I studied French for three years in high school, but didn’t have much more opportunity to build on that. Later, I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s works on middle earth (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, etc.), and found his background as a philologist fascinating. He was able to create his own fictional languages, and in fact, they were the inspiration for the stories themselves. Once he created Elvish, he needed a race of elves to speak it, and they needed a history.

At the same time, my musical interests expanded all over the world, and introduced me to new languages on practically every continent. I discovered that speaking and learning languages was fun!

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Duolingo, which is a free website for learