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wushijiao

Some Thoughts on Polyglottery

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wushijiao

As with many people on this board, I’m sure, I’ve always had a deep interest in learning languages. I studied Russian for four years. I majored in Spanish Literature. I’ve been learning Chinese for eight years or so. I’ve been learning Cantonese for two. I’ve recently started Hindi and plan to learn Pali. Besides that, I’ve bought tons of other language books and CDs that I didn’t get around to starting, but hope to someday (French, Japanese, Korean…etc).

In the last few months, I’ve become aware of the work of Professor Alexander Arguelles, via his website. In the last few days, I’ve watched most of his many videos on Youtube.

At first, I think if you see Prof. Arguelles’s websites, writings, or videos, you might have a negative or skeptical reaction, as I did to some extent. “Who does this guy think he is? Learning dozens of languages?-- what BS. I bet he can only order a beer in most of the languages.” And so on. But, after thoroughly reviewing his website and his videos, I’ve come away very impressed with his overall philosophy of polygloterry, and I think he’s actually doing a great service for people who love language learning, and (not to get too carried away), but he may even be doing a great service for Humanity by promoting the idea of polyglottery, which could have the positive effect, if successful, of building up batches of people who become proficient in many of the world’s civilization’s great languages, and could therefore become proficient in understanding the world’s great civilizations in their most profound aspects, thereby promoting a deeper sense of “mutual understanding” among the world’s various peoples than has ever been experienced so far. Ideally, I would hope that universities could start to set up polygloterry departments in order to allow people to systematically study under this method. But even if that doesn’t happen (or doesn’t happen relatively soon), I think that with the advent of the Internet, stores like Amazon.com, modern technologies like the iPod, and language forums like this, it should be possible for the average person to engage in polyglottery successfully.

So, below, I’ll try to discuss some of the points made above in more detail. But first, here’s a definition (quoted at length) for Professor Arguelles’s website.

Polyglottery is a scholarly discipline. It embodies a quest to develop an encyclopedic mind and to philosophically understand the nature of your own consciousness through the passionate, in-depth, and respectful study of as many different languages as possible, focusing both upon their diachronic evolution as actual entities and upon the intellectual heritage they have left in the form of great texts. As an academic discipline, Polyglottery is the direct descendent and heir of Comparative Philology. However, whereas Comparative Philology had a tendency to focus inwards upon the origins of the Indo-European family in a nationalistic sense, Polyglottery faces outwards towards expanding the individual scholar’s horizons by imparting the ability to read classic texts of Great Books in the tongues of other civilizations.

Polyglottery can best be described as a wedding of resurrected Comparative Philology with Great Books education. For those who may not know, Comparative Philology was the term for what was done with both languages and literature when these were studied in tandem throughout the nineteenth century; it involved not only the comparative grammatical study of closely related language families, but also the cultures and literatures that these languages produced. As its core training, Comparative Philology demanded the in-depth study of many languages. Towards the twentieth century, as other fields of Linguistics developed, Comparative Philology was engulfed by them and, under the newer term of (comparative) historical linguistics, it is now only a relatively minor and unimportant branch of the whole discipline. Today, although the term "Linguistics" sounds as if it has to do with languages, it most often does not concern the actual study of foreign languages. Indeed, with the disappearance of Comparative Philology as an independent discipline, there is now no place for anyone who wants to study multiple foreign languages within the established academic paradigm, and the production of reference works such as dictionaries, grammars, and language manuals is not considered to be "research."

Thus, I propose resurrecting Comparative Philology with a difference under the term Polyglottery. The difference is that, whereas Comparative Philology focused only upon closely related languages, Polyglottery can and should involve the study of widely disparate languages as well. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the work of the great nineteenth century scholars was so thorough that there is little left uninvestigated in the traditional areas of European Indo-European language families, and the grammars and dictionaries that they produced stand still today as standard reference works. Furthermore, while it is most instructive to employ the comparative method when studying phenomena that share many commonalities, given that this has been done and the results can be used as a foundational point of reference, the time is ripe for the study of Language itself as a commonality. Surely, in the ever shrinking global village, a group of scholars who learn and discuss the learning of a variety of different languages will come upon some new and interesting perspectives on Language as a whole. This is a worthwhile intellectual endeavor in and of itself, and in an era when many languages are in danger of extinction, the research scope of scholarly polyglots can include valuable documentation as a means of preservation, as well as the production of reference materials and better language learning courses that will help others learn languages from the perspective of those who have actually done it themselves multiple times.

