How should I choose a second language?

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Gerardiebla
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How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Thu Nov 10, 2011 7:59 am UTC

Hi all. I'm planning to start studying linguistics next year and as I have some extra credit points to fill out the semester I thought studying a language about. The problem is that studying a language is something that I'm very enthusiastic about, but I don't have any inclination towards one language or another. There are aspects of certain languages I like (e.g. the script of Arabic, the sound of French or the Exoticism of Mandarin) but none of these have persuaded me enough to pick one language over the other. I'm worried if I don't have a sufficient interest in the language I choose to study in its own right I'll lack the motivation to learning it effectively.

Any suggestions?

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Roĝer » Thu Nov 10, 2011 4:36 pm UTC

Is there a limited list of languages offered, or are you also allowed to take external courses and exam for credit? If there is a limited list, which languages are in it?
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Kizyr » Thu Nov 10, 2011 5:05 pm UTC

What context do you see yourself using said language? You're more likely to enjoy studying something if you envision yourself using it somewhere, depending on the context. (Personally, I picked practicality for one -- Spanish -- and personal interest for another -- Japanese. The other ones I want to learn are due to heritage/background and practicality.)

Enjoying the literature, music, or other entertainment in said language is another thing that might work as an incentive to keep going in it.

Also, I wouldn't use exoticism as a reason for studying a language. Once you get better at understanding it, the "exoticism" factor just translates into bringing it up at inappropriate times and sounding like you're bragging. (Also, learned languages lose their luster, so there's that to consider.) KF
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:48 pm UTC

My university offers Arabic, Aramaic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew (Classical and Modern), Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek, Pali, Sanskrit, Spanish and Syriac, as well as Ancient Greek and Latin.

At the moment I don't envisage myself using it in any context other than personal interest. There are lots of places in the world that I would like to visit and possibly live but unfortunately I can't learn all the languages.

As far as literature goes, I'm quite unfamiliar with the scope and style of it in any language other than English but I agree if I could find out more about the literature that may persuade me. Any suggestions as to go about that? I'm studying a Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Arts so western classical music is very much rooted in Germany, France and Italy. So those languages are an option.

I have a few friends who speak second languages at varying levels, French, Arabic, Korean, Turkish, German. Do you think this should factor into my decision making?

Thanks for all your suggestions.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Kizyr » Thu Nov 10, 2011 11:31 pm UTC

Gerardiebla wrote:My university offers Arabic, Aramaic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew (Classical and Modern), Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek, Pali, Sanskrit, Spanish and Syriac, as well as Ancient Greek and Latin.


Ok, so one question to ask yourself: do you want a language you can speak or use widely, or do you want a language that lets you go into deep detail on something (relatively) esoteric?

I ask that since it'll determine whether or not you should bother with the more ancient languages. Those are useful, but only if they're about a subject you want to delve into (plan on going into Middle Eastern archaeology, Indian religious history, or linguistics?). If you're asking what to take, though, it's probably not likely those would interest you. If I'm mistaken then, well, you may already have made your choice.

So, assuming that that's the case, you can probably limit your consideration to just Arabic, Chinese, French, German, modern Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, modern Greek, and Spanish.

At the moment I don't envisage myself using it in any context other than personal interest. There are lots of places in the world that I would like to visit and possibly live but unfortunately I can't learn all the languages.


Hm, so if you want a quick list of which of those you're more likely to encounter (assuming you're in the US), that'd probably be: Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Arabic, and Hebrew -- roughly in order, but naturally it depends on where you live (where I am, Korean's on that list ahead of Chinese). But, ubiquity of use may not necessarily be the deciding factor. (I mean, I picked Japanese, even though you rarely encounter it in the US, and I get a lot of 'mileage' out of it.)

As far as literature goes, I'm quite unfamiliar with the scope and style of it in any language other than English but I agree if I could find out more about the literature that may persuade me. Any suggestions as to go about that? I'm studying a Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Arts so western classical music is very much rooted in Germany, France and Italy. So those languages are an option.


Eh, that's a tough one. I didn't learn much about Japanese literature until after I'd already studied it for a few years. If you want something that fits with your music studies, then French, Italian, and German would be really useful (if those were my choices, personally, I'd go for French due to its much more widespread use).

I have a few friends who speak second languages at varying levels, French, Arabic, Korean, Turkish, German. Do you think this should factor into my decision making?


