There are four languages I would like to learn:
- German: I, unlike many people, enjoy the way German sounds and have found that it is quite useful as a research language. There tons of books and articles written about obscure topics in history in German. I have always been fascinated by Bismarck and Metternich and to read about them in their language (or, better yet, their own writings in it) would be tremendous.
- Dutch: I took a semester of Afrikaans in high school at a local university. It was a bizarre language and I was utterly delighted with it. Had it been offered more frequently, I would have taken more classes. The more Dutch I hear and look at, the more I see the similarities between Dutch and English. From my bit of Afrikaans, I can understand significant portions of Dutch but, more often than not, none of it at all. It would be neat to know what the Dutch are thinking…
- Turkish: Again, this would make an excellent research language. I do not find Turkish beautiful. and I do not enjoy hearing it, but what I have heard of Ottoman poetry is beautiful. So perhaps what I mean here is that I would like to have a working knowledge of modern Turkish and a solid grasp so that I can appreciate Ottoman Turkish.
- Persian/Farsi: A language with one of more renowned traditions in the Islamic world and very much useful as a research language (or if one wants to join the CIA). There is a great incentive to learn this language, and it would allow for an easier assimilation of other Central Asian languages (Dari, Tajik, etc.; with Turkish, it would aid in understanding Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kazakh, if I ever wanted to).
Then there are languages I would like to finish learning:
- Afrikaans: For the same reasons I would want to learn Dutch; it is a fascinating language.
- Swedish: I took two semesters of this language and found it to be somewhere in between English, what I know of German, Latin, French and unintelligibility. When I would use this, I could not tell you; perhaps if I am ever in Stockholm. So for now I am stuck using my little bit of conversational Swedish with Finnish friends who speak it as a second language.
- Spanish: At one time I hated this language, not because it was difficult (it is quite simple), but because it was required and boring. Not only is it useful (in business, and because random people persist in choosing to use it as a language of first contact with me), but it has its pretty bits and Arabic roots. The same goes for Portuguese; I would like to visit the Iberian Peninsula at some point, and not have to have the natives speak to me in English. It is also the language of quite a few folks in my hemisphere.
- Syriac: The reason here is simply that I started it, and I should finish it. Add to that that it is generally only expressed in a beautiful manner (liturgy, chants, etc.) and I would never really have to speak it.
And there are languages I have no interest in…
- Latin: Four years of this useless tongue have turned me off to it and most of its derivatives; French, Italian, blah, blah. It may have helped me when I took SATs, but beyond that it was a pointless excersize in reading stories translated into English and a million other languages a million-plus times over. I admit there is a use for it for some, but not for me.
- French: I know enough of this to read articles, portions of books, and to understand converstions, and skip by if I need to. I find it to be an ugly tongue that is rapidly decreasing in importance in relation to English and, in the future, Chinese. I will relish the day when French is restricted to decaying elites in small African states and Europe. I recently spoke to a fellow from Switzerland — whose native language is German. I and an aquaintence asked him how relevant he thought French was, how useful it is to learn nowadays, given the rise of English and other non-French languages and powers. His answer: Less and less, adding that in Switzerland there is a debate over whether or not to teach English in many schools as opposed to the local languages or in conjunction with them and that many people see French as a dying language. The balance of market and political force is moving away from French, France, and Europe as a whole towards the east. I am not interested enough in French literature to study the language in depth, but I respect those who do, greatly.
- Hindi and assorted South Asian languages: I don’t like how Hindi (or Urdu or Tamil or Bengali) sounds and I see no real reason to learn it, as most South Asians outside the subcontinent are more fluent in English than many Americans and Britons.
- Gaelic: I went a conference once where an Irishman told me that “I haven’t the fainest idea why they teach us Gaelic in school; nobody learns it, and its completely useless, who are we going to speak it to?” My sister studied Gaelic in high school and still enjoys tossing out phrases in it that mean God knows what.