As for the Great Books aspect of Polyglottery, this is also a logical return to the not-so-distant past, when philologists such as the brothers Grimm, Rask, F. Max Mueller, and others not only studied grammar but also folklore, the history of religions, and literature - in other words, when scholars in the humanities and the social sciences had a much broader range than they do in the hyper-specialized reality of today. The fact that the current degree of isolated, fragmented study is actually inimical and counterproductive to true understanding is recognized in many calls for interdisciplinary approaches, above all to the humanities, but these are most often relegated to an undergraduate core curriculum to be studied as a prelude to a specialized track. The study of literature and philosophy and history together as a unified whole in their original source material as Great Books is practiced as an entire well-rounded essence of continued life-long education only at a few select institutions, such as St. John's University in Annapolis and Santa Fe. However, there is little language instruction in such programs, even though it would seem to be a very logical step to say: if these books are so great that they are worth reading and rereading, then surely they are worth reading as they were written, that is, in their original tongues of composition. This is probably because there is an underlying presupposition that it is simply not possible for one person to read many languages well. It is, however, possible to do this, and the establishment of Polyglottery as an academic discipline will put this possibility in the reach of its practitioners, who will focus on learning multiple languages by means of and for the purpose of reading great texts in their original tongues. Thus it is that Polyglottery is a combination of these two naturally connected impulses for a complete and holistic humanistic education.

With that definition out of the way, below are some of my random thoughts on polyglottery:

1) Why is polyglottery beneficial to today’s world?

I think that, to some extent, the whole world suffers from some of the same problems. A) the whole world is obsessed with celebrities and their inane antics. People from the US may think that this is unique to the home of Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton, but in fact every country has their own celebrities and celebrity-driven paparazzi. While I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil or terrible about celebrity culture per se, and although I don’t think following this stuff from time to time is mutually exclusive from higher pursuits of learning, overall, I think it fosters a culture of foolishness. B) Because of the Internet, which in many respects is a great invention, we now have the possibility of forming our own virtual social communities, and we can exclude just about everyone we don’t like or who doesn’t agree with us. All of my conservative friends in the US follow conservative media, and my liberal friends do the same. In China there’s 牛博 and 強國論壇, proving that people can find virtual communities that produce an “一言堂” effect. Polyglottery, if carried out with the intention and desire to read the world’s great texts, would force oneself to expand the mind, leave one’s comfort zone, and develop intellectually. C) Recently I’ve become interested in Buddhism, and a few months ago I picked up many books, such as the Dhammapada and Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika. The profound wisdom of these books shocked me, almost to the extent that it makes one realize that we are living in a “Brave New World” type of world, in which the great books and insight of past times has largely been forgotten by a world that not only focuses on materialism, but also in maximizing personal preferences and comfort. Polyglottery, at its highest levels, can renew interest in some of the great books of human history, which will hopefully contribute towards better future studies in the humanties and better policy making and worldwide mutual understanding. D) Arguelles points out, and I agree, that higher levels of academia focus way too much on narrow specific fileds, almost to a laughable degree. I think a broader approach based on solid language skills is a much better and much more compelling road to go down.

2) I think Professor Arguelles is also doing a great service to language learners by doing his video review series of different language learning product lines, based on his own amazing, historically-rich, home library collection

It is a bit depressing to watch how language learning materials have been a bit dumbed down over time. Hopefully Arguelles’s review series will awaken companies and language learners to the defects in these product lines, which will help create more discerning consumers and better future product lines.

3) Is it possible to learn multiple languages?

Before, I was fairly skeptical that one could learn more than three or so languages to a high degree of competence. But, on further reflection, I’ve changed my views on that subject for the following reasons.

