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A Question of Language

Having taken, and immediately thereafter, forgotten, three years of Spanish lessons in high school, I realize that I neglected an opportunity to learn another language. At the time, however, I was “forced” to take a language and therefore resented and rebelled against it.

Alas.

Now, many years out of college, I have this growing feeling that I should learn a language other than English. This feel is only intensified the more I learn about history and philosophy. There are subtleties and disti…

  1. Leigh

    Are you pursuing this for personal development and “culture” (to steal your word), or in order to read more books, or for practical daily use and to allow you to communicate with more people?

    If the former, decide which language has more books you want to read, or more you find unsatisfactory in translation.  If the latter, learn Spanish, unless you travel frequently to other parts of the world.

    If it’s some combination and for whatever reason you don’t particularly want to study Spanish, go with French.  Plenty of literature, probably the best language to know in Europe, there are French-speakers along our border, and lots of other places in the world where it would be useful if you’re traveling.

    That said, as someone who studied French — and doesn’t regret it — I can’t help often thinking that even a little knowledge of Spanish would be so much more practical.  You’re more likely to actually keep with it when you have actual opportunities to hear it and see it and speak it, and (depending on your location) you’re more likely to have those opportunities with Spanish.

  2. Pseudodionysius

    If I had to live with only one modern language other than English it would be French. I personally think you should pursue some Latin which will help you with any Romance language. I’ve posted suggestions on Latin elsewhere and you may wish to supplement those texts with A Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson and Understanding Language by Donald Fairbairn.

    I’ve always thought of “Latin is to French as Greek is to German” in terms of exceptions and variant forms. 

  3. Pseudodionysius

    In Familia Romana (Volume 1 of Lingua Latina) there are 35 lessons and the late Hans Orberg (who spent 30 years refining the methodology) recorded audio files that you can buy on CD. If you move them to an iPod or iPhone you can set them on auto repeat and listen to them while stuck in traffic.

  4. Britanicus
    eehines: As one who’s had occasion to study, or otherwise become passingly familiar with, a number of languages–English, French, Russian, German, Mexican, a smattering of Italian and Arabic (even Attic Greek)–I suggest Mandarin or Cantonese.

    I thought about Mandarin or Cantonese. As you say, there would be many benefits, practical and otherwise, in choosing either. However, I must admit that I’m a bit intimidated about the learning curve. At least with Greek/Latin I would have a familiar–if ancient–foundation from which to build on. Cantonese or Mandarin, as with many other languages, would be a completely undertaking.

    Although, it may be more rewarding because of the difficulty. From my very limited understanding, there are some subtleties and expressions that simply can not be translated out of Mandarin or Cantonese. It would be fascinating to learn.

     My heart lies in the West, however, and my goal is an enrichment of my understanding and appreciation of my civilization. At a later time, I would love to delve into the East.

  5. Britanicus
    Pseudodionysius

    Wheelock’s Latin is a fantastic place to start.  

    Sorry, no. The goal is to think in the target language, not to translate. CS Lewis describes the joy of thinking in Greek in his autobiographySurprised by Joy. I’ve usedWheelockas well asCollinsfor ecclesiastical Latin and its painful.

    Yes! This is precisely it. You’ve articulated it far clearer than I could. Thank you. I want to be able to think in a different language.

  6. Athena

    I had horrible experiences with learning foreign languages during my high school and college years.  To avoid a repeat of the terror, I bought Rosetta Stone Italian and Latin for Children to give my elementary age homeschooled kids a better start.  I have learned more listening in on their lessons than I ever did in the traditional classroom, and there is quite a bit of overlap between the two languages.  It helps that they have a crazy Italian uncle.

  7. Eric Hines
    Britanicus:  My heart lies in the West, however, and my goal is an enrichment of my understanding and appreciation of my civilization. At a later time, I would love to delve into the East. · 0 minutes ago

    In that case, I agree with many of the others–Latin is the way to go.  It underlies our languages of science and of law.  Also, Roman culture lies at the heart of much that is the West.

    To this, though, I would add Attic Greek (and there’s nothing like chanting the Aeneid in its original–it’s how the poem was originally performed, and its rhythms are quite musical).  Also, what I said about Latin and the Romans applies nearly as much to the Greeks.

    Eric Hines

  8. outstripp

    Learn Chinese. It might save your life in a few years.

  9. Britanicus
    Pseudodionysius

    Lingua Latina A College Companionby Jeanne Marie Neumann is esssential for those self studying and for additional motivation I strongly urge Climbing Parnassus – A New Apologia for Greek and Latin by Tracey Lee Simmons with Foreword by William F. Buckley, Jr. and back cover blurbs by Victor Davis Hanson and Richard Brookhiser. · 12 minutes ago

    Well, if it’s good enough for William F. Buckley, Jr. and Victor Davis Hanson… then it’s good enough for me. Also added to Amazon.

    You may even find Latin study so intriguing that you choose to forgo a modern language at all. Your choice.

    Quite possible. At the least, like you say, I’ll be better equipped to learn other Latin-based languages after.

