Darren Rowse has challenged his readers to participate in his latest writing project, which involves a “Top Five.” Since I’m running short on brilliant ideas these days, I figured I’d join in.
I’m a language junkie. If I had the time and money, I would be taking languages classes on an almost continual basis. It was much easier to dabble in language study back in seminary. I had to learn Greek and Hebrew anyway, as well as German when I started doctoral work (man, is my German rusty!). Along the way, I was able to brush up on my Latin and teach myself a wee bit of Dutch and Portuguese–just enough to read scholarly articles with my dictionary open and at the ready.
It has been a while since I’ve tried to learn a language in any kind of systematic way, and lately I’ve been missing it. One of my main problems, however, is deciding how to narrow down the choices. There are modern languages I would like to know because of acquaintances who speak those languages. There are ancient languages I would like to know for scholarly reasons. And then there are the practical considerations: what resources are out there for someone with an interest in learning but a budget of effectively zero? Well, I’ll deal with that last part after I’ve decided which end of the pool to jump in. Here are the top five languages I am currently interested in learning, in no particular order, as well as a brief explanation of why:
- Indonesian. According to Barry Farber (How to Learn Any Language), Indonesian is a very easy language to learn. In fact, any true language junkie ought to learn it just to get it under his or her belt. Plus, it is one of the most important languages in the world in terms of number of speakers–and what other criteria makes a language “important”? Since I already have at least a passing knowledge of three of the top 10 languages (English, Spanish, and French), I’ll disqualify Arabic and some of the other biggies from the rest of the list.
- Welsh. I’d love to speak a Celtic language, and it’s truly a tossup between Welsh and Irish (Gaelige). Having two parents born in the South, I’m guaranteed to have some Irish ancestors somewhere, but so far I’ve only found one Irish sixth-great-grandfather named Robert Kilgore who came to America in the 1700’s. On the other hand, some sources trace my mother’s maiden name back to Wales. That and my interest in Arthurian legend tips the balance in favor of Welsh.
- Coptic. The alphabet is derived from Greek, so it would be fairly easy for me to become familiar with it. Apart from the liturgical, church historical, and text-critical advantages, Coptic would also give me a stepping stone into ancient Egyptian later on. Furthermore, learning Coptic would be an excellent way of showing solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters enduring serious persecution for their faith.
- Aramaic. For many of the same reasons as Coptic. Plus, it’s the language Jesus spoke! If it turns out that there are better online resources for Syriac, a later dialect of Aramaic, I reserve the right to change my mind on this one. I would rather learn Aramaic, however, as I already know the alphabet.
- Irish. OK, I really didn’t want to eliminate Gaelic back under #2. Plus, I’ve seen enough written Gaelic to really want to understand why it doesn’t ever seem to be written the way it sounds!
I’m pondering diving into one of those languages some time this summer. I won’t guarantee any degree of fluency come September, and there will definitely be whole weeks when I won’t have the time to work on it at all. I would at least like to get a basic overview of the grammar and vocabulary and (where appropriate) know a few simple conversational phrases. Mostly, I’m hoping to get my brain out of mothballs and dig into something that has always energized me.