First, my main skepticism of “multiple language learning” came from my own personal experience, especially during the years 2005-7, when learning Chinese was basically an all out obsession for me. During those months, even though I was studying Chinese often 6-12 hours per day – through massive audio (via tapes), books, magazines, newspapers, textbooks, movies, TV series, studying IR using Mandarin at Fudan, and HSK prep – it often felt like digging up a root, in which the longer you dug the more there was to dig up, almost without an end in sight. All languages, but especially Chinese, have an incredible richness and profundity due to the vast amount of idioms, Classical Chinese influences, academics registers, and cultural and historic illusions. Obviously, as a Westerner, you are probably unfamiliar with 99% of those things, and you have to learn it all. And so at times it felt like despite my enjoyment of the language process, and despite the fact that I knew I was improving, from one month to the next, or even over a few months time period, it was pretty hard to say specifically how I had improved. (I think renzhe once described this stage as progress at a “glacieral pace”, which is apt). Eventually, I think it’s safe to say, after first getting a good foundation in the basics, and then intensely involving myself in the “deepening” process for about two to three years, and after switching my audio work from tapes (designed for learners or designed by myself) to audio work focused on authentic materials, I think it’s safe to say that I’m at a point in which I can comfortably understand almost all audio, TV, texts, conversations…etc. Of course, due to the richness of the language, there will always be words, allusions, and cultural background that I will continue to encounter, even if I’m able to live along life and until the day I die. But, the near infinite richness of Chinese is one of the things that makes it so fascinating, and shouldn’t really be seen as some sort of annoyance.

But, it’s worth brining this up, because I think it is informative to understanding my (initial) opinions towards polygloterry, and by extension, such perpetual questions as “is Chinese harder than European languages?”. I think for learning a language that is in a different language family outside of one’s own, it will simply require massive amounts of effort over a long period of time. The book Outliers, quoting current research, says that to “master” a skill (like a musical instrument), one needs to put in roughly 10,000 hours. If one looks at my Chinese experience, I think it’s safe to assume that from late mid 2004 to mid 2007, I was putting in roughly eight hours per day….via, roughly, reading (four hours per day), audio (two hours per day), TV, movies, conversations, review, HSK prep, classes….etc (two hours per day). Some days that may have been more, some less, and the ratios of the skills may have varied. But if we do the math, we’ll see:

3 years = 1,095 days.

1,095 days x 8 hours = 8,760 hours.

Then, if you add up my previous, and subsequent hours, it should be well over 10,000.

I say all this because before, I really wanted to start another foreign language, but I really felt that my Mandarin still needed improvement. I find it interesting that my experience roughly coincides with what books like Outliers say about the 10,000 hour theory.

Since mid 2007 I’ve been living in Hong Kong. And I’ve been studying Cantonese at moderate (sometimes fairly lazy) intensity for about a year and a half, but in the last few months I’ve picked up the pace. My impressions about the amount of time and effort to learn Cantonese have swung like a pendulum. At first, while living in the Mainland, I thought Cantonese would basically be like Mandarin, but with a different pronunciation system and a little extra vocab, and it could therefore be learned in a matter of months. Then, upon starting learning of it, I was shocked into the other direction- thinking that the pronunciation system and tones were so dramatically different from Mandarin and that the vocabulary was quite dramatically different and that the language environment in HK was so un-conducive towards Cantonese acquisition, that it was basically impossible. Now, I have a much more middle of the path and moderate view. Yes, it will still require lots of sustained work over a period of years. But, the vocabulary and grammar is much easier to remember than when learning Mandarin for the first time, and much of the cultural background is the same. So, I think Cantonese to get to a comfortable (although certainly not perfect) place in Cantonese will roughly take a third to a half of the amount of time as it took to learn Mandarin- ie.3-5,000 hours of exposure. I think this is also comparable to, say, a native speaker of a Romance language like Spanish attempting to learn another Romance language that has a large similar stock of vocabulary, but a fairly drastically different pronunciation system- like French. (Therefore, I think it’s more extreme than a Spanish-Portuguese analogy, or a Spanish-Italian).

But I think the point is, as far as the “is Chinese more difficult than European languages ?” question is concerned, is that Chinese is not really “difficult”, in my humble opinion, it simply takes a ton of exposure (which, again, should hopefully be a fun journey, overall. If it’s not, you should probably quit and try another language). Just as a “linguistic genius” from Europe who knows two, three, or four related languages comes to China and realizes Chinese is a whole different can of beans, it should be possible, I think, to get a solid, deep mastering of a Sinitic language (most likely Mandarin), and then branch off to learn related languages like Cantonese, Min Nan, Shanghaiese, or Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese (who belong to different language families but have a large stock of Chinese derived vocabulary, roughly 40-60%. These languages, I would guesstimate, might take around 4-7,000 hours to get good at, after “mastering” Mandarin).

