How To Choose A Language That You Will Actually 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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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • First, I'm glad to see comments back, Randy. I'm Looking forward to participating in the discussions here. You make a great point in this post and for the most part I agree. But I'll also add that 'near' doesn't have to be location. It could be close to your heart. 
    You may be a person who doesn't have many Japanese friends -  or any - but really enjoys Anime or Manga. In that case the content may be enough to push you to do what's required. I say this because this has been the case for me and my progress with Japanese. I don't have Japanese friends that I interact with regulary, but the langauge is interesteing enough for me to continue even though  the langauge has *really* frustrated me at times. But I get your point. Pick a langauge for for  *reason* and not just 'because'

  • Good to see you back and also the comments system. I was quite surprised you chose Greek this year, I was expecting you to go for Polish, although you have prior experience with this language and Russian.I was in Greece last year, and the Greek are very surprised when non-natives say something in Greek. Most of them did speak English however. I learnt a few phrases from a phrase-book, and it really did go a long way to being treated better than the average tourist.It looks like a fun and interesting language to learn. So I wish you good luck this year :-)

  • I still have a great deal of interest in Polish, in no small part due to the huge Polish population here in Chicago. I wanted to choose it this year, but I just couldn't feel good about taking on something that might be viewed as giving me an advantage after my poor showing last year with Turkish. After all, my point with this web site is not just to show people my own progress, but rather to demonstrate to others that anyone can easily learn another language if they approach it correctly, no matter how difficult it may first seem.I'm looking forward to exactly what you mentioned: the welcome from Greeks when they see me speak their language. And I'm sure it's a beautiful country... one I'd love to visit.Thanks for your comments!

  • Yeah, I'm happy to have the comments back on. I missed the interaction. As you know, things got way too crazy around here after my visit to Poland, though, and it was necessary to put it on ice for a while.To your point about interest... I don't disagree, but I am cautious about mentioning that, because I find most people have a really poor gauge of their own interest in something.  It's clear that your interest in Japanese is very deep and lasting, but all too often when people try to learn something they are "interested" in, they give up at the first sign of a challenge, which is a clear sign to me that their interest was mostly a passing fascination.  Thus, my reservations about suggesting that when discussing how to choose.

  • Спасибо за комментарию.

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