Yes, but I don't think it should push you to study one particular one. Talking with them might get you a better idea of what sort of things you'll deal with when studying another language, and what things are "fun" about it to them. Talking with someone who speaks French or Turkish might not push you to study either of those, but it might give you a better idea of what questions to ask yourself to figure out what you want to do.

BTW, American Sign Language might be another option, if your university offers it. As if you needed any more complication {^^}. KF
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Gerardiebla
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Fri Nov 11, 2011 12:15 am UTC

Thanks for you in depth response! I really appreciate your suggestions.

I'm actually living in Australia so the proximate languages are probably slightly different to the US.

I do tend to lean towards the essoteric so I actually am interested in Ancient languages but I'd like to learn something with a spoken tradtion.

Thankfully, I don't think I'll add sign language to the mix.

Well you've given me lots to think about. I suspect now that I'll want to pursue linguistics further so to an extent I'll find any language interesting. We'll see.

Thanks for all your help!

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Sat Nov 12, 2011 12:55 pm UTC

If you are going into linguistics, I would say there are two broad choices:
1) Learn a language that belongs to the same family as one you already speak. This could be really close, so to English e.g. Dutch or German. Or at least in the Indoeuropean area, so it could also be a Romance language like French or Spanish, or further away a Slavic language or Persian. This gives you a basis to make comparions between two languages, mostly in terms of vocabulary and its historical evolvement (etymology).
2) Learn a completely different language that is not related at all to languages you know. E.g. Chinese, Japanese, semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew, or - mathematically beautiful - Turkish. This gives you a new view on language and helps you challenge assumptions about language that you naturally have from your own language, so it's good for learning e.g. new grammatical concepts when you study linguistics later.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:22 pm UTC

Thanks Monika, I think I'm going to go the unfamiliar route. I'm leaning towards either Chinese or Arabic. I have three months before the semester starts so I think I'll do some research into their respective cultures, watch some films, find some poetry etc. Hopefully then I'll be able to make my mind up. Thanks for your suggestion!

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Kizyr » Sun Nov 13, 2011 12:22 am UTC

Glad I could help, even if only a little bit. I'm really trying to be careful not to push you toward any given language and just put forth some questions you might want to ask yourself (hopefully that's working).

Since you're in Australia (apologies for assuming, but I had to start somewhere and began with the familiar), then Japanese would be higher on the list, and Spanish/French/German would probably be lower (it'd also explain why Bahasa Indonesia is offered, come to think of it) -- in terms of practicality, anyway. But, yeah, practicality is only one consideration and far from the only one.

Good luck! KF
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Cathode Ray Sunshine » Sun Nov 13, 2011 1:01 am UTC

I don't want to hijack the thread, but I'm in a somewhat similar situation. I speak Spanish and English and I want to learn a third language. I know it's going to be French or German, since those two are the ones that interest me the most. I have an Alliance Française really close to home, and they offer classes on Saturdays which is a big plus, not to mention that French is so widespread that it would help me out both personally and professionally. Besides, I've already started to learn some stuff online which has helped me somewhat. But, I also have a keen interest in German. I like the way it sounds, plus the pronunciation is, to me, much easier than French, though the grammar is much more difficult. The German embassy offers classes, and they're cheaper than French classes but the schedules don't work for me at all. I wish I could learn both, but I think it's better if I just focused on one.

As for the original poster, make sure that no matter what language you end up learning, make sure you can find media in that respective language, the more the better. It will help tremendously and it will give you more practice.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Sun Nov 13, 2011 5:24 pm UTC

Gerardiebla wrote:Thanks Monika, I think I'm going to go the unfamiliar route. I'm leaning towards either Chinese or Arabic.

I think your choice should be between Japanese and Arabic, not Chinese and Arabic.

Why Japanese and not Chinese:
[Note that I have studied Chinese (and Arabic), but not Japanese, I have only second-hand knowledge about the latter.]
[Note 2: I used to recommend Chinese over Japanese, but more experienced learners have convinced me otherwise.]