So, as to polyglottery, my initial feelings are as follows:

-It’s worthwhile to learn and really go deep in one language of a new family. That language could be seen as the “anchor”, or “A”. After a few years spent on that, one could branch out into other languages related to that anchor, thus branches, or “B”. If people who come from a European language background can learn many languages, it’s probably because they are using their native language as an anchor, and are simply extending to other related branches. Of course, I don’t want to belittle the learning of branches, because that still takes a sustained effort over a long period of time, but it’s really not comparable to learning a new anchor.

With that in mind, since I’m 30, here is basically my life’s history learning languages, and a rough outline of what I think might be possible in the future (assuming I don’t get hit by a bus or suffer some huge disaster):

Ages

0- Onward: English (native speaker)

10-14: Spanish

14-18: Spanish, Russian (eventually stopped)

18-23: Spanish

22-now: Chinese, Spanish (largely put on hold)

28-now: Cantonese

Future:

Ages: 30-35

-Cantonese and Mandarin- keep learning

-learn Hindi as anchor, while simultaneously learning Pali as a strong branch, and Sanskrit and Urdu as weaker branches

Ages 36-40

-Re-start Russian, with Russian serving as an anchor to learn other Slavic languages

-Perhaps learn the one of the branches of French, Portuguese or Italian, depending on time and career developments.

-Perhaps start Korean.

Ages 41-45

-Start Arabic, with Modern Standard Arabic serving as anchor in Arabic, learn one branch spoken dialect as branch of MSA.

So, I think giving a rough map of the next 15 years is enough, and it’s too hard to predict any further into the future. I do think that, given a lot of hard work, a rough view of the above could be possible. If I were able to do this, I would basically want to have:

Five Strong Anchors (learned to a very high degree of competence): Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic

Six weaker branches (learned to a degree of competence that would depend on time and interest level): Cantonese, Portuguese or French, Pali, Sanskrit, Korean and spoken form of Arabic.

So, that would be roughly 10 or so languages. That plan may never come to fruition, or it may take different forms, or it may take longer than expected (especially to learn an anchor in a non-immersion environment). But, I do think some version of this is possible. Although, a lot will depend on time obligations and career development (ie. if I’m able to utilize languages in my day job, or if, conversely, the day job is English-only and therefore presents a huge barrier for studying).

As a side note: it’ll be interesting to see to what extent the “branches” actually serve as an opportunity cost towards the anchor, or whether they in fact help deepen the knowledge and experience with the anchor, in an indirect way. My experience with Cantonese actually leans towards the latter.

Anyway, I hope that to some degree this post gets people interested in Arguelles’s vision of polyglottery, which I hope can become more widespread and well-known.

So, if you have read to here, congats! I realize I’m a bit long winded sometimes. But, I know there are lots of people on here who have learned multiple languages, or have the desire to do so. Any thoughts?

Edited by wushijiao

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gato

Do you think you'll keep your interest level up to spend the time to learn all those languages? For myself, I have thought about learning Japanese for a while and actually got started when I visited Japan earlier this year, but then other things got in the way. I also want read more classical Chinese, on the way to reading more Chinese philosophy and history. I'd also like to improve my writing in Chinese, which will take practice and time. Then there's what I need to read related to work. I'm not sure when I can get to another language.

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wushijiao

Gato, I guess you’re bringing up the key point of going deep into a language vs. breadth in covering many languages. I guess it all depends on your interests. Getting better at Classical, and covering more philosophy and history (using primary sources) would probably prohibit, or limit, time allocated towards another language. Although it does sound like a worthy endeavor.

I also agree that it wouldn't be a good idea to spread one's time to widely, learning a bit here and a bit there without really going into depth in anything.

I guess for me, as far as "depth" and Chinese skills are concerned, I can usually spend at least 2-6 hours per day at work using Chinese (depending on what I'm doing that day), so I think that my Chinese skills should continue to improve, hopefully. I’ve continued to read a lot of magazines and I‘ve searched out materials in modern Mandarin that I consider to be particularly well written, in order to serve as subconscious models for improving my writing skills (one of the books I’m reading now, 諸侯爭鋒, which although it’s published by 明鏡出版社 is kind of a hagiographic summary of China’s next generation of leaders, but anyway, I really enjoy a lot of the writing in it).

