Learning languages for fun

There are many different reasons to learn languages, some practical, some intellectual, and some sentimental. Have you learnt, are you learning, or would you like to learn any languages purely for fun? If so, which languages and why?

I’m learning, or plan to learn, all the Celtic languages mainly for fun. I fell for Irish because of my interest in traditional Irish music. Same story with Scottish Gaelic. In the case of Welsh, I’m also studying it for practical reasons – before securing my current position, one of the jobs I applied for was based in Bangor in the heart of Welsh-speaking Welsh (y Fro Gymraeg) and a knowledge of Welsh was desirable for that job. Welsh is an ancestral language for me as well – my mum’s family are from Wales and spoke Welsh a few generations ago.

Czech is another language I’m learning mainly for fun, and to surprise and impress my Czech friends. I’d also like to visit the Czech Republic at some point, so my studies are partly practical.

Other languages I’d quite like to learn for fun, if I had the time and could find the relevant materials: a Polynesian language such as Hawai’ian or Maori; a Native American language such as Cherokee or Navajo; a ‘click’ language such as Xhosa or Zulu; and maybe Tibetan and Mongolian, mainly because I really like their alphabets. These are all interesting languages unlike any I already know and I’d like to find out more about the people who speak them.

This post was inspired by discussion on the Language Learning Forum at How to learn any language.

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

28 Responses to Learning languages for fun

  1. Polly says:

    As an English speaker, pretty much any language I learn is “for fun” or for cultural enrichment.
    I would like to visit the countries whose languages I’m studying so I can get better and use my language skills, and NOT primarily for sightseeing – although that’s an added benefit.
    I also would like to learn a clicking language, specifically Zulu, and a native American language – Inuit. I have some materials for these, but there are more languages that I’m interested in than there are hours in the day. And to whom would I speak? The furthest outside I’ve ever traveled was to Toronto, Canada. Not exactly a cultural stretch :) Even most native Alaskans that I’m likely to run into probably don’t speak their language. I’ve been there and I never even saw an example of their writing-that invented syllabary.
    Usually, it’s the writing that interests me. When I was a kid, Cyrillic and the Russians seemed so foreign and mysterious that I wanted to learn all about them (still do). Since then, I’ve learned to “read” many writing systems, even if I don’t know what it is I’m saying all the time.
    I finally realized that the only way I’m ever going to experience the full benefit of any language is if I concentrate on one or two (at different stages), instead of switching on impulse. Yes, my grand language learning strategy boils down to impulse control.

  2. Josh says:

    Like Polly, it’s generally the writing that attracts me initially. I’d always thought languages like Georgian and Armenian looked particularly “pretty”, but the sounds of the languages weren’t really all that appealing to me. I’ve mainly been interested in learning celtic languages for fun- Irish and Welsh just have a very magical sound to me; I dont’ really know how to explain it. Unfortunately, here in the US one is usually left to his own devices as far as learning these languages and the resources are scarce at best. The orthography also scares me and lenition is completey confusing (mainly because I can’t see why it’s essential or practical).

    I also have a book on Old Norse that I get lost in; I love it. The inflection of the language is/was insane though- that’s never attractive.

  3. Laci the Hun says:

    oh yes! For example I’m doing Icelandic language courses just for fun during this semester :D pretty hard though
    and I study Esperanto mainly because I’d like to be a teacher of it, but also for fun :)
    and of course being a muslim I have to acquire some arabic, or at least I personally feel that I have to do so.

  4. Geoff says:

    For fun, I’m learning Uzbek. Up next is Arabic. I’m pretty sure I’m learning them for fun because I don’t have any career gain, except for a little kick up in prestige working in a language school. But for Uzbek, it’s very cool being able to watch the videos and know what they’re singing about, if not precisely what they’re singing. For Arabic, it’s just been a long-standing obsession, dating back to the first time I saw a sample page from the Koran. So the writing systems got me too.

