Saturday, December 22, 2007

Choosing the right language

How do we decide on the right foreign language? I suppose one can also ask why learn foreign languages at all? “If it’s not worth saying in English, then it’s not worth saying at all!” “If English was good enough for Jesus…” These pearls are now famous. More often one will hear that foreign languages are nice but…useless/impractical/not for me etc.

Here are some common reasons given when trying to decide on choosing a foreign language. In no particular order:

1 Culture. Usually a very general “exploring other cultures” kumbaya sort of thing. A more sensible approach would be perhaps to look at cultural products and their appeal to the learner.

2 Tourism - places to visit. Wouldn’t it be “nice” to spend a week in >insert country name here< and be able to communicate with the natives?

3 Number of speakers. Very important and also very overrated. The speakers of different languages also have very different purchasing power, culture and literacy, they live concentrated in areas that may be of little interest or simply too far. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. If we spent one minute on one person for 75 years straight (bathroom breaks only during leap years) we could possibly meet and say hello or konnichiwa to 39,420,000 people – basically less than the population of Italy or even Spain.

4 Usefulness/importance.  This one ranges from very practical reasons to visions of the “languages of the future”. Often the downfall of many a budding language learner. Some very personal reasons can be listed here as well.

5 Map method - the larger the area the more places to visit. This one’s very true until you try to define what qualifies as a “place to visit". Some countries may have way too much sand – and not the beach kind. A language covering a very wide area does present interesting opportunities and is more likely to have an international status.

6 Difficulty What are the pros and cons of difficult languages vs. new and exciting cultures, usefulness etc. What are my limits? Do I care to explore them?

7 Choose what you'll enjoy Now, I really LIKE THIS ONE but I would like to find something positive in all of these points, create an informed decision and build a personal target list.

1 comment:

csquad said...

i like reason #1 the most, followed by #2, then #7! I took Spanish for 3 years in high school, and while I enjoyed it, I definitely did not love it like I did French. For #3 and #4, Spanish wins because I'm in Texas. But although I'm surrounded by tons of opportunities to practice, I just can't obsess over it like I do French.