1. There is no hope to ever master reading and writing Chinese.
Not even native speakers succeed: http://cognitive-china.blogspot.com/200 ... moser.html
Yeah you only need somewhere between 2000 and 4000 characters (learnable in few years) to be able to read 90% of the characters in a newspaper - too bad the essential information is in the other 10% (You could read like: "There was a plane crash in $some_place. There was $some_person of $some_country on board and died." but you don't get that the prime minister of Russia just died in Afghanistan and maybe the train did not have an accident after all but was shot down.)
I thought Japanese was as bad. It isn't. If I understood correctly, the basic 2000 or so words are written with characters (like the Chinese do) and more tricky stuff with the syllable- and letter-based writing systems, so you will actually be able to read and write within a defined timeframe.
Initially Japanese may appear harder because it has these three writing systems and because many characters can be read in two or more ways (that's one reason why I used to think Japanese is much harder), but after a short time learners seem to get over this and as mentioned in the long run Chinese is the unattainable one.

2. Even ignoring writing characters: Chinese is superhard to learn. This blog article explains why: http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Some of the reasons listed apply also to Japanese, others don't.

3. Chinese does not have an interesting grammar.
I would say Chinese has almost no grammar. Linguists would disagree. What I mean is: There is no conjugation of verbs (they do not change by tense, person or number). There is no declination of nouns, pronouns and adjectives (they do not change by case, gender or number).
So the interesting/assumption-challenging thing to learn is: While in other language families like Indo-European, Semitic, Turk the time (I go, I went, I will go) is expressed with suffixes/prefixes to verbs and/or helping verbs, this is not how it has to be (I go now, I go yesterday, I go tomorrow). Here, you have learned it, no need to actually study Chinese.
Chinese has mostly the same word order as English: Subject-Verb-Object. I think Japanese has Subject-Object-Verb. So Chinese does not help you to open your mind in that respect.
Besides linguistic interest:
I used to consider the "lack" of grammar in Chinese as a big pro for learning it, as it makes it easier. But it's not really a good argument. In Japanese, like with Indoeuropean or Semitic languages, yes, you study the ways to inflect verbs and other parts of speech for quite a while. And then you have studied it and you mostly know it and you are okay with it. And even before that - yes, you make mistakes, you do not sound native ... well you wouldn't sound native, yet, anyway.
And: "more" grammar helps you understand. In a Japanese (or Arabic or German) sentence with unknown words you can figure out if something is a verb, adjective, noun etc. in many cases and that can help you figure out what a sentence means. In Chinese this is pretty hopeless, the words are simply strung together. As the above blog mentions: You cannot even tell easily where words with more than one syllable begin and end in Chinese (and thus have trouble looking them up in dictionaries). This issue simply doesn't arise in Japanese, if I am informed correctly. (In Arabic I could not always figure out where words start and end, though; even though they use letters, but they have spaces after certain letters inside words.)

4. Chinese pronunciation is superhard.
If you get the tones wrong, you will not be understood. And you can be pretty certain to get them wrong, as your native language is not tonal.
Speaking Japanese at a level to sound native seems to be hard to achieve, too, but this does not seem to be your goal or interest, so whether you can make yourself understood is more relevant.

5. For Australians, Japanese seems to be more relevant. There seems to be a significant Japanese population in Australia and it seems to be more relevant for trade relationships. So you might have an easier time to find someone to practice with and make use of it later in life. (I don't have citations for this, this is just something Australians have told me.)


I can't really compare Arabic and Japanese as I know so little about Japanese. So just a few bits about Arabic:
- Besides singular and plural there is a dual (for verbs, pronouns, ...)
- As in English suffixes are used to form the verbs in different tenses, persons and numbers ... but additionally prefixes may be used.
- Noun case endings exist, but in spoken language they often seem to be dropped ... and in written language vocalizations (short vowels) are normally not written anyway - so you have a combination of "linguistically interesting feature" and "still easy to use" in practice.
- The lack of short vowels in writing (except in the Koran, teaching books and poetry) makes it rather hard to read normal texts in the beginning until you know a lot of words. But Japanese is not exactly easier with its characters.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Sun Nov 13, 2011 10:45 pm UTC

Thanks Monika! I really appreciate the fantastic depth you've gone into those articles were very informative too. You've definitely made me think twice about Chinese, mainly because the script sounds immensely frustrating. Of course I'm still greatly intrigued by it. As for the tones that was part of the language I was actually looking forward to but as you say it adds another layer of difficulty.

Arabic or Japanese definitely seem much more appealing now. I'll have to let all of you know when I finally make a decision!

EDIT: After all that difficult with Chinese did you find it enjoyable and interesting still, or just frustrating?

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:58 pm UTC

Gerardiebla wrote:Of course I'm still greatly intrigued by it.