To some extent, right now, I’m happy with following current events in China, but am not that interested in going deeper into historical issues, for now. To be quite honest, especially in the last few months when following Chinese current events has been really depressing, I don’t want to spend all my free time studying Chinese history, and 國學, and other models that are so biased towards a certain state-centric, imperial point of view. I have also met a lot of Western Sinologists recently, and many of them have spent their whole careers researching China and emotionally investing themselves in China’s betterment. (You could argue that they’re misguided or have no right to do so, but that’s what they’ve done). Now, they are seeing a lot of their life’s work damaged and a lot of the people they know getting arrested on trumped up charges. In any case, although I’ll always have an intense and personal interest in China, I don’t want to end up confined to their same predicament, quite frankly. In a strange sense, I think I’ll have more passion for studying Chinese and Chinese history if I broaden my interests more, and can see China from more of a comparative point of view. Besides, much of European and Asian history, culture and religion really should be researched in a pan-Eurasian way, because the interactions among the civilizations located on the Eurasian continent were often very fluid. However, today we tend to break it down by country, sub-region (East-Asia), or other divisions, which can be misleading. Take a listen to this podcast with an interview with professor of religion Lewis Lancaster about that issue. He says:

Yeah, I’ve come to believe that we’ve made a big mistake in our studies. We have separated things into East Asia and Central Asia and South Asia, Southeast Asia, the near east. All of these are divisions of the Eurasian landmass. And, none of them, in some sense, are adequate divisions. It’s no more adequate than dividing things up by nation-state. China today is not the same as of the Tang Dynasty or China of the early Zhou Dynasties. So, that’s why I think that when we look at how we’re going to study Buddhism, I want to stop studying it as these discrete units and study it as Eurasian. And if you do that, and you start thinking in those terms, then we know that across the trade routes and the mercantile communication that was taking place, ideas were flowing back and forth across the trade routes in ways which we don’t recognize if we just limit our study to South Asia, then we don’t know what’s going on, on the Silk Road, or the trade routes.

(Anyway, this is kind of a tangent).

Do you think you'll keep your interest level up to spend the time to learn all those languages?

I don’t know yet. I hope so!

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leeyah

I've read all of it and I'm impressed! Or to be 100% honest, before reading this I thought I was a rare language freak here, but not any more... (I mean with your ambitions on learning Hindi & Arabic... ) 佩服!

Is it possible to learn multiple languages?

Yes, I dare say it is, but the point is which languages to choose for simultaneous study. I think a combination of one "easy" and one "hard" language should work just fine (eg: Portuguese & Japanese). Two or three (or more ) related languages will work even better, they're fun to compare (eg Spanish+ French+ Portuguese+Italian). OR (why not) if you're really good, you should also be able to enjoy three hard languages at one go, provided they're related to some extent eg: Mandarin, Cantonese & Japanese. (In fact AFAICR we do have a member here who is studying Mandarin+Japanese+Korean). So, yes, I believe that in IDEAL circumstances & a fair share of talent, a dream of 多语 CAN become reality, just take it easy, step by step (good organization is essential!) then you can't go wrong :D

It’s worthwhile to learn and really go deep in one language of a new family. That language could be seen as the “anchor”, or “A”. After a few years spent on that, one could branch out into other languages related to that anchor, thus branches, or “B”.

I'm curious, as an English native speaker, do you think learning Russian has given you a solid base for learning other Slavic languages? Just my view, but I'd never choose Russian to start with. Russian has "preserved" too much from ancient Slavic in it, I mean it's not modern Slavic enough for me. Too hard in all aspects (pronunciation, grammar, vocab) compared to eg Czech which is much easier to learn & closer to other modern Slavic languages.

... the near infinite richness of Chinese is one of the things that makes it so fascinating, and shouldn’t really be seen as some sort of annoyance.

I agree. :clap

BTW, what really matters is that you really enjoy learning languages. That's all there is to it. Keep it up!

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gato
I guess you’re bringing up the key point of going deep into a language vs. breadth in covering many languages. I guess it all depends on your interests.

I think you probably still fall in the category of people who study language as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. So to keep motivated, you'd have to find aspects of the underlying culture that interests you, so that you build concrete connections with the language you are learning.

There are some who are interested in the linguistic aspects of languages and can motivate themselves to learn languages as an end in of itself, but I think this is a very small group.

