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How many languages do you know?

Posted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 4:46 pm
by Huia Iesou
From what I've seen so far, most of you seem to know quite a few languages and a healthy dose of linguistics. I am currently studying Spanish, Latin, Koine, and Hebrew, though I am proficient in none. When I finish my first-year Greek textbook in three weeks, what should I take up to fill the gap?

Now I have two questions to be answered. :D

Posted: Tue Mar 14, 2006 10:04 am
by Andrew Dalby
Yes, but how long does it take to 'know' a language? Like you, I've studied quite a few. I think I know English pretty well (been studying it seriously since I was about 12 months old) but I encounter a word that's new to me every week or so.

I think I know French fairly well, but I come across at least one new word or expression every day.

I did a year of Sanskrit, at the end of which (I admitted to a professor) I was still at the stage where you take the Sanskrit on the left page, and the English on the right page, and try to work out how the one might possibly mean the same thing as the other. He replied: 'Many never get beyond that stage.' For light relief, I did have a go at translating the Kama Sutra. Again, never got beyond stage one ...

What to take up next

Posted: Tue Apr 11, 2006 12:24 pm
by ginger
I would suggest concentrating on becoming somewhat proficient in one of the languages you have already started.
Of course, it depends on your reasons for studying lanuages. If you are learning languages for fun, or as a hobby, maybe you just want to get a taste of many lanuages. However, if you ever want to be able to use any of the languages you should pursue more advanced study.

Posted: Tue Apr 11, 2006 7:48 pm
by anders
If you don't know where you are going, take any road.

If you're interested in language universals (if there are such things), pick as diverse languages as possible. You've got Indo-European and one Semitic, so for this case, I'd suggest Chinese. If you're sufficiently young to have a chance to approach fluency, and know some other trade than linguistics, you might additionally get a financial advantage.

If you want to communicate with as many people as possible in their own language: Chinese and Hindi. But don't be mislead: Hindi is very different from most IE languages. Just seven irregular verbs, and they're regular as well in their own way; just two noun cases; but they've got a fascinating way of their own to complicate verb usage.

If you're an aspiring polyglot wishing to be able to read as many languages as possible, stick to the IE family. Knowing English, Spanish, Latin and Greek, you should be able to pick up several major languages, European and with European roots, as well as some lesser known but never the less quite interesting ones like Afrikaans (with a grammar simple like the mean value of English and Chinese), Fries, Catalan...

And if you're a script nut like me, and/or look for something entirely different, there's Tamil and other Dravidian languages. For scripts etc., Tibetan has a look that is sooo fascinating, and the mismatch between its writing and pronunciation is in a league far superior to even English or French!

Posted: Mon May 01, 2006 1:00 pm
I agree with the previous postings. Pick the one that fascinates you most; you'll learn it better! BTW, I speak English and Spanish fluently. Studied Italian, French, and Russian concurrently, then tried adding German... darned if I can remember any German now! I said all of that to say that there is a point of diminishing returns when acquiring new language skills. It might be like not studying at all, if you're taking on too much. That's why I appreciate the comment about making proficiency in one language a better goal than picking up a certain NUMBER of languages. Good luck, whatever you choose!