With Japanese you could probably still get the intriguing part without getting the "never going to succeed" part.

As for the tones that was part of the language I was actually looking forward to but as you say it adds another layer of difficulty.

Why were you looking forward to it?
I mean it's interesting that shùxué = mathematics <-> shūxuě = blood transfusion. But after you know the fact that tones entirely change meaning ... what's interesting? Do you look forward to the fun of finding more and more words that mean very different things with different tones? But actually what you need to learn is to ignore what seems very similar or almost identical to you, as it is not "close to identical" at all for Chinese speakers.

EDIT: After all that difficult with Chinese did you find it enjoyable and interesting still, or just frustrating?

Hmm. I enjoyed writing Chinese characters with a paint brush, and in general learning to write the lines in the right order, even with a pencil, because only then they look good and flow naturally. You'd still get that with Japanese as it partially uses Chinese characters.
I found it interesting to learn the radicals, e.g. to identify the radical for metal/iron (not sure which it was) in all kinds of characters that are somewhat related to it. Not sure to which degree this works in Japanese, I think you would still have this, maybe with fewer words for each radical.
I found the counting words interesting. That's a word between the number and the counted noun. It depends on whether you count long thin (pen-shaped) objects or flat (book-shaped) objects or ... . But that's just a fun fact. It was very annoying to learn which one to use for what, it's not always obvious in which category some noun is. (I guess as annoying as learning whether German nouns are male, female or neuter.) I have no idea if Japanese shares this property.
I enjoyed learning to understand the parts of some of the more logical characters: The pig in the sign for home/house. Wood made up out of two, forest made up out of three tree symbols.
But all in all I would put it more on the frustrating side. I can still only read one or two characters in most entries in a restaurant menu (and most of the time it's the same symbol, for pork :P), and I can still only understand scenes in videos when someone is called e.g. "younger sister". Maybe my Japanese would be equally bad because I am lazy. But maybe it wouldn't because it's easier to learn.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:17 am UTC

Thanks for your insight Monica. Judging by your experience I think I may be better off with something less... confusing :P At the moment I'm leaning towards Arabic, but who knows, my preference seems to change every other day. I still have a few months to decided. Thanks for all the good ideas in this thread, most of which I would never have though of.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby gaurwraith » Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:30 pm UTC

If you want, I can sum up for you a list of unsolvable difficulties to discourage you from learning Arabic, just like that site posted above does with Chinese.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Sat Nov 19, 2011 3:10 pm UTC

I would find that interesting.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Shivahn » Sat Nov 19, 2011 3:32 pm UTC

Me too.

Though it isn't surprising. Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Korean and Japanese are supposed to be the five hardest common foreign languages for English speakers to learn.

I find it surprising that Japanese is apparently ranked harder than Chinese. I wish I could find out why.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Kenrou » Sat Nov 19, 2011 6:02 pm UTC

I think I could scramble up a few points that makes Japanese difficult. I could also make quite a long list for the English language as well, starting with the completely non-phonetic spelling (though, through, trough, tough etc.) and the countless differences between the regional varieties. Hell, even as a native speaker of the related Swedish I still have trouble getting the stress right and feel a resistance to dropping unstressed vowels to schwas.

What I'm trying to say is posts labelling a language as "impossible" really rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it may be very different from your native language and thus more difficult to learn, but impossible? That's quite a bold statement, and it would take only a single fluent non-native speaker to disprove it. Making poeple give up before they even have tried is never a good thing.

As for Japanese vs Chinese: I haven't studied the latter but I've picked up some interesting tidbits here and there.

- Japanese have 2100-ish designated General Use Kanji, and a bunch more that appear frequently, though often with pronunciation written out. Generally it is considered to use less characters than Chinese, but the mix of kanji and the hiragana and katakana syllabaries takes a while to get used to. Though, that also means it's easy to spell out pronunciations and use dictionaries. On the downside, kanji is a foreign invention that was forcefully attached to Japanese 1500 or so years ago, so there are a few kinks. While most characters have a phonetic component that, as far as I understand, corresponds quite well with pronunciation in Chinese, only bits and pieces of that system remains in Japanese words of Chinese origin. Words of Japanese origin follow no system at all and thus have to be memorized one by one.

