#1 Edited by TooWalrus (13139 posts) -

As a white American latchkey kid, learning a second language was never necessary, encouraged or even on my radar, really. Looking back now, I wish my parents had forced me to learn one, or to play piano, or anything really other than the massive amount of Bible knowledge still bouncing around in my head, doing me zero good (though I know younger self wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with more extracurricular activities).

I’ve made some poor choices, and I’ve now got a business degree, yet no idea what I want to do with myself. Anyway, I’m done with college now (well, for awhile, anyway). At first, I figured I’d be using that extra time to play more video games, but... that’s just not working for me. I never really feel like playing games for long stretches of time anymore- especially not during the middle of the day. I think I want to fill that void with me sitting alone in the public library, studying. Just like the old days.

And I think a second language is the way to go. I've heard it's a great way to keep your mind sharp, I'm interested in breaking the ignorant American stereotype, and I'm definitely intrigued by other cultures. Though I’m somewhat stuck at what to learn. I’ve got a few picks, let’s just dissect this here:

  • French. This is the first thing to pop into my head. My name is French, my grandparents lived in French Canada, in fact, every generation of my family speaks French- up until our generation, that is. The only thing is, I’m not sure what I’d do with it. Paris is barely on my list of places I’d like to visit, let alone travel to on a regular basis. But then I suppose I could talk to my grandparents in French... but how much longer are they going to be around, realistically? Moving on.

  • Latin. It’s a dead language, but I do find it the most intriguing, even if the ability to read ancient texts wouldn’t exactly help me in day-to-day life.

  • Mandarin. This sounds challenging. I’m considering this because “business school” taught me that relations with Chinese companies are going to be pretty damn important in the future. Oh, also, the university (and surrounding town) have become just swarming with Chinese transfer students & business-folk, and god damn are some of those girls gorgeous (just sayin’.)

  • Japanese. See, this is the one I think I’m most interested in, but... well, you know. It’s certainly popular around here, I mean, this exists, but I don’t think I’m a crazy enough fanatic of Japanese stuff to justify it. I’m moderately interested in anime, sure, and I love Japanese games, though most of the games I’m interested in are localized anyway. I think the reason this sounds so appealing to me right now is all the crazy stuff my ‘hero,’ David Lee Roth has been doing after moving to Japan. From his radio show, his dojo, and... whatever the fuck this is, it’s made the idea of living as a stranger in a strange land just so god damn appealing. (You should click those links). Also, with my degree, I could work in the gaming industry- I’m not artistic enough to design games, but I am potentially savvy enough to work in a PR or HR department, so the language might actually be beneficial... The only thing stopping me is that the image in my head of “white kid wants to learn Japanese” isn’t particularly appealing.

So... I don’t know. I’m definitely not asking you guys what I should do. But what I am asking is this. Do any of you speak a second language? Specifically one that’s not spoken around you. I’d imagine learning English as a second language would be simpler, because it’s infested the culture of the entire world- but what culture is there in suburban Michigan where I’m stuck now? Next to none, I imagine immersing myself in any language without the culture to go along with it would be difficult. Any suggestions on other languages? What about methods, the best way to self-teach a language? And most of all, has it been worth it, for you? Talk to me, people.

#2 Edited by Video_Game_King (36107 posts) -

Go with whatever interests you most. I've heard a lot of people say that you're fucked if you're not properly motivated (IE if you're not dead set on one language for concrete reasons), and I guess they're right. Language learning fucking sucks; there's no guarantee of progress and it takes a long fucking time to get any good at it. In that sense, motivation will help immensely. So we can immediately chuck Latin out the window, and Japanese doesn't sound like your cup of tea. (That's on top of the fact that for somebody who only knows English, Japanese is going to kick your ass so ridiculously hard that it will rupture your small intestines.) That leaves Mandarin and French, which sound better, if not entirely good. Out of those two, I'd go with French, since:

A.) It's the easier of the two languages, and

B.) A helluva a lot less culture shock just jumping into it. It takes a long time before you see hanzi as made up of radicals rather than boxy squiggles.

#3 Posted by NyxFe (248 posts) -

I find learning languages to be fascinating (only one I'm competent in besides English is Russian, and even then, only basic conversation), but I've studied a fair bit of French, German and Japanese. Of those, Japanese is the one I'm likely to go back to and learn more.

As far as difficulty (of the one's you've mentioned), Mandarin is going to be the hardest from what I hear, both from native speakers and learners, with Japanese in second. Latin is fascinating if only because you get to see where tons of words in english/french/etc originated from (something that makes German interesting as well).

I highly, extremely highly, recommend checking out Rosetta Stone if you want to learn alone. It is expensive, but it's expensive for a reason.

