Learning lesser-studied languages

If you want to learn a language that not many people study, it can be difficult to find language courses and other materials. Moreover, courses for regional languages and dialects are often only available in the dominant language of the country in which they are spoken. For example, resources for learning Italian dialects are mostly in Italian, and courses for the regional languages of France, such as Breton, Occitan and Alsatian, are mainly in French.

Recently I’ve had some questions about where to find materials for learning Luxembourgish, and also about Shanghainese, Hakka and a number of other languages of China. I found quite a good collection of links to Luxembourgish materials, and some reviews of Shanghainese courses on Sinosplice. Can anybody suggest other resources for learning these languages?

Are you studying any regional or lesser-studied languages? How do speakers of these languages react when you talk to them in their own language?

23 thoughts on “Learning lesser-studied languages

  1. Hmm…I dunno if Tagalog counts,,, but if it does, people are quite amazed that an European has delved in this not so popular (although, could be said, language with lots of speakers). I think if you talk to people in their language, especially when it’s minor or not so popular, they’ll get extremely happy, even though you make mistakes 😛

  2. I’m interested in Finnish, and I’ve found a surprising amount of information and online lessons and stuff (including one on LiveJournal!). It seems that more people than I thought are interested in it…

  3. I am surrounded by Tagalog speakers, so it’s not much of a surprise to my co-workers although they are happy to hear me speak what little I know and teach me new words and phrases.

    I wish I had the time, I’d study Finnish. It’s a really great sounding language. I have a book and CD’s in my personal language reference collection.

    Armenian is an extremely uncommon language spoken by very few people (on a global scale). That’s easy to forget if you’re traveling through or around Glendale, CA, though.

    The most unusual language I’ve picked up a few words in, is Navajo. I’d never even met a native American (that I know of) before. I’m enjoying learning whatever I can of this tonal language.

  4. Yiddish!! people are suprised that a 16 year old would want to learn the language, but besides that they tend to be very welcoming- my teacher is a native speaker from Lite (Lithuania/Belarus).

  5. I get quite a reaction from Faroese speakers when I talk to them online. More than once I’ve gotten, “Ert tú sikkur tú ikki ert føroyingur? (Are you sure you aren’t Faroese?)” They can’t imagine why anyone would want to learn their language. I would absolutely love to, but finding materials isn’t easy. I’ve spent a lot of money on cumbersome books and progress is a little slower than I’d like. I’ve applied twice now for a program to go to the Faroes for a summer language course, but it’s been cancelled due to lack of demand once already.

  6. I’m actually teaching a classmate of mine Afrikaans….it’s difficult to find materials because its not really studied outside of S. Africa, and shipping books from back home is difficult and expensive…..but he’s learning!

  7. I studied Quechua for a while, I didn’t get far but I hope to continue in the future. I also want to learn Thai which, despite it’s pretty large amount of speakers, isn’t a very popular language to learn.

  8. I’m in a field methods course at my university and we’re looking at Javanese. Of course our goal is documentation and analysis rather than mastery, but as one who loves to learn languages I’m obviously picking up a lot too. I haven’t had the opportunity to use the language out side the classroom, but when we (the people in the class) construct sentences, he (the informer) always finds it amusing.
    Here in Montreal, there’s a superb language book store where you can find books and materials in literally hundreds of languages. It’s quite impressive. Also the Bibliothèque nationale here and even many of the city libraries have quite a number of books on more “exotic” languages, namely of France and North America, but also many from the areas colonized by the French (Africa, S-E Asia and the Pacific)

  9. I’m interested in several lesser studied languages. Interestingly enough, although Icelandic has maybe no more than 300,000 native speakers, less than the total number of people in my own city, the language is extremely popular at a level greatly disproportionate to its size. Resources for it seem to be adequate, not great, but certainly a lot better than other languages only spoken by less than a half million people.

    Some I’d really like to tap into eventually are Irish Gaelic, Afrikaans, Catalan, Indonesian (here, Indonesian is the total opposite from Icelandic, it’s a language spoken in the hundreds of millions yet is rarely studied, at least in the United States) and probably several more that I won’t bore you all with listing!

    I’m curious, has anyone ever tried to learn Romansch? I’m not interested in it myself, but that seems to be one language that might be extremely difficult to study due to its small number of speakers and lack of learning resources.

  10. @Joe: Googling “learn Romansch”, it appears, at least at first glance, that there are quite a few resources for learning it.

  11. I wanted to try my hand at studying Lezgian for a while because of the numerous references to the language I’m come accross in my Linguistics classes… but as most of the materials are in Russian and the phonetic inventory is gigantic I got scared away…

    I would like to learn Quechua as well, ISPKN! I wonder if there are many resources not in Spanish out there…

  12. I’m trying to learn Saami, but the only course I know of is Gulahalan (which is in Swedish), so I translate the dialogues word-by-word with a Swedish-English dictionary (thank God for the [relative] simplicity of Swedish grammar!). I keep a notebook with a Saami-Swedish-English vocab list. It’s time consuming, but it works.

  13. Cory – I’m the author of the Lezgi (or Lezgian, but the Lezgis prefer the former name) page Simon gave a link to. It’s very cursory and hardly ever updated, but if you’re interested, I can provide some additional info. My mail is lezgi at op dot pl

    Lezgis are really amused (and sort of shocked – they look at you as if you had two heads or something 🙂 if you speak Lezgi to them, which quite compensates for the lack of study aids and huge phonemic inventory.

  14. I am learning Estonian as I have an Estonian girlfriend. I love learning the language and practising it. At the moment I am on holidays in Estonia and it always makes people smile when I try and use what little bit I have. Even when I make loads of mistakes people are happy I have taken the efoort to learn the language and not just expect them like other travellers do to speak to me in Finnish, English, German or Russian, or some other language.

  15. While not a little known language, I still get surprised looks when I speak Turkish to Turks.

    Jason, I have also gotten interested in Faroese — and will be traveling to the Faroes this summer (although not for the summer language program, alas.)

    As for Icelandic, there’s a great on-line course administered by the University of Iceland that is free and quite sophisticated: icelandic.hi.is/

  16. Does anyone know where one can find resources for learning Occitan. I am very Interested in this “regional language” of France and I think it would be a good addition to my advancing French studies.

  17. Hi, was wondering if anybody knew of any Occitan summer courses running in 2008? Teaching in French would be fine.

  18. Thanks for the reply, they’re very useful. However I was wondering if you knew of any courses lasting a month, maybe taught at a university or college?
    Thanks again

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