  10. Britanicus
    Pseudodionysius: In Familia Romana (Volume 1 of Lingua Latina) there are 35 lessons and the late Hans Orberg (who spent 30 years refining the methodology) recorded audio files that you can buy on CD. If you move them to an iPod or iPhone you can set them on auto repeat and listen to them while stuck in traffic. · 10 minutes ago

    Impressive. Would you recommend this over something like Rosetta Stone?

  11. Pseudodionysius

    Quite possible. At the least, like you say, I’ll be better equipped to learn other Latin-based languages after.

    If you learn to enjoy your language study, it will become a permanent acquisition. If, instead, it becomes an eat your spinach endeavor, you’ll eventually learn to hate it and lose what should be a life long pleasure, and one of the few permanent things that the state can never take away from you.

  12. Pseudodionysius
    Amy Schley

    Britanicus

     I personally think you should pursue some Latin which will help you with any Romance language. I’ve posted suggestions on Latin elsewhere and you may wish to supplement those texts withA Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson andUnderstanding Language by Donald Fairbairn.

    When you say “some Latin”, do you mean that I should study enough to have an understanding of the foundation of the language? Enough to understand the language’s rules and systems?

    I’ll have to find your posts on the subject. Thanks! · 4 minutes ago

    Whether you’re only mildly curious or serious about learning Latin, Wheelock’s Latin is a fantastic place to start….  It’s also one of the cheapest college textbooks I ever had, at only ~$35. · 37 minutes ago

    By the way, I hope my disagreement didn’t come across as harsh in tone. I don’t object to anyone looking at both, but I think a fair comparison between the two makes the choice clear.

  13. Pseudodionysius
    Britanicus

    Pseudodionysius: In Familia Romana (Volume 1 of Lingua Latina) there are 35 lessons and the late Hans Orberg (who spent 30 years refining the methodology) recorded audio files that you can buy on CD. If you move them to an iPod or iPhone you can set them on auto repeat and listen to them while stuck in traffic. · 10 minutes ago

    Impressive. Would you recommend this over something like Rosetta Stone? · 5 minutes ago

    For Latin, most definitely. The amount of time and effort that went into Lingua Latina is astonishing and its product of basically one man’s devotion to language instruction. Pullins Publishing has an online learning facility available that you can sign up for (its around the same price as one year of Ricochet I believe).

    I don’t think you can really lose. The half life of your Latin study will be very long. 

  14. Pseudodionysius

    By the way, when the Catechism of the Catholic Church was redone, knowledge of Latin had slipped so far within the curia that they had to resort to French as the working draft language. 

    Anyone who’s worked on programming languages can imagine the difficulty involved when you work in a modern language, then work backwards to get your Latin source code then move forward again into English, German, Danish, etc etc.

  15. KC Mulville

    Just as a tangent to your question, but if you’re simultaneously interested in both philosophy and language, you may want to start with studying the philosophy of  language. I enjoy that myself, and although there’s some dreck in the field, there are plenty of interesting discussions.

  16. Fricosis Guy

    I will add a vote for Latin as well. The vocabulary helps with the Romance languages and the declensions help with German, Russian, etc. The orthography isn’t that hard really once you break the Greek/Russian code.

    Learn Mandarin if you’d like, but they’re learning idiomatic English on their own, thank you very much. Unlike the Japanese, they’re bothering to learn foreign devil languages…well, language.

  17. Rudolf Halbensinn
    I’ve always thought of “Latin is to French as Greek is to German” in terms of exceptions and variant forms.  · 13 hours ago

    Sorry, but Latin is the bedrock of romance Languages and French is a romance language, and German is anything but related to Greek.  And your statement knocks the wind out of me after speaking German for 45 years.  “A cat is to a dog as a wombat is to a female crocodile in terms of exceptional behavior and variant perspectives.”

    Honestly.

  18. Britanicus
    Pseudodionysius

    If you learn to enjoy your language study, it will become a permanent acquisition. If, instead, it becomes an eat your spinach endeavor, you’ll eventually learn to hate it and lose what should be a life long pleasure, and one of the few permanent things that the state can never take away from you. · 43 minutes ago

    I think you’re right. The aim is to have this be a permanent self-improving, but pleasurable experience. Don’t be so quick to doubt our State Masters….I have no doubt that at some point in the future, we’ll be forbidden to read “dangerous languages!” like Latin, because they have been used to promote “hateful religion!” like Christianity.

  19. Britanicus
    Pseudodionysius

    For Latin, most definitely. The amount of time and effort that went into Lingua Latina is astonishing and its product of basically one man’s devotion to language instruction. Pullins Publishing has an online learning facility available that you can sign up for (its around the same price as one year of Ricochet I believe).

    I don’t think you can really lose. The half life of your Latin study will be very long.  · 43 minutes ago

    This is very helpful, thank you. I assume that you are a student of Latin? Why did you decide to begin your study, and how long have you been at it?

  20. Britanicus
    KC Mulville: Just as a tangent to your question, but if you’re simultaneously interested in both philosophy and language, you may want to start with studying the philosophy of  language. I enjoy that myself, and although there’s some dreck in the field, there are plenty of interesting discussions.

    I know very little about language, but what little I do understand fascinates me. What do you recommend as a good starting point?

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