It's definitely a worthwhile experience, if only to find out a bit more about how languages work and the different aspects each one has. (Chances are, you'll start hating English after you learn some of the way more simplistic and logical stuff some languages do, but everything has some of those (Japanese numerators, anyone? Russian suffixes? gendered words?) )

#4 Posted by MildMolasses (3214 posts) -

French because it doesn't force you to learn a new alphabet and will allow you to ease into it. And since you have family that speaks it, you should be able to practice speaking which is very important. It can also act as a gateway to the other Latin languages as they share many similar roots and conjugations.

#5 Posted by mosespippy (4051 posts) -

I've been trying to teach myself French on and off for a couple years now. It's certainly hard to stay motivated and keep at it. I wish I was better at that, since one day last summer I suddenly found myself invited to France for a weekend. It probably helps that I'm in Canada and there are occasional instances where knowing French is useful.

Personally I don't think the fun part about learning a language is sitting in a library reading. I don't think that's very useful. Chances are that if you are going to come across French, its being spoken, not written. As a result, podcasts, music and radio and what I use most to keep my french from dulling. iTunes has a whole language learning section in their podcast store. If you're in Michigan you might be close enough to Canada to get Radio-Canada.

I'd imagine that learning Spanish would be way more useful in America and it's probably as easy to learn as French.

#6 Edited by Ghostiet (5228 posts) -

Technical protip: get yourself some tapes/recordings. Watch TV shows in a different language with English subs on. Play games. Basically - fuck teachers. I learned English as a kid mostly due to watching cartoons and listening to tapes. A voice in your ear telling you the pronunciation and then asking you to repeat will teach you a lot more than any course.

Latin is not fun. Learn the pronunciation rules, memorize your favorite sayings and stop at that. The problem with Latin is that it requires constant interpretation of what you are reading to understand it, since it's a dead language. The syntax, word order often requires you to dissect a sentence and rearrange it to even get a basic understanding of it. The only real benefit to learning Latin is that it's pretty good at teaching you how to translate a sentence until it sounds like something that actually makes sense and sounds like spoken language - but that's a benefit for someone who has to translate into something like Polish, since my language is a lot more long-winded than yours. And since you'll be translating to the flexible English, you won't actually learn anything useful.

Learn Polish if you want to twist your tongue a bit and gain a new perspective on stuff like grammatical cases or plural forms, lol. You'll also learn about a hundred of new swear words.

#7 Edited by Chibithor (574 posts) -

Living in Finland I've been taught various languages, and I'd say actually wanting to learn the language and having interest for it is the most important thing. A language that uses a different alphabet is obviously much harder, but don't let that stop you.

@ghostiet said:

Technical protip: get yourself some tapes/recordings. Watch TV shows in a different language with English subs on. Play games. Basically - fuck teachers. I learned English as a kid mostly due to watching cartoons and listening to tapes. A voice in your ear telling you the pronunciation and then asking you to repeat will teach you a lot more than any course.

Absolutely. TV and games have taught me more English than schools ever did.

#8 Edited by Bocam (3681 posts) -

The thing about Japanese is that after you learn its grammar rules (incredibly easy compared to english) you'll probably get overwhelmed with the amount of memorization you have to do. Not only are you learning 46 hiragana and 46 katakana, you have 1,945 kanji ahead of you, and they are not all as easy as 一、二、三

#9 Posted by jimmyfenix (3837 posts) -

Quel âge as-tu? Quel âge avez-vous? <----thats how much french i know!

#10 Posted by Hockeymask27 (3683 posts) -

As long as your not planning to write novels french isn't that hard to learn enough to speak and converse. The writing gets a little tricker and I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable.

#11 Posted by Video_Game_King (36107 posts) -

@bocam:

It's not the memorization that gets you (although that's pretty fucking hard, too). It's more just figuring out how to interpret that information and organize it all in your mind so that it all makes sense.

#12 Posted by believer258 (11682 posts) -

The former Van Halen singer moved to Japan? Man, I had no idea what that guy was doing with his time and money.

@bocam said:

The thing about Japanese is that after you learn its grammar rules (incredibly easy compared to english) you'll probably get overwhelmed with the amount of memorization you have to do. Not only are you learning 46 hiragana and 46 katakana, you have 1,945 kanji ahead of you, and they are not all as easy as 一、二、三

Grammar rules and memorization are two things that generally come fairly easy to me in English (when I actually put forth effort, that is, and not regular forum posts). I'm not saying that I could trivialize Japanese or that it's anything like English - absolutely not - but I'm already a little interested in learning it, so maybe if I ever learned another language I would start there.

Just out of curiosity, why did you learn Japanese, Bocam?

