Choosing a language that you will use
In spite of the fact that my advice to others has always been to pick a language not for it's features, or interestingness, or uniqueness, or whatever, but rather to choose a language that you will use, I failed to follow my own advice with my choice of Turkish last year and that led to poor results.
Thus, I have resolved not to make the same mistake this year. So when I began thinking about what I want to learn for 2012, the first thing on my mind was to choose a language with many speakers here around me. That is represented in two distinct but equally important ways:
The first thing to consider is, what foreign-language speakers do you know, and with whom you are likely to find regular use and practice? In my case, I have one coworker who speaks fluent French and another who is a fluent speaker of Greek, and I'm pretty sure another guy there speaks Czech. My dance instructor is Chinese. And the bartender at a place I go regularly is Serbian, which has provided me opportunities to pick up some of that language as well.
The second thing to consider is, what foreign-languages are well-represented where you live? What connections could you likely make with people you don't know yet? Chicago has a very large Polish community (the only city in the world with more native Polish speakers than Chicago is Warsaw), and I regularly run into Polish speaking people in my day-to-day activities. After Polish and Spanish, the next highest foreign population here is Chinese, mostly speakers of Mandarin. There is also a large Greek community in "Greektown," which happens to be near my office.
I seem to encounter many Middle-Eastern people in day-to-day activities, but I must confess to some ignorance about what language(s) they are speaking. I don't know enough to recognize or distinguish Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers, Urdu speakers, or speakers of the many languages of India, so while it often sounds like they're speaking the same language, it's much more likely that every person I meet is speaking a completely different language. I just don't know.
And if that's not enough to think about, Chicago is a city with a great deal of tourism as well as home to several foreign consulates, so in addition to our diverse population we also have a lot of foreign people from other places here quite regularly. It's not uncommon to encounter speakers of French, German, and Mandarin on any given day, in addition to fairly frequent encounters with Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, Hindi, and Portuguese.
It's a lot to think about, and that's just scratching the surface!
I'm not going to reveal my language choice for this year just yet, because I first want to get you thinking about what influences are around you. Why did you choose the language you're learning? Or if you haven't chosen yet, how might these considerations affect your choice?
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