- Japanese grammar is, well, interesting, but I have to say that a lot of it doesn't feel like grammar to me, not like that grammar I was taught in school anyway. Sure, there are verb and adjective conjugations, but those are very regular, and other than that most grammatical functions are carried out by particles, short words that kind of latch on to other words and tell what function they have in the sentence. So you have words that mark subject, object, topic, target of action etc. This makes the whole thing a bit more fluid, because while the verb should end the sentence, what comes before it can be rearranged pretty freely to give different emphasis to different parts. You can also have whole sentences work as adjectival modifiers and create very long and complex sentences. If I'm not mistaken, Chinese has characters that are used mostly or even exclusively for grammatical purposes, which should make it possible to separate different parts of speech, but I can see how it can take more time to get used to.

- I won't say much about the tones in Chinese, since being a bit musically inclined I haven't had much trouble hearing the difference the few times I've tried listening. I'd think the trick would be to just take it as another part of the pronunciation of the words, train up your ability to hear and produce them and not try to learn the pronunciation first and try to get the tone afterwards. Chinese learners, feel free to tell me if I'm naive and/or just completely wrong. Japanese on the other hand is tone-less, but does have a pitch accent that distinguishes otherwise homophonic words in some cases, and which seems hard for native English speakers to master. It doesn't effect meaning as severely as in Chinese, but I have heard a couple of accents, complete with English-style stress, that made the speakers damn near unintelligible.


In short, if you study either of these languages, be prepared to spend a lot of time on characters. If you like them, as I do, it's not much of a problem, but at least be aware that a hefty chunk of the language consists of the characters. But, if you have a reason for studying the language, something that can keep you going, and opportunities to use the language, preferably on a daily basis but at least once a week or so, then no language should be impossible. Don't just look at the difficulties of a language, look at what you gain from learning it. It doesn't matter if it's Chinese for business opportunities in a country growing richer every day, French to impress chicks, Japanese to discuss the latest anime on 2ch, or Arabic just to open your mind and widen your linguistic horizons. It could even be Volapük just to be able to exchange secret letters with that excentric old Polish linguist who lives two blocks away!

...I'm getting preachy now, I think I'll stop here and just go to bed instead. Sorry for the Wall of Text ^^;

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby gaurwraith » Sat Nov 19, 2011 6:21 pm UTC

What I wanted to say is that I'm really tired of discouragement.

Is it really needed? What is so bad about starting to learn Chinese?

I'm sure the begginings must be very rewarding, getting to know how to draw the symbols and the poetry in them. The op talks about some credits, that's pretty good to check for himself. It's not like enroling in a degree in Chinese. If later he quits, well at least he got one of the most beautiful parts, how the script goes.
Same goes for Arabic, in the beginning one learns the script, and an insight at the difficulties ahead.

You can learn the Arabic script in a couple weeks or less. I did it with this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mastering-Gramm ... 1403941092

But in many official teaching places (universities included) they teach it in 6 months, or more!. It's so difficult. And this way they get more money or have something to teach, because there is a lot of people teaching Arabic that know very little of it.

A typical academic year lasts around 9 months everywhere I think. Imagine you spent 6 months with the script then the other 3 learning some basics. Then comes summer and most students don't study anything. Second course starts, but the teachers sees students need some going over the basics, for lets say 3 more months. Then we can go from "My name is John and I study the Arabic language" to "Yesterday I ate in an Arabic Restaurant", then maybe "I took a plane and visited Tunisia last summer" .
And the numbers? asks some student. Oh my, numbers in Arabic are soooo difficult, we will see it next year, after going over for some 3 more months...

And this way you ask somebody, how long did you study Arabic? ohhh 8 years now.. i can't even read the 3 little pigs in Arabic, but you know, Arabic is so d i f f i c u l t..

Ah ok, anyway would you read out loud for me those writings you have there in your notebook? I'd like to hear how Arabic sounds...
*incontrolable laughter*

Then goes Tor, the student from Norway, flies down to Tunis, enrols in an Arabic course taught in Arabic, vows to himself not to speak a single word but in ol' style Arabic, goes all Shakespeare on the populace, gets laughed at but talked to, and returns in 9 months speaking an Arabic that makes his university teachers blush when they have to talk to him in that language. And I've known him, the bastard.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Kenrou » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:16 am UTC

gaurwraith, we're on the same side. Yes, learning a language like Chinese, Japanese or Arabic is difficult for speakers of Germanic or Romance languages. I don't like beating around the bush and saying "it's just different" or "you'll get it if you give it enough time". It takes some work and dedication, but it is most certainly not impossible.

