Which language to study?

If you’re trying to choose which language to learn, the following question, which is based on one I came across yesterday, might help you to decide:

If you were offered a free trip to one of the countries where the languages you’re considering are spoken, which country would you choose?

For me, choosing which language(s) to learn is a frequent conundrum, though often the choice is between learning a new language, or brushing up and improving my knowledge of
languages I already know. Often I end up trying to do both.

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

17 Responses to Which language to study?

  1. Josh says:

    For me it’s a little twisted- I generally don’t have a huge desire to visit most of the countries whose languages I find interesting, or I won’t be interested in the language of a place I want to visit. An example of which would be any of the Chinese languages- I’ve always wanted to visit parts of China, but I’m not that interested in the languages spoken in the country. The same with Nepal and Thailand- I’ve dreamed of visiting these countries, but have little or no desire to learn the languages. I’ve wanted to learn Romanian, but don’t really want to go there. I have interest in slavic languages, but I don’t think I want to go to ANY of those. The only countries where the language and my desire to visit that particular place are on the same level are India and Kenya. I’m sure there are others, but I can’t think of any right now.

  2. Polly says:

    I’m the same way as Josh. I love Russian, but I’ve never had much of a desire to go there – seems kinda’ bleak. On the other hand I have little interest in French or, of course, English. But, I’ve always wanted to go to England and France. Not Ireland, not Scotland, not even Wales…just England.

    The question posed wouldn’t help me decide at all. Overall, I’m not interested in travelling that much and have never been to any other countries except Canada and Mexico. My draw to a language is independent of wanting to visit its geographic origin. In fact, my desire to learn languages seems to have no rational basis whatsoever! AND I DON’T CARE. 🙂

    If I do go to another country, I definitely don’t want to go as a tourist. I would like to know what other culture’s are like, to live as one of the people. But, most travel just seems to devolve into American-style shopping and dining. I can get that here without the currency conversion hassles.

  3. jdotjdot89 says:

    I find that as much as it may interest me to learn a new language, I can only really get myself to do it if I know there’s somewhere I can visit where I can use it–that is, be forced to use it to communicate. I don’t have as much interest in just learning a language, like Akkadian or Latin, if I can be relatively sure the only person I’ll find in the vicinity who would understand me is… me. However, the number of speakers isn’t a factor–I’d just as quickly learn Pidgin as German.

    Actually, to tell you the truth, I have no great love for German. There are some things I like about it–and I think the rest is absolutely useless. Call me uncultured, but there is ABSOLUTELY no excuse for words like “Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen” or sentences like:

    “In the daybeforeyesterdayshortlyaftereleveno’clock Night, the inthistownstandingtavern called `The Wagoner’ was downburnt. When the fire to the onthedownburninghouseresting Stork’s Nest reached, flew the parent Storks away. But when the bytheraging, firesurrounded Nest itself caught Fire, straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-stork into the Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread.”

    (translated literally to English for non-German-speakers)

    I anxiously await people to tell me how great German is.

  4. Benjamin says:

    Hmm, strange text that you’ve put together here… did you just leave out some spaces randomly? Because I can’t find any German word for any of those extra long words… and as for the twisted word order: You don’t really expect every language to have the same word order as in English, do you? Word to word translations ALWAYS look and sound odd…

    By the way:
    English to German translations work better, due to the simple facts that English word order isn’t as flexible as in German and that the standard word order of both languages is nearly the same.

    Anyway, you’re free to dislike German for its grammar or whatever. However, as a German I like German. ;P
    Other people surely will like German BECAUSE of those long combined words, which you think are inexcusable. The same applies to French: Some like it for its nasals and its pronunciation (trying to pronounce all words of a sentence as one word: ils sont ~> ilson). For me that is no reason at all to like French or rather a reason to dislike it. You’ll find those examples for every language.

  5. The question of which language to study is a conundrum to me. My heart says Brazilian Portuguese, but my mind says Mandarin Chinese.

