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Learning languages for their own sake

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Seth
Diglot
Changed to RedKing’sDream
Senior Member
United States
Joined 7066 days ago

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Speaks: English*, Russian
Studies: Persian

 
 Message 1 of 9
05 May 2005 at 8:18pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir,

What is your opinion of learning languages which one is unlikely to ever use in any real meaningful sense?

To illustrate, I'm quite intrigued by Hungarian; but since I have no intention of ever moving to Hungary and since Hungarian immigrants are few and far between, is it really worth tackling such a giant--even if one is motivated?

Edited by administrator on 07 May 2005 at 1:44am

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 7098 days ago

609 posts - 2102 votes 

 
 Message 2 of 9
07 May 2005 at 1:10am | IP Logged 
Seth, you wanted my thoughts on learning languages for which you are unlikely to ever have any active practical use. I think it is a great idea if you are the right, rare kind of learner that I suspect you are by simple virtue of the fact that you asked the question.

For the vast majority of language learners, this would be an inconceivable thought. Most people can only imagine learning a foreign language, let alone actually embark upon doing so, if they have an actual or anticipated practical need or desire to converse in it. However, I know I have discussed before that there are three basic kinds of motivation for studying languages: practical/utilitarian, cultural, and “intellectual.” I just described the first kind, and the second kind is obviously the desire to get at the culture through the language. Your question is a fine example of the third kind—the desire to study a language in and of itself, because you are curious about how it works, what kind of system it is, how it is or is not related to other such systems, how it expresses thoughts.

You are probably intrigued by Hungarian as a non-Indo-European European language, as something totally different and yet close to home. If you go at it from the desire to understand how such a totally different linguistic system works, you will not only learn it, you will learn a great deal about the abstract category of Language in the process, and you will expand your mind by exercising it in learning how to structure your thoughts in a totally new and different fashion. I think you will have a much higher chance of succeeding in actually learning the language than you would if you simply had a utilitarian desire to speak it. I myself have always studied languages from intellectual and cultural motivation. I have honestly never once studied any language because I had any special desire or need to converse in it. I find that the ability to converse practically is a pleasant, almost incidental side effect of truly knowing a language and I believe that if you strive to get to know a language out of intellectual reasons, you get this ability in the process of gaining a deeper understanding of its structure and mechanics more surely than you will if you try to obtain it directly.

Edited by administrator on 07 May 2005 at 1:41am

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administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
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 Message 3 of 9
07 May 2005 at 1:50am | IP Logged 
I think junior language learners, of which there are many who visit this website but do not always post, should probably first start with a 'usable' language.

I'm all for learning languages just for the pleasure of it and the fascination they have, but if you are learning your first or first few languages, it is probably better to focus on one that you can use. They can also be fascinating!

If I had the time to study a language for the sheer fun and intrisincal interest, I think I would take Georgian. It certainly has a captivating alphabet, culture and grammar.
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Raistlin Majere
Trilingual Hexaglot
Senior Member
Spain
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 Message 4 of 9
07 May 2005 at 4:00am | IP Logged 

Many times, I have been told by people around me that learning Swedish was quite useless, and that I should not "waste" my time on it. I have also been told this when I began to study Kazakh, or when I was attracted by minoritary romance languages such as occitan, provençal or rhaetoromanic. However, I must say I do not share their opinion.
1 person has voted this message useful



administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
Joined 7218 days ago

3094 posts - 2987 votes 
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Speaks: French*, EnglishC2, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian
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 Message 5 of 9
07 May 2005 at 4:58am | IP Logged 
The sociologist in me thinks about Thorstein Veblen and his observations about conspicuous consumption. For those are indeed rich who can devote their time and effort to things of no immediate utility.

I think people who study minor languages just for kicks deserve our praise and admiration for their love of language is not tainted by utilitarian considerations.
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victor
Tetraglot
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 Message 6 of 9
07 May 2005 at 10:50am | IP Logged 
What I'm thinking is that it's fantastic that you want to discover a language and culture "intellectually" and not influenced by the desire to use the language.

However, I think that you will have to devote a huge amount of time, probably more than other "useful" (from a practical point of view) languages that you may encounter every day.

There are downsides to learning a language that is not "practical". It will be difficult for you to find resources such as a native speaker to practice the language with, and opportunities to practice using the language (i.e. speaking, writing, reading, listening). These opportunities help you improve your language.
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 7098 days ago

609 posts - 2102 votes 

 
 Message 7 of 9
07 May 2005 at 6:10pm | IP Logged 
Those who study languages for their own sake almost inevitably succeed in learning them. Those who study languages for other intellectual reasons (e.g., desire for mental exercise) also have a high rate of succeess. Those who study languages for cultural reasons generally get at least somewhere. However, those who study langauges for purely practical reasons almost always fail. We all know that the attrition rate for students in any language class is astronomically high, and we all also know that the vast number of resources available for beginning the study of any language compared to the paltry number of resources available for continuing or mastering them confirm this last statement because we all know that most people only have practical reasons for language study. The more reasons you have, the more different kinds of motives you have, the higher your chances for success, but the purest and therefore the best reason for studying a language is to study it for its own sake, and if you have this and this alone you are more likely to succeed than if you have all the others combined but lack this one.
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fanatic
Octoglot
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Australia
speedmathematics.com
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Speaks: English*, German, French, Afrikaans, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Dutch
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 Message 8 of 9
08 May 2005 at 5:54am | IP Logged 
Thank you, Ardaschir, for your observations. I have never thought about it for myself. I haven't really begun learning any language for practical, useful reasons. I began learning German before I had made a decision to travel to Germany. The decision possibly came as a result of my study of the language. Going to Germany certainly helped motivate me to learn the language better once the decision was made.

I began learning Malay before I was invited to visit Malaysia.

I had never realised that all of my languages have been for the pleasure of learning the language. Benefits have followed and I have put my knowledge to good use. I just thought, it is a good thing I learnt Russian or Dutch, as the language helped me on that occasion.

I guess I just enjoy learning languages.

If I were invited to visit Turkey or Iceland or Greece, I would learn the language and enjoy learning it, I am sure. I don't think the fact that I need the language or that a knowledge of the language would be useful would affect my enjoyment of learning it.


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