And yes, language courses held in the language in a country where the language is spoken really gives amazing results - I'm on the end of a 2-year course in Japanese now, starting from pretty much zero, and I can read novels aimed at young adults without much trouble, surf the web freely, and think I can handle most everyday situations. My speaking ability still lags behind, but that's because I've never been much of a speaker in any language. You do however have to commit yourself to the language, it is way too easy to end up in a bubble of English-speaking friends and get by without using a word of Japanese outside of class.

Sorry if I'm straying a bit off topic, but I have quite strong feelings about this. The important part is: Choose a language based on what you like, what you're interested in, a language you feel would give you some kind of benefits. If you spend a year on it and find you don't like it, so what? At least you gave it a shot, and hopefully learned something in the progress, something about the diversity of languages or about the language-learning process itself. Even if all you take away from a course in Chinese is an interest in calligraphy and an appreciation of the aesthetics of Chinese characters regardless of their meaning you have gained something.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Kizyr » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:30 am UTC

Ok, Monika, I disagree with you, but I want to emphasize that I'm really enjoying the points you lay out and hope you don't take any umbrage at me responding to or countering them. I'm liking the way this thread is going since I really like discussing this subject, and I think the conversation is probably more informative anyway.

To begin, I speak Spanish and Japanese (at least up to conversational and novel-reading levels). I studied Chinese for about a year, and know a tiny bit of French and Bangla from just being surrounded by it. So... allons-y, Alonso?

Monika wrote:1. There is no hope to ever master reading and writing Chinese. ... Yeah you only need somewhere between 2000 and 4000 characters (learnable in few years) to be able to read 90% of the characters in a newspaper - too bad the essential information is in the other 10%

Ok, a very similar thing applies in Japanese. Place-names that use Chinese characters (so, anywhere in Japan and China, and sometimes places in Korea) have their own specific readings that you learn by... living there. There's also personal names, which you just need to learn a bunch of names as you go along. I honestly haven't found it problematic.

There's still a ton of tricky and specific words that are written with Kanji and not with the phonetic characters (at least with newspapers and published stuff). Also characters normally have 2 to 4 readings (more in some cases). You just... get used to them after enough exposure. The only occasions where phonetic characters are always used is for foreign proper names and place names.

While I was studying Chinese for a year (this was after alraedy having studied Japanese for several years) it was really quick and easy to pick up on new characters. Your first 100-200 are hard, but after that they get progressively easier to remember.

Monika wrote:2. Even ignoring writing characters: Chinese is superhard to learn.

I gotta be honest... I've read that blog article before and didn't really like it. There's a lot of (justified) frustration, but most of it's effect seems to be discouraging people from trying to learn Chinese. Most of the points he raises do apply to Japanese as well.

As for the differences... Using phonetic characters is a bit of an 'out' but, outside of personal communication and school assignments, it's not a great 'out'. Newspaper and academic articles still all use professional-level kanji. It's true that you don't need to remember tones (there are tones in Japanese, but they're not essential to being understood, like accenting in English). So that part is easier, yes.

Monika wrote:3. Chinese does not have an interesting grammar.
I would say Chinese has almost no grammar. Linguists would disagree. What I mean is: There is no conjugation of verbs (they do not change by tense, person or number). There is no declination of nouns, pronouns and adjectives (they do not change by case, gender or number).
...
Chinese has mostly the same word order as English: Subject-Verb-Object. I think Japanese has Subject-Object-Verb. So Chinese does not help you to open your mind in that respect.
...
And: "more" grammar helps you understand. In a Japanese (or Arabic or German) sentence with unknown words you can figure out if something is a verb, adjective, noun etc. in many cases and that can help you figure out what a sentence means. In Chinese this is pretty hopeless, the words are simply strung together.

[/quote]
Japanese word order is... flexible. It's more accurate to say that it's the suffixes (postpositions or particles) that determine the function of a word, whereas in Chinese (and English) it's the position of the word. That does make it easier to understand the gist of a sentence if you don't get all the words, but it comes at a cost that there are a lot of expressions that use these grammatical structures that make no sense if you approach it strictly grammatically.

Monika wrote:4. Chinese pronunciation is superhard.
5. For Australians, Japanese seems to be more relevant.

No argument there. There's an additional barrier in Japanese to being understood, though, which is context. If you ever live there, you have to get used to speaking in Japanese to someone and getting a response in English (broken or complete). Since it's such a context-based language (quick explanation... where English may use pronouns, Japanese just leaves the word out when it'd be understood by context) when someone expects you to speak English then you simply may not be understood regardless of your language skills.

Monika wrote:- The lack of short vowels in writing (except in the Koran, teaching books and poetry) makes it rather hard to read normal texts in the beginning until you know a lot of words. But Japanese is not exactly easier with its characters.

I found Japanese easier to read than Arabic... At least with Japanese after I learn a character I can read it regardless of how it's written (except pre-war cursive script... that don't count). Arabic... folks don't like writing vowels and I have a hard time differentiating characters...

Monika wrote:I found it interesting to learn the radicals, e.g. to identify the radical for metal/iron (not sure which it was) in all kinds of characters that are somewhat related to it. Not sure to which degree this works in Japanese, I think you would still have this, maybe with fewer words for each radical.

It still carries over. Not sure how the word count compares since I don't know enough Chinese to comment.

Kenrou wrote:On the downside, kanji is a foreign invention that was forcefully attached to Japanese 1500 or so years ago, so there are a few kinks. While most characters have a phonetic component that, as far as I understand, corresponds quite well with pronunciation in Chinese, only bits and pieces of that system remains in Japanese words of Chinese origin. Words of Japanese origin follow no system at all and thus have to be memorized one by one.

Oh, it doesn't map over very neatly to Chinese pronunciation. The different Japanese character pronunciations are a function of the era that a given word was brought over (hence the multiple on-yomi readings for some...).

Anyway! This was a lot of fun. I just want to conclude by saying that any given language you devote yourself to, there's no reason to believe you can't learn it, especially if you devote a lot of time and effort to it. KF
~Kizyr
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Mon Nov 21, 2011 10:47 pm UTC

gaurwraith wrote:What I wanted to say is that I'm really tired of discouragement.

Is it really needed?

You seem to confuse this thread, where somebody asked for advice how to choose a second language, with some other thread, where someone posted about how he or she wants to learn Chinese and e.g. wants advice how to get started and someone butts in the OP should better give up right now.

Just in case this did not make it clear enough: Your post made me angry.

What is so bad about starting to learn Chinese?

I spelled out the answer to this in detail already.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Kizyr wrote:Ok, Monika, I disagree with you, but I want to emphasize that I'm really enjoying the points you lay out and hope you don't take any umbrage at me responding to or countering them. I'm liking the way this thread is going since I really like discussing this subject, and I think the conversation is probably more informative anyway.

Don't worry, I love your answer :D . I always like getting more information about languages I have not studied or not studied deep enough, and different perspectives on the difficulty of languages, too.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby eaglewings51 » Thu Dec 01, 2011 5:39 pm UTC

If you have no preference, go with one you'll probably use: eg Spanish. I believe Spanish is the second most common language in the world and there are quite a few people in the US who speak just Spanish. (I don't know if you live in the US or not).

Or you could learn a language that is Important to you because of your ancestry.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Anonymously Famous » Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:40 pm UTC

Gerardiebla wrote:I'm actually living in Australia so the proximate languages are probably slightly different to the US.

That said, I believe there are quite a few Spanish speakers in Australia as well. Last I noticed, though, Gerardiebla was leaning toward Arabic.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:46 am UTC

Really interesting discussion going on here! I wish I knew more about languages to contribute, I'm sure I will soon enough. I still have a couple of months before I need to make a decision so I'm think for now I'll just let things simmer away in the background. My grandmother recently suggested learning German due to a considerable body of academic literature in the language (I think particularly referring to 19th Century stuff) and as mentioned previously its a major language in the music world. In addition Germany is somewhere I've considered travelling too. As I write this I realised that German seems like the obvious option, but I'm far from resolved. My grandmother also knows a lot of ancient greek, so she convinced me to take a two week course in summer school just for fun. If I really get into it then I might take that at university as well.

As I side note I was wondering if anyone knew about fees at German universities (looking at you Monika :P), I've heard they're very reasonable, even free. I was wondering what conditions this was under/if its true at all. And I guess it would be interesting what the German study experience is like.

Anyway, just thought I'd update you all seeing as you've all given such great advice.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Wed Dec 07, 2011 2:30 pm UTC

Gerardiebla wrote:As I side note I was wondering if anyone knew about fees at German universities (looking at you Monika :P), I've heard they're very reasonable, even free.

Traditionally unis were free.
Recently, around 2006, a lot of states introduced fees of 500 EUR per semester, i.e. 1000 EUR per year. About half the states did this.
More recently, after the next elections in 2009-2011, states dropped the fees again. So now a few have 500 EUR fee and most don't.

There are everywhere administrative/social fees/charges of 50 to 200 EUR per semester. Where the fee is on the high end this is usually good because it means it includes a "semester ticket", i.e. included use of all public transportation in the area (buses, trams, subway, local trains; not e.g. Intercity trains). Where the general fee is low this means you have to pay this ticket separately, which usually makes it a bit more expensive, but still really cheap in contrast to all other ticket options.

If you live in a dorm, you have to pay rent of course. In the West there is never sufficient space for everyone in dorms. In the East there is usually more than enough. Nowhere are you required to live in a dorm. It's cheap to live there and the internet is fast and may be included / free. People do not share rooms in dorms. Dorms are not gender-segregated.

So your biggest challenge would be that you either need to pass German tests to study or you find a uni that teaches full majors in English.
Additionally a simple high school diploma is insufficient to study at a German uni (or most unis in Europe). It has to be an "academic HS diploma" meaning 4 English, 3 math, 3 science, 3 foreign language, 3 social science, plus either SAT = 1300 out of 1600 (just math + reading part), or plus SAT = 1150 AND one year of college, or plus two years of college, and those need to be the first two years of a four-year program or in a community college that allows transfer to a four-year program.
Or if you already have a bachelor then you can also study at any uni.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Gerardiebla » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:40 pm UTC

Wow, thanks Monika! At my university in Australia I pay about AU$2600 (about EUR2000 according to google), which doesn't really include anything other than classes, domestic students do get an interest free loan from the government for these fees though, which is usually paid back through tax.

That all sounds great. Looks like studying in Germany would be a fun experience. Anyway its a long way off yet, thanks for the info.

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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Monika » Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:27 pm UTC

Ah sorry, the high school diploma requirements were for students from the US. Not sure how that compares to Australia.
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Re: How should I choose a second language?

Postby Fire Brns » Thu Dec 08, 2011 3:05 pm UTC

I skipped a few posts reading though so excuse me if someone said this.
If you want to skip this part scroll down about 20 lines to my pro/con list.

Decide using the practicality of language. Spanish is good if you live in the U.S. because you will encounter the most speakers short of a native speaking country.
Lo es no muy duficil. Pronouns, and conjucation are the hardest.
Chinese or Japanese? I'm learning Chinese and while they do have a point of the impossible number of characters but they leave out that many complex symbols are a combination of smaller symbols; spoken chinese is nearly the same as english in many circumstances of sentence structure while Japanese is bassackwards. Only real additional milestone in Chinese is vowels, each one has 4 ways to pronounce it (don't be tone deaf) but most classes teach you it in pinyin(phonetic chinese).
Wo jiao Fire. I'm called Fire.
Fire watashi desu. Fire I am.
Also I like tossing insults like in Firefly so that's a bonus.
There are more the only people I know who speak japanese are the ones who like anime.
dong ma?
Arabic, again are you England or plan to serve in the military? I'm planning not to learn and am pushing as hard as I can to get a European station. My friend is learning it and he is going to West Point (he is crazy).
French, two relevant countries speak this: France and Canada. France is not worth it, most French Canadians are bilingual or bring a family member to translate when they are on vacation.
German, more countries speak it, minor difficulties learning, sentence structure and articles: aber der sprache ist nicht zu hasslich. German is a root of english so they are closely related.
(note, I did not use a translator to write any of those)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
So:
Spanish
Pros: Easy, business
Cons: Pronouns, conjugation.
Sample: Hola.

Arabic
Pros: simple structure.
Cons: written backwards, 1 of the common applications implies warzone.
Sample: Saleem.

Japanese
Pros: writing structure
Cons: Sentence structure, less speakers
Sample: Konichiwa

Chinese
Pros: Business, sentence structure
Cons: writing structure, tong marks(vowels).
Sample: Ni hao.

French
Pros: Easy enough
Cons: not many practical applications, pronounciation
Sample: Salut.

German
Pros: root of english, business
Cons: sentence structure, articles
Sample: hallo.

*
"business" means more likely to encounter a speaker while working
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