  5. Polly says:

    Arabic is on my list purely for the “coolness” of the writing. In 2003, a particular global event was cause for the continual appearance of the Iraqi flag on my TV screen. I felt compelled to find out what that writing on the flag said. Predictably it says, “God is great.” But, instead of asking someone, I went ahead and taught myself to read and write Arabic. Now, I recognize place- and people- names. One day, I hope to learn the language beyond a few phrases.
    I own a tattered old Arabic language Bible. Matthew chapter 1 provided me all the practice I needed. It’s a geneology – a long list of names. Just perfect for practicing reading that new language! No grammar or new vocabulary needed. I’ve used that same reference for other lang’s as well: Korean, Japanese, and Greek, too, all found online.

  6. Ben L. says:

    In high school, the only language offered that appealed to me was Japanese, so I took it out of interest. I have German family and was born in Berlin; also, I was assigned there for three years; so I learned enough German to get by in Germany for personal and practical reasons. After Germany, I was assigned to Korea, so I managed to learned some smattering of that language for practical reasons. Also, it stoked my interest in east Asian languages and led me learn Chinese, which I am currently studying. I was also recently in the middle east for a year and received an introduction to Arabic.

    For no particular reason, I have assigned each language a “character”, or generalized impression of the language. So without appology or claim to accuracy:

    Japanese- controled power (90% front-of-the-mouth musical sounds, 10% raw glottal energy)
    German- heroic (regimented and direct… achtung!)
    Korean- celebratory (90% outburst, 10% respect for elders)
    Arabic- I don’t know as much about; I’m told it’s quite poetic
    Chinese- theatrical (even expressing meaning requires significant modulation)

  7. Evans Knight says:

    for me, language is a powerful connection to my heritage. Being American, I obviously speak English as my mother tongue, but by virtue of being from Louisiana, I am also (or was, until I moved to California) bilingual in French. When I moved to California, I attended a school that did not offer French, so I switched to Spanish, and am now conversationally and literarily fluent in that. The downside is that my French is now reduced to almost entirely responsive: I can understand what is spoken to me, or can read it just fine, but I have to respond in mostly English, because my instantaneous vocab is sadly depleted.

    My Paternal grandmother was born and raised in Minnesota to a trilingual family: German, English and Norwegian. The saddest part of that is that she chose not to teach either of her other mother tongues to my dad or his brothers, so that language tradition will die with her, unless I pick it up. Having spent much of my childhood around her, I can understand bits and pieces of German, but mostly only angry or frustrated, and bits of children’s songs. I anticipate learning German at some point in my life, but I don’t know if Bokmål is in the cards.

    Also, I am very interested in learning Cherokee. I am 1/8 Cherokee, and I know that every other white person in the US is, or so my friend like to point out, but as oriented as I am to heritage, it has become an important part of my life. Although the pure blooded Cherokee on both sides of my family are two of my Great Great Grandmothers, the language survived in both families for a generation, and my maternal grandmother still speaks some that she remembers from her childhood.

    So yeah. I’ve got English and Spanish, am working on regaining French, and have yet to start German and Cherokee, and maybe Bokmål. Oh…and I’m taking Hindi. but that’s just for fun.

  8. Mike says:

    I originally started learning Japanese because I was a fan of television and video games from Japan. I’ve since given up those hobbies, but continue to study the language because I’ve just fallen in love with it. I started German on a whim, and I’ve begun to study Hebrew mainly because I love the writing. Spanish is the only language I’ve ever studied without actually wanting to for fun.

    On my list are Korean, Italian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi, and Mandarin.

  9. parkbench says:

    “Usually, it’s the writing that interests me. When I was a kid, Cyrillic and the Russians seemed so foreign and mysterious that I wanted to learn all about them (still do). Since then, I’ve learned to “read” many writing systems, even if I don’t know what it is I’m saying all the time.”

    Same here. My interest in Russian and Arabic are essentially solely due to this. The cultural aspect actually came second. I don’t like learning conlangs that much, though–I like teaching myself languages that are theoretically applicable but I don’t necessarily have some immediate use for. By learning Arabic, though, I have just opened the door to potentially visit and truly live in another part of the world, which is nothing short of awesome.

    For the future: Swahili, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Korean…among others.

  10. Jared says:

    I agree with Polly that as an English speaker learning other languages is mostly a recreational exercise (or it’s required for some colleges!) because a large number of the world’s inhabitants speak our language anyway, so I’m reasonably sure I’ll be understood partially at least anywhere I’d be likely to travel. I learn languages because they attract me. I’m studying Finnish off and on, and what got me started was reading that J.R.R. Tolkien used it as a basis for Quenya. I was curious about what he saw in it, and eventually the language itself sort of sucked me in. Scottish Gaelic was another that attracted me for reasons I can’t quite explain; certain languages have a kind of euphony that appeals to me, and Celtic languages definitely have that, and so does Ancient Greek, which I dallied with briefly. None of these are any use at all mostly because they’re either growing obsolete, ARE obsolete already, or are spoken in a country where (I think) English is taught.
    I also have a list of languages I would LIKE to learn: Chinese, Italian, Armenian (because I’m one eighth of that nationality), Swedish (ditto), and Old English. Dutch would be fun because it has all those guttural sounds (there’s just something about gutturals!), but it would of no imgainable use at all unless I visit The Netherlands, which I don’t plan on doing. Of course, I probably will never become fluent in any language besides my own, but it’s fun to try.

  11. parkbench says:

    On English ’round the world–I’ve always found it ironic that an Indian coming to America to give a speech must speak in English (tacit social rule), while an American going to India to give a speech doesn’t have to lift a finger (linguistically speaking).

  12. All of my language learning is for fun!
    Here in the U.S. I think students are required to “take” a language in high school, but since I’m homeschooled, I can study all the languages I want!

    I began koine Greek at a very young age, and now I can read and write it fairly well, although I’m still working on those verbs!

    I started Spanish several years ago, mostly for its usefulness here in bilingual Texas. However, I’ve really grown to love the language, and it’s the foreign tongue in which I am most fluent.

    And last year I added yet another to my list: Latin. It wasn’t my idea, but we were starting a new curriculum that included it. So I decided to go with it, and have found it fairly easy from my knowledge of Spanish and Greek. It’s not my favorite, and I don’t think it’s a very beautiful language, but it’s a good one to know.

    As for starting to learn yet another language, there are several that interest me. Esperanto is one I could probably pick up easily, or I could try French or Occitan from my French ancestry. Sometimes though I fell kind of “guilty” that all the languages I’m studying are Indo-European; I’d like to try something new. Cherokee would be interesting, and since I now have a Cherokee New Testament that I bought at the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina recently, that would provide incentive.

    But for now I simply do not have the time to study more than three languages. Perhaps when I can speak Spanish comfortably, I’ll start a new one. But I’m just 16, so Lord willing, I still have plenty of time in my life to add to my repertoire.

    Good luck to all in your language-learning adventures!

  13. I’d say the most unusual language I’ve taken a look at so far–and this one just for an entertaining challenge–was Basque. I did that just because I wanted to see something that had a completely different structure than what I was used to, seeing as every other language I’ve looked at thus far has been Indo-European.

    Spanish I studied for 8 years in school, both high school and college, and I continue to work with it fairly regularly. The school I went to when I started this had Spanish, French, and Latin, and…well, I don’t like the sound of French, and as for Latin, I didn’t think it would help me as much as Spanish could.

    I then moved to a school that offered German. Unfortunately I was only there for two years, and the worse part was that the class was very, very badly behaved. This really killed the quality of the class so sadly I’ve forgotten most of what I learned in terms of vocabulary–though the grammatical structure stuck with me. I want very, very much to learn German again: not only do I have German ancestry, but I also like the sound of it, the way Jared does. For some reason after I got out of that class, I somewhere picked up the ability to pronounce the “ch” correctly, and that made German pronunciation a lot of fun! ;-) (Still struggling with the “ü,” though…)

    Other languages I’ve had some contact with…some Italian just kind of happened two years after I started studying Spanish. The whole family really got into Andrea Bocelli’s music, and the great thing about a few of those albums is that they came with not just the original Italian lyrics but also translations. His singing, too, is so wonderfully clear that you can hear every element of every word, so it’s like having the most pleasant audio course in a language that you could ever imagine. I picked up enough vocabulary from this that when we went on vacation in Italy, I could usually figure out what written stuff was, and I figured out how to order in a restaurant, not from a phrasebook, but from a song that happened to use the polite form in it. My family was dubious about it when I told them where I’d learned it, but it worked on the Italians… ;-)

    Two languages I intend to study for religious purposes are Hebrew and Koine Greek. I feel like there’s not enough scholastic effort on the part of the Christian laity and maybe Islam has the right idea in suggesting that something gets lost in the translation. I don’t think everyone necessarily has to learn the Biblical languages, but I kind of think that if you have the inclination and the ability, it can’t hurt you.

    For awhile, I was totally fascinated with Russian, mainly because of the writing system. I ended up knowing how to read text in Cyrillic, but I’ve never gotten it to the point where it’s useful.

    Another one I do want to learn is Dutch because I have that ancestry–my great grandparents who immigrated to the U.S. could speak it, but sadly, chose not to pass that knowledge down to my grandfather because the mentality at the time was that the native language had to be forgotten. I really want to get this knowledge back someday.

  14. SamD says:

    I found a book on Slovak in my local library, and I’m trying to learn that language or at least get some grounding in it. I live in the middle of the region with the heaviest concentration of Slovak-Americans. I’d also like to learn a few other Slavic languages to prove to myself that I can do it. I had a painfully rough time with Russian as an undergraduate student.

  15. Polly says:

    “I feel like there’s not enough scholastic effort on the part of the Christian laity and maybe Islam has the right idea in suggesting that something gets lost in the translation.”

    I agree completely. In English, I’ve read the New Testament probably dozens of times and the O.T. a few times too. I’ve even read many parts in Armenian and Russian, but, sadly, for some strange reason, Greek and Hebrew have never appealed to me one iota (excuse the pun). This, despite the fact that I really wanted to be interested in them for Biblical study.
    My “taste” in languages just never led me to learn either of those languages. It’s a lousy irony.

  16. Nishiki says:

    From a linguistic point of view all languages are equal, but I suppose from a language learner’s point of view learning some languages are much more enjoyable than other.

    As for me, I learn ancient and classical languages for fun. On of these languages is Middle Egyptian. Few years ago I had finished Mark Collier and Bill Manley’s How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs. This is an excellent introductory book, but I wish to go beyong the basics, so I started to read James P. Allen’s Middle Egyptian, but currently I have worked my way through only the first 9 chapters of the book. I also have Budge’s Egyptian Language (I suppose some egyptologists will give me funny looks now), but never actually use it as a learning tool.

    I wish to learn Tangut too, but too bad there are so few resources available. Its writing system is so beautiful, every character is a work of art.

  17. Patzi says:

    I’m from Germany and I’m fluent in -of course- German and English. At the moment I’m improving my Irish and learning Chinese.
    At University I’ve learned Old and Middle Irish, Middle Welsh and Middle Breton, Old English and Gothic, Sanskrit, Classical Tibetan and Hindi. So I have to improve my Hindi skills. ;)
    At the moment I’m in Cork/Ireland and when I come back to Germany I’ll start to learn Avestian and Mongolian. And I’m thinking of doing a few very intensive summer courses on modern Welsh, Hindi and Breton. uhh… finished.
    Some of the languages I learn for fun, others I need for my studies.

  18. Polly says:

    Many of my fellow Americans insist on pronouncing the German “ch” as “sh.” I would actually get “corrected.”
    e.g.
    “Dude, it’s pronounced ‘Ish’…” as in “iSH möSHte mit dir spreKen”

    That, IMO, takes a lot of the fun out of German. Like Jared said, there’s just something about those gutturals.

  19. HAHAHA, completely! It used to crawl all over me when people turned the “ch” into an “sch” sound in German class! Even when people resort to saying “ik” like in Dutch or Afrikaans it gets on my nerves far less than the dreaded “sh”.

    Well…I do have to admit I used that in my first few months of German when I was having real trouble. Then suddenly the “ch” got really easy for me, and like you guys said, loads of fun. ;-)

  20. Janis says:

    Welsh, for fun. Middle Egyptian, for fun. Languages are like drugs to me. There are few things more addictive, beautiful, and that dovetail better with howmy brain apprehends new data. And you get to talk to people, which is the best part — and learn a new way of thinking.

    Welsh in particular is almost eerily beautiful in all ways. I tend to be one of those oddball people who thinks of everything in terms of colors and flavors and textures; I believe it’s called synaesthesia. And Welsh isone of the most vividly colored and flavored languages I’ve ever encountered. The Romance languages are all multicolored, small, and round. Welsh is uniformly dark red, faceted, and sparkles. It tastes like pomegranates. It is no accident that I love dark red and pomegranates, nor that I find Welsh to be the most tooth-grindingly beautiful language I’ve ever encountered.

    I’m not familiar enough with the other Celtic languages to say, but I suspect I would like them, although they may not be as vivid for me. (Although Breton is a bit like very bitter chocolate, so there is the same sweet/bitter contrast there as with Welsh. The q-types seem wildly different and sort of slate-colored, though.)

  21. Josh says:

    I think that was one of the most beautiful linguistic descriptions I’ve ever heard. Made me kinda hungry.

  22. SamD says:

    Janis’s descriptions are fascinating. I wish Janis would describe English and some other languages.

  23. Polly says:

    WOW! That’s a whole new angle to the phrase, “taste in languages” :-D
    I’d like to hear his experience of English, too.

  24. You’re not the only one with synesthesia, Janis–although mine is quite different in nature. I don’t get any taste with a language, but on occasion I’ll notice some interesting things in the writing systems. The oddest (and most “poetic”) one is that in transliterated Arabic, because of the absence of certain letters and the preponderance of others, in my mind’s eye I see the colors of the desert across the letters as I read–all of the yellows, browns, and oranges that evoke a gorgeous desert sunset.

    Most of the time I don’t notice the color differences between languages so strongly. The one thing about foreign writing systems that’s really strange is, as I said, I have colors that are associated with each letter of the Latin alphabet. Looking at a foreign system I know nothing about is difficult because there are no colors and I see what everyone must see normally for Latin. But to me it looks very indistinct. As I learn more, I do start to get SOME colors for the new letters, but in the case of Cyrillic they are still pale and washed out in comparison to Latin letters. I think this is why I tend to get frustrated easily with new writing systems–they don’t behave as I expect them to for a long time.

  25. I learned Esperanto from a book almost 40 years ago (says something about my age, I know…). Then I never had a chance to talk in Esperanto to anyone until I came to São Paulo from my hometown of Curitiba. My Esperanto studies were driven strictly by the logic of the language. Some 20-25 years ago I decided to walk into the local Esperanto-Asocio and try out my skills. I asked the lady at the desk: “Bonan tagon. Chu vi vendas librojn?”. When she responded something like: “Jes, chi tiaj libroj estas por vendi.”, not even hinting that I had said anything strange, I finally knew that I had really learned the language, and not forgotten anything vital for communication (even though I had mainly read and spoken to myself). I think this corroborates the idea that my decision had been the right one, and that the Esperanto logic does make learning and retention easy.

  26. Jenn R says:

    There are many different reasons to learn languages, some practical, some intellectual, and some sentimental. Have you learnt, are you learning, or would you like to learn any languages purely for fun? If so, which languages and why?

    My language learning process initially started off as a secondary school requirement for the univeristy bound. Then I started researching equestrian martial exercise & sport through the centuries. Then it became a necessity and an intellectual exercise to translate documents that still do not exist in English.

    Currently I’m working with:
    Medieval French (Northern dialects clumped under Langue d’oil)
    A form of Medieval Portuguese
    3 Medieval Italian dialects

    I’ve found it to be fun and engaging. I may not be able to speak it, but I’ve come quite a distance in being able to translate it.

    Here’s a bit of the Portuguese document from the 1430s I’m looking at:

    “deve trabalhar por se conhecer, e no bem, que naturalmente recebeo, se manteer e acrecentar, e nos falimentos emmendar e correger”

  27. Joseph Quintanilla says:

    I grew up only speaking spanish (my native language) and don’t remember speaking english until maybe 5. From a youn age, I had always told my father that i wanted to be trilingual. For the most part of my life i was bilingual, until 5th grade when our teaching assistant taught us some french. From that point on I fell in love with languages, so I tool french in the 7th grade and learned it up until 11th grade. Between those times, I learned about writing systems, and learned the basics of russian, armenian, german, and korean writing. In college, I have begun to learn Japanese and Chinese. There are still many languages I wish to learn, but there is always the time constraint to take into account. Regardless, i just like the fact that I am learning to comprehend what previously just sounded like jibberish. Ive learned language primarily because it allows me to communicate with more people, and to challenge me to remember thousands of additional vocabulary.