To be quite honest, especially in the last few months when following Chinese current events has been really depressing, I don’t want to spend all my free time studying Chinese history, and 國學, and other models that are so biased towards a certain state-centric, imperial point of view

I am reading 韦政通's brief survey of ancient Chinese philosophy, 《先秦七大哲学家》, right now, and finding it quite inspiring. The seven philosophy include the founders of Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism, and Legalism, basically the foundation of traditional Chinese thought. The author is a Taiwan-based scholar, born in the mainland in the 1920s, went to Taiwan in 1949 and in his 90s now. He has a deep understanding of the subject and is able to compare and contrast different philosophers at ease. His writing clear and crisp. While his own personal beliefs leans towards Western liberalism (自由主义), he writes about this group of seven ancient philosophers, who have often been bashed by Chinese reformers in modern times, sympathetically, and tries to connect their ideas to the events of the time as well as their personal biography. I plan to read his 《中国文化概论》 after this.

While everyday politics can be depressing, I find reading about the past helps one see the big picture, providing some understanding of how we got here and inspiration for how things could be better.

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wushijiao
I am reading 韦政通's brief survey of ancient Chinese philosophy, 《先秦七大哲学家》, right now, and finding it quite inspiring

Sounds interesting. Maybe I'll try to pick that up.

I think you probably still fall in the category of people who study language as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. So to keep motivated, you'd have to find aspects of the underlying culture that interests you, so that you build concrete connections with the language you are learning

Yes, I'd certainly put myself in that category. I think all of the languages that I'm thinking about have interesting cultures.

I'm curious, as an English native speaker, do you think learning Russian has given you a solid base for learning other Slavic languages?

You bring up a good point leeyah, and I’m sure you’re a better judge than I am (are you Czech by the way)?

The reasons why I’d like to re-start Russian are:

-I already studied it for four years and did have a decent base that I’m sure I can re-study fairly quickly

-I found Russian culture to be quite fascinating (I simply quit because I didn’t have the time to continue it).

-I’d like to read some of the 19th century Russia lit at some point in my life.

-Geographically, Russia is huge, and many people who grew up in the former USSR can still speak Russian, especially those who were educated pre-1991. Of course, many others in Eastern Europe can still speak it, for similar reasons.

-Russia is still a very important country in terms of influence.

As far as Russian being as anchor to guide me through other Slavic languages, your right that there might be better choices, but overall, I think Russian is still a good choice. I’d also be interested in Serbo-Croatian, since I found the countries of Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegoznia to be interesting in there contrasts. But I’m not sure if I could get around to that. I’d love to learn Czech too! I’d like to learn everything if I had the time!

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renzhe

Very interesting perspective.

My personal goal is to be fluent in 8 languages. I still have ways to go, but I think it's doable. At the moment, though, Mandarin is the number 1 priority. Once I get to the point wushijiao mentioned -- being able to follow most written and spoken material -- I'll probably slow down and go into a passive learning mode.

I notice that I really enjoy the difference between Mandarin and other languages I know (all European). I also notice that they all basically belong to different branches, and that this is the interesting thing to learn. I'll probably never have much use of most of that, but I find it really enjoyable. I will likely not duplicate the insane pace at which I'm learning Mandarin, though.

I'll probably continue with completely new things in the future, and learn the related languages if I have a need for them. I don't think that learning Italian is too difficult if one speaks Spanish, for example.

At the moment, I'm interested in Japanese, Korean and Arabic, all unrelated. We'll see how that works out, Mandarin is a priority for now.

I'm not personally concerned about total mastery. It is not needed for most tasks. Sure, I'd like to reach a high level in at least a few of the languages, but for the rest it is enough to be able to function comfortably in a society using that language. The fine touches can come if I ever have to live in such a country for a while.

There is a saying in Central Europe, "with each language you speak, you are worth one person more". Once you visit a country and can understand their language and culture, it really feels like that. That's the thrill I feel and enjoy so much. Riding a hard-sleeper train in China and chatting to locals is an experience that I otherwise could never have had. And there's something really cool about that.

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leeyah
You bring up a good point leeyah, and I’m sure you’re a better judge than I am (are you Czech by the way)?

I advocated Czech over Russian simply because personally I find it much easier to learn. I do have cousins who are half-Czech, though, don't know if this counts. No Russians in the family, so I guess that's why I find Russian so hard to digest. All I can do with what little Russian I know is "cheat" the Russians every time by mimicking their accent (LOL) until serious conversation actually begins and I suddenly go deaf & dumb...

But, seriously, I was really intrigued by your post on poliglotry and your enthusiasm for exotic languages. You reminded me of myself in my teens & early twenties. And then I "discovered" Chinese ... (^-^)

I’d like to read some of the 19th century Russia lit at some point in my life.