#13 Posted by Animasta (14651 posts) -

@believer258: hell, the former guitarist for Megadeth moved there too (Marty Friedman)

@bocam said:

The thing about Japanese is that after you learn its grammar rules (incredibly easy compared to english) you'll probably get overwhelmed with the amount of memorization you have to do. Not only are you learning 46 hiragana and 46 katakana, you have 1,945 kanji ahead of you, and they are not all as easy as 一、二、三

even easier languages have this problem.

German, for instance; I can never fuckin remember which gender words are and it's super annoying since that's kinda vital.

#14 Posted by isomeri (1226 posts) -

Living in Finland I've been taught various languages, and I'd say actually wanting to learn the language and having interest for it is the most important thing. A language that uses a different alphabet is obviously much harder, but don't let that stop you.

@ghostiet said:

Technical protip: get yourself some tapes/recordings. Watch TV shows in a different language with English subs on. Play games. Basically - fuck teachers. I learned English as a kid mostly due to watching cartoons and listening to tapes. A voice in your ear telling you the pronunciation and then asking you to repeat will teach you a lot more than any course.

Absolutely. TV and games have taught me more English than schools ever did.

I agree with everything above. Motivation is essential and the best way to learn is with things you already enjoy (movies, games and so on).

#15 Edited by Bismarck (430 posts) -

My second langauge is English, I started speaking it around I was 4 or 5. Untill I started going to school and studying it as a class I mostly picked it up from Cartoon Network and Fox Kids. English I studied untill the 7th grade, after that it was movies/books/games and the internet. In the 5th grade I had to pick another language ( it was like 2 langauges program thing), I picked German, German was easy for me, what helped me out were the german channels we got over here RTL, RTL2, Super RTL ( where all the cool cartoons and animes were on). Shows like One Piece, Digimon, Dragon Ball/Z helped me in studying German.

In the 8th grade I went in another school where I started studying Spanish, cool and easy langauge, but I was too lazy and didn't bother too much with it. 9th grade is when the French started, I think its one of the worst things I've done. I don't know why but form the get-go French and I we didn't go together very well. It was one of my weakest classes in school.

In the university as a part of my archaeology program I studied Latin, Ancient Greek and Old-Bulgarian. I started going to English classes again, but only as a class that I can relax in and do nothing the entire semester.

I'd suggest picking a language that you want to study, as someone suggested tapes and recordings are a good start. I think there are short books and novels written in 2 languages. One book devided in 2 sections for each langauge. I would also suggest shows and movies, the more the better. From a personal experiance I'd say it works. But in the TV's case I think being a kid also helps :), the younger you are the faster you can learn a language.

If I'd have to rate the languages I have studied from Easiest to Hardest it would go like this: English, German, Spanish, Latin, Ancient Greek, Old Bulgarian and last and probably the hardest for me French.

#16 Posted by Bocam (3681 posts) -

@believer258: I started learning Japanese out of necessity (needing to communicate with businessmen) then I became exposed to the otaku subculture and it was a downward spiral from there.

#17 Posted by Dot (163 posts) -

C#

#18 Edited by Laiv162560asse (487 posts) -

@toowalrus: Deciding to learn another language without having any pressing need to do so is admirable. I strongly believe that learning other languages is important, that it broadens your mind, and to that end I dug up a post I made elsewhere a few years ago on the subject. Maybe it will interest you.

With that said, I have to say that learning other languages didn't work out too great for me. Despite my high-falootin' words in that post, I didn't actually add that I've never really practised what I preached there. To unlock the potential of a second or third language, to an extent you have to immerse yourself in the country or culture of origin. However, overseas study was a weirdly alienating experience for me and so cultural immersion was something I never committed to properly. A couple of people I graduated with went on to have professions vaguely related to Japan or the Japanese language, but it never worked out that way for me. Most of my language ability has faded due to lack of use (and I should add that includes a year long Mandarin module which I took and aced, but forgot to mention in the post I linked). Another person I know now lives and works in Japan, nearly 8 years since we graduated, but she hates it - she's just scared of leaving in case she can't find a job back home.

So with that in mind I would add the warning that language learning will not necessarily translate into jobs and prospects. You need to feel a passion for many parts of the language or culture in question, which will tide you over whenever you feel frustrated or disillusioned with what you're doing. A further warning, since you've expressed interest in Japan, is that it isn't the exotic wonderland it's often romanticised as being. To visit for a short time and just trawl the eye candy and tourist traps, it can be exactly that. To stay there long enough to absorb something significant of the culture and language, you'll probably find that it shares many of the problems of wherever you're from, maybe even with a trifle more insularity, alienation and horrible urban architecture.

#19 Posted by Live2bRighteous (316 posts) -

I myself was just considering learning a second language. Not to long ago, I was in Croatia, Medjugorje for a week. There was a huge amount of different people there. (Polish, Italian, American, Croatian, Chinese, etc)

There were a few Italian and Croatian people that came up and started a discussion with my Cousin and I... and for whatever reason, I suddenly became jealous of them. Being able to talk to different cultures is fucking awesome, I need to start learning Spanish this Summer.