    I love the sound of Brazilian Portuguese, and the idea of going to Brazil totally rocks. There’s also a ton of transferability between Spanish and Portuguese, so I’m like halfway there.

    But learning Mandarin is a total coup career-wise. I mean, you just can’t beat it professionally. But the idea of mastering the written language puts a knot in my gut. I have books on it, and I wonder how I will learn it.

    I suppose reading the above makes the answer very obvious, but I’m still confused! I suppose if I pick one and run with it for a couple of years, it doesn’t mean I can’t pick up the other. Or do both at the same time….

  6. LOL, Benjamin, that’s exactly why I have no desire to learn French!

    And Jdot, you got that sentence from Mark Twain’s “The Awful German Language,” didn’t you? Where’s the credit?

    As for me, I get torn as to what languages I want to learn because in a perfect world, there are SO many countries I would want to visit. Unfortunately every time I start to take seriously the idea of visiting another country (except for Canada and perhaps England), I just can’t find it in me to REALLY want to go anymore. It’s a shame, as I used to love travel to other countries, but now thinking of it just makes me think of everything that could go wrong, all the way from terrorism to just plain being made to feel unwelcome.

  7. ISPKN says:

    When it comes to learning languages, I learn those that interest me (French, Arabic, Quechua, and at the moment Mandarin Chinese) and through the process of trying ot learn it, I fall in love with the country and its culture. None of the languages I try to learn start with me already wanting to go there (though I’d be happy to visit any country).

  8. Benjamin says:

    Hahaha, if you read Mark Twain and believe/accept everything he said, well, then you just HAVE to dislike German.
    However, what I read here (http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html) is mostly absolutely wrong or misleading.

    Additionally Twain is talking about the German language of 1880. Believe me, quite something has happened since then…

    “I was informed, later, by a higher authority, that there was an “exception” which permits one to say “wegen den Regen” in certain peculiar and complex circumstances, but that this exception is not extended to anything but rain.”
    (4. paragraph)

    Now this is so stupid… “wegen den Regen”? “wegen” always needs a genitive so it’s either “wegen des Regens” (singular) or “wegen der Regen” (plural), though the latter would rather be “wegen der Regenfälle”, because it just sounds odd to say “Regen” meaning many rainfalls.

    Alltogether I’d say, you’d better NOT read to much Mark Twain to receive information about German language. Most parts of it are just not true or exaggerated. I suppose the whole work isn’t even an objective view on German, but a more or less strange to nasty irony. The description of his own hard way to learn German exaggerated a lot, so more people find it interesting and read/buy his book.

  9. SamD says:

    I think that visiting a country is only one of my possible motivations for learning a language. I’m considering Portuguese, and I’d love to visit Brazil. I’d visit Portugal, too.

    I would like to eventually get Russian under my belt to prove to myself that I could do it after doing a spectacularly bad job of it in college. I’ve been to Russia, but I’m more curious to visit places where I’ve never been before.

    Japan seems really distant and exotic, but learning to speak Japanese reasonably well seems like a heavy commitment.

    I can understand using the travel idea as a way to decide which language to learn, but it isn’t always the way to go for me.

  10. For those who want to travel to Brasil because they love our variety of Portuguese: do come over!
    Sejam bem-vindos!

  11. I have been to some countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, but never as yet to Portugal. I would very much like to travel there – but they tell me the subtitled version isn’t available yet… 😉

  12. Janis says:

    That’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse for me … I fell in love with the abstract structure of Welsh, then the sound, then the writing system, then the country, people, history, and culture.

    It was almost out of my hands. I started sipping the language, and it tasted so good that I had to glut myself on it. 🙂

  13. Benjamin says:

    I just noticed that I haven’t even answered the topics question yet, although I’ve posted twice already. 😀

    I would really like to travel to some of those ancient Incan places like Machu Picchu… which leads me to the learning of Quechua (not necessarily) and Spanish (very helpful). I’ve already had two evening courses for Spanish, but already forgot most of it over the last few months. Moreover I’d be more interested in Quechua… but you just have to know Spanish to learn that, since even first language speakers of Quechua use lots of Spanish (loan) words. Additionally you find most literature on that language in Spanish, so that’s another plus for Spanish.
    Maybe when I’ve learned more Chinese and have gotten into it, I’ll start to learn some Spanish again and maybe someday I can start to learn Quechua and then go there and impress some of those “indigenos”. 😉

  14. Geoff says:

    French is my first second language, and I do love France. And I might be interested in visiting Italy one day. But as a rule, when I’m looking for a new language, I’m looking for something different and exotic. Whereas when I’m picking a travel destination, the last thing I want to find in the travel guide is advice about how much toilet paper to pack if I’m picky about that sort of thing. With my budget and schedule, most of my travel is imaginary, and it might just be better that way.

    If you are the kind of person who likes to travel and who will try anything once, this question offers a great way to get motivated about your studies. But if you study language for language’s sake, maybe not.

    And I’m not sure where people who learn Elvish and meet in conversation groups fit in this thing – do they put the Latinists to shame for obscurity in language choice or are they on the cutting edge in selecting a language whose culture and society interest them?

  15. Kelly says:

    I’m constantly changing my mind over which languages I want to learn, much to my Dutch partner’s annoyance! Having recently moved to the Netherlands, I really should be focussing my effort on mastering Dutch but, truth be told, I have little interest in the language and never considered it as a language I would want to learn….until I met my partner, that is. :p

    If I was given the time and money to go to a country and learn a language there, I would be torn between Japan, Georgia and Romania.

    I learnt some basic Japanese in preparation for a trip there last summer and I wish I could have the chance to really improve my fluency in the language. The main reason I stopped working on my Japanese was the fact that it’s hard to find any time or situations where I could use Japanese in my everyday life. I plan to work on my Japanese again in future as I loved Japan and hope to visit again someday but it’s hard to keep motivated when you have few opportunities to use it on a regular basis.

    Georgian is my ‘flavour of the month’ (as my partner puts it) and have been dabbling with some basic Georgian over the past few weeks. It’s so different to any of the other languages I’ve studied and I can’t resist the beauty of its alphabet. Pronunciation and verb conjugation is a nightmare but I just find the language and region intriguing. If I ever have the chance, I would love to attend Georgian classes in Georgia.

    As for Romanian, I have to say that I first became interested in Romanian when the boy band O-Zone were topping the music charts across Europe. Romanian sounds like a quirky cross between the Romance languages and the Slavic ones and I’m quite taken by the fact it’s retained so much of the original Latin structure and vocabulary. With Romania joining the EU in the very near future, I wonder if Romanian classes will become a lot more widespread. I certainly would love to visit Romania and put my limited skills to good use. 🙂

  16. Trevor C says:

    I change my mind very frequently, it’s hard to figure out which language to study, when so many are interesting, but you don’t have the time, energy, or true desire to study them all. I learned Mandarin in Taiwan when I was a high school exchange student there, but enjoyed learning the declining Hakka dialect a lot more than Mandarin – but a lot of the people I met thougth Hakka sounded harsh and inelegant.
    I’m much more interested in small languages, like Chukchi, Ainu, Inuktitut, Haida, etc. I’d love to learn a Native American language but I would probably only learn one if I met someone who spoke one and became close friends with that person.
    Right now I’m studying Spanish and Turkish, and I’m loving Turkish a lot but I don’t know if I’ll continue with it, just because I don’t know how it fits into my overall academic plans (I’m in college right now).
    So it’s a difficult situation. I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese, and have studied it for a few years, but then living in an East Asian school system for a year frightened me off of Japanese – I thought I didn’t want to go to Japan, Taiwan was enough for me – but now I don’t know, Japanese is just such an interesting language…

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