e toki pona.
    What you said is true though: You can learn it really fast (two/three days for me) but again you’ll forget it just as fast, if you don’t use it anymore. And how do you use a language that has three fluent speakers, (that live nearly on the other side of the globe) and maybe some hundred fans? Quite difficult, as I soon learned. Besides that, toki pona is just impractical for everyday life conversations. You’re actually able to express many, many things, which is astonishing seeing that it only has 120 words, but some words are just missing. How do you express velocity or weight if you don’t have a single word that comes near to these? Additionally the numbers are a complete mess; of course it is wanted to avoid big numbers from being expressable, but it makes the language unusable for any conversation. And you’d only need six words to be able to express numbers up to several millions. With “wan” and “tu” you can merely count to ten, until you want to stop it… That’s really sad, since I really enjoyed learning toki pona.

  20. Este site é muito bom,tem vários alfabétos,de todas as linguas quase.Eu gosto muito de idiomas,ainda mais agora com este site,posso aprender vários alfabetos.Deus é maior…………………..

  21. Benjamin says:

    Sadly I only know a bit Spanish and no Portugese/Brazilian, so I didn’t understand.
    I recognize some of the words but not enough.

    In German there’s a nice phrase, that I had to think of immediately after seeing the previous post:
    Das kommt mir Spanisch vor! -> That’s Greek to me. And literally: That’s Spanish to me! ^_^

  22. Ryan says:

    Currently studying Korean – seems like everything that could be different from English, is!

  23. Paolo says:

    I think our Brazilian friend said (don’t speak Portuguese but I know Spanish and resided in Argentina for several years)

    This site is really good, there are various alphabets of almost all languages. I like languages a lot, and even more with this website. I can learn various alphabets. God is great…

    Well, I’m just trying to study Italian but barely and also Japanese… Sad thing is that I work at night so it is hard to study after work… but I do enjoy listening to other languages…

    More power to this website! :)

  24. Heming says:

    Vere mi dirus ke Esperanto estas la plej stranga lingvo kiun mi lernis – ne pro la lingvo mem, sed pro la cirkonstancoj de gxi. Ne estas multe da funkciantaj planlingvoj!

    As regards Toki Pona, I recommend every fan to go to Sarajevo next week and meet it’s creator Sonja Kisa at TEJO’s 62nd international youth festival IJK. According to the programme she’ll be teaching ASL (American Sign Language)…

  25. Janae says:

    I hope to learn Japanese. If anyone can tutor free of cost over the internet or knows of a good helpful website, I would be more than greatful to accept. Email: bugandnay@aol.com.

  26. Todd says:

    I would say the strangest language by far is Euskera.