#20 Edited by CaLe (3916 posts) -

I feel that for me it was pure love of the language that got me to a proficient level. It's one thing to like Japanese games, anime, culture, whatever. If you don't love the language more than all of that stuff, more than games even, I can't imagine someone making any significant progress with it. Particularly when learning as an adult with other things that take up your time. This has been the case for me at least. I actively dislike a lot about Japan, but damn if I didn't fall completely in love with the language. I got to a point with Korean that progressing beyond would have felt like actual work. Not a single day studying Japanese has felt like work to me, it was and still is a joy. So yeah, my advice would be to fall in love with whatever you want to learn.

As to your question about whether it was worth it: my life would feel empty and incomplete without it.

#21 Posted by Turtlebird95 (2314 posts) -

Mandarin Chinese would be good seeing as you have a degree in business.

I speak a little Japanese and Norwegian and while it has yet to really come in use to me just learning about it has been fun.

Online
#22 Edited by clumsyninja1 (817 posts) -

You may need to be realistic that in today world Spanish and Chinese are probably the most important languages out there. i will add Portuguese as well, cause Brazil.

#23 Posted by maskedarcstrike (701 posts) -

You may need to be realistic that in today world Spanish and Chinese are probably the most important languages out there. i will add Portuguese as well, cause Brazil.

This man speaks the truth.

#24 Posted by Danteveli (1165 posts) -

As someone who lives in China I have to say Mandarin is pretty useful. The problem is that you won't truly learn it outside China since pronunciation is big part and you have to get used to it. You can get the basics anywhere but just studying in your country may not be enough to make it useful in business.

#25 Posted by 23r23d23er23r234f2f2 (25 posts) -

Did well in German at school averaging B+ in my last year doing the subject, second best subject behind English.

Still dabble in it now and then with a bit of Spanish. Funnily enough my next holiday destination will possibly be France so might learn a bit before going there, but I'll probably just confuse myself.

Learning German and Spanish at the same time was a mistake though and I'm avoiding it now, writing thing like 'Tu eres ein hombre' etc. was just embarassing.

So yeah just in case you were thinking of learning two languages at once, you can, but I'd advise to get comfortable with one first.

#26 Posted by audioBusting (1481 posts) -

As someone who lives in China I have to say Mandarin is pretty useful. The problem is that you won't truly learn it outside China since pronunciation is big part and you have to get used to it. You can get the basics anywhere but just studying in your country may not be enough to make it useful in business.

Agreed! I spent about two years studying Mandarin outside China before I moved there (as my third language), and that education was almost completely useless when I did. I learnt way more in six months than I did in those two years. Memorizing the vocabularies is obviously important (no alphabet!!!), but the pronunciation and intonation are hard to get used to unless you hear it every day. Understanding the culture is also a very big part of the communication, which is difficult if you haven't been in the country.

Actually hanging out with and talking to native speakers is still the best way to learn the language. I am not technically proficient in Mandarin, but I can talk to people without much problem because of that. Watching TV helps, although the only contemporary shows worth watching are either rom-coms or period dramas (the rom-coms and soap operas can be very educational, actually.) There are many great Chinese/Singaporean Mandarin movies to learn from too. These TV shows and movies are usually on the local video hosting sites, so they're not too hard to find (so are a lot of Japanese TV shows, actually), though they usually don't have English subtitles. Also, learning all the curse words definitely helped.

(Hey, the living cost in China isn't very high, so you can just move there and take language classes =D!)

I did study French for a bit as well (but have lost interest since), and out of your picks I'll say that it should be the easiest choice. It's the most similar to English, after all.

#27 Posted by misterpope (379 posts) -

I am a native English speaker and have learned quite a bit of finnish, and what helped me the most is immersing myself in the language. I had the benefit of living in Finland for a few years, but like others have said watching movies, playing games and listening to music in another language helps a ton. Good luck!

#28 Posted by Fallen189 (4944 posts) -

For a language with a non roman alphabet, you kinda have to live in the country to learn it. Japanese/Chinese/Mandarin/Korean etc. There's exceptions, but it's so inefficient

#29 Edited by ervonymous (1297 posts) -

Finnish grammar is a nightmare and I've found the language to be a great asset in learning others. English came naturally through games and other media and it's still forced on kids along with Swedish in school.

Since then I've learned rudimentary Russian and I'm living the "white kid wants to learn Japanese" dream because I either find the culture interesting or indulge in its byproducts. I feel like starting with the (pale in comparison) cyrillic script with its seven esses helped with memorizing the kana and kanji and the Finnish pronunciation lends itself to both languages.

Drown yourself in the language. Listen, read, think, change the system language of your electronics. Every silly thing counts.