I agree, THIS alone is motivation enough to learn Russian. And yes, you've got a point in that Russian is still understood/spoken by millions of people who aren't even Slavic speakers >>the Baltic states & Hungary, plus all the non-Russian ex-Soviet states, including Armenia & Mongolia (!), so learning the language is really worth the effort, especially since you already have a decent base to revise on. Of Slavic nations in Eastern Europe, AFAIK Russian is understood by older generations of Czechs, Slovaks, Polish, Bulgarians, plus some half-Slavic/non-Slavic peoples like Romanians & Albanians. Not so much by speakers of Serbo-Croatian, though, I'd vouch for Montenegrins only, because I know Russian is still taught in school there.

I'd also be interested in Serbo-Croatian

I’d love to learn Czech too! I’d like to learn everything if I had the time!

Ah, these are the words of a true linguist! Anyway, at 30, I wouldn't worry too much about the time. Easy does it. Just be careful in planning your steps. That's the key to success.

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wushijiao

Well, if anyone's interested, here is a mini-progress report after about a month and a half. On Aug. 24 I started a daily "Language Log" to log time done in each language and under either: listening, reading, writing, review. (Speaking time I throw in with listening). By Sept 24, roughly one month later, my hour time totals were:

Mandarin: 84.75

Cantonese 43.75

Hindi 47

Pali 17.25

Spanish 6.25

Total 199

So, hopefully, if I can keep up this pace (and actually pick up the pace in Hindi once that gets easier, after a few months) then hopefully I'll make faster progress.

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chrix

Well, that's a great thread. This is my 2 cents worth:

1. Being a connaisseur of grammars, I have studied the grammars of a lot more languages than I have tried to become conversational in. But I've found that it aids me greatly in trying to acquire reading competency, and ultimately is a first step towards conversational skills too, since you can pick up a lot of words "on the go" when reading the example sentences.

2. Related languages, languages with cognates: as some previous posters mentioned, studying a language whose vocabulary is similar to a language you already know can help you a lot in acquiring lots of vocabulary quickly. As I had knowledge of Germanic, Latinate and Sinitic vocabulary, I mainly concentrated on learning languages that fit this profile. When I learnt a language some years ago outside of it (Austronesian), the differences were apparent.

3. Script: another factor has been the script. Even if a script is not complicated, it does hamper recognition and slow down processing. That's why I found Polish more accessible than Russian (though #2!), and Korean was problematic for me because of its unfamiliar script and the fact that the Sinitic cognates were not that recognisable due to the fact that Hanzi (or hanja respectively) are no longer used to any meaningful degree.

Edited by chrix

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atitarev

Hi,

Please join the Russian social group if you haven't done it yet but wish to learn some Russian.

As for resources, Russian has a lot of resources and many of them are free.

Russian vs Czech? The difficulty with Czech is abundance of long vowels in long words, which I find not easy to reproduce but this is a matter of habit. With Russian you have to memorise the word stress (so with Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Serbian/Croatian (+tones), etc.).

The script is easy to learn for those who are interested, there are a few letters that look like Roman but have different readings. When I need to learn a new script I find it easy to practice by reading the proper names, words you already know. Although it's my native tongue, Cyrillic alphabet is definitely easier than Hiragana/Katakana, Thai, Hangul, Arabic, Hebrew scripts and even Greek (big difference between caps and small letters in Greek).

It's true that Russian is similar to many other Slavic languages but you don't have to learn Swedish, if you are only interested in Danish :) It is a strong anchor if you want to learn other Slavic languages, there are more similarities between Slavic languages than between most Roman or Germanic, there are also many false friends :). I certainly recommend Russian, the language of Chinese biggest neighbour. China has started broadcasting TV in Russian, so there is a new player on this market.

I have attempted, studied and continue studying a few languages with different success rates. Good luck to all of you in the same boat!

I see some of you are interested in Japanese (me too) and Arabic (me three), well of course, Mandarin Chinese!

German, French and Polish (obviously English) are my past hobbies but I have achieved much more with those than with my current ones.

Edited by atitarev

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wushijiao
Script: another factor has been the script. Even if a script is not complicated, it does hamper recognition and slow down processing. That's why I found Polish more accessible than Russian (though #2!), and Korean was problematic for me because of its unfamiliar script and the fact that the Sinitic cognates were not that recognisable due to the fact that Hanzi (or hanja respectively) are no longer used to any meaningful degree.

Yes, script is another important factor. Right now, I'm learning Hindi/Urdu. As far as difficulty, on a scale from one to ten, Devanagari (Hindi's script) is probably a two or a three, whereas nasta'liq (Urdu's script) is about an eight or a nine. In any case, what I've been doing is writing out the whole script of a lesson onto a blank page, and then looking up or transcribing all the words that I don't know. I then initially listen to audio while looking at that page. So far, I think it's been an effective way of learning Devanagari (I'll have to buy another book for Urdu script, I think).

atitarev, thanks for the encouragement in learning Russian! I think it's tempting, but I have my plate full for now. In any case, it's impressive to see all of the non-native English speakers who post on here. I think it's proof that mastery of foreign languages isn't really impossible with hard work combined with a lot of usage! :D

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animal world
it's impressive to see all of the non-native English speakers who post on here. I think it's proof that mastery of foreign languages isn't really impossible with hard work combined with a lot of usage!

I've noticed, too, that regulars at this forum tend to have mastery in several languages, a good education and maturity. Maybe it's that interest in languages in general that makes them good candidates for learning Mandarin compared to the general population. In bookstores in the US you'll see shelf upon shelf of tourist and beginning audio/book material in Mandarin but the choice at intermediate and advanced levels is very limited. I've picked up Chinese books at a used bookstore that had a few markings with a felt pen in the first few pages but the rest of the books were crispy clean. I speculate that many Westerners want to learn Chinese because it's "pretty cool" to say that they know that language but then quickly give up once they realize that this "coolness" comes at the price of hard, hard work.

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wushijiao
I've noticed, too, that regulars at this forum tend to have mastery in several languages, a good education and maturity. Maybe it's that interest in languages in general that makes them good candidates for learning Mandarin compared to the general population.

Good point. I've had that same thought as well. :mrgreen:

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chrix

also, you can be happy that manga were invented in Japan, otherwise this forum would be full of them fanboys :mrgreen:

DISCLAIMER: I love reading manga myself, but I've heard this "I wanna learn Japanese because of manga" spiel a few times too many...

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animal world
but I've heard this "I wanna learn Japanese because of manga" spiel a few times too many...

Me 2 and i aint diggin that manga stuff :wink:

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atitarev

Wushijiao, Devanagari and Arabic Urdu are much harder than Cyrillic, don't you think? Besides, Urdu, like Arabic doesn't write short vowels, so the phonetic information is incomplete. I believe Devanagari is fully phonetic but there are many rules.

With Russian, the biggest hurdle when learning to read is the word stress and letter "ё" (pronounced yo or 'o), most of the time written as "е" (ye, 'e) (exception is dictionaries or children's books). So you need to know where to read "е" as "е" or "ё", even native Russians sometimes misread some words!

Of course, you decide when you need to learn Russian, I just thought I need to explain what you have to deal with when learning Russian.

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chrix

yeah, besides the script, that was another factor for me: Polish and Czech have fixed stress,while Russian stress is unpredictable...

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wushijiao
Wushijiao, Devanagari and Arabic Urdu are much harder than Cyrillic, don't you think? Besides, Urdu, like Arabic doesn't write short vowels, so the phonetic information is incomplete. I believe Devanagari is fully phonetic but there are many rules.

Yes, I think Cyrillic isn't all that hard, but Devanagari is perhaps even a bit easier because Hindi matches the alphabet fairly faithfully (although it's not perfect). At the end of the day, although a new script poses a big initial hurdle, I don't think that it poses a threat to becoming fluent in the language. As I said above, presumably you'd need to spend thousands of hours with a language to get fluent, and after a while (perhaps after the first few months), I just don't see script as being a major problem.

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chrix

yeah, Cyrillic script, like the very similar Greek script is quite easy, but that's not my point: it slows you down considerably at the beginning, so if you have a language

- whose vocabulary is quite alien to you due to a small number of cognates in languages you already know (or whose cognates are obscured due to language change as in the case of Slavic)

- whose script requires more processing

then you have two factors right from the get-go that impede you. Of course you can always invest more time and at some point get over this problem, but sometimes you don't have that kind of time for every language you're interested in and then you start making priorities, i.e. shifting towards languages that might not require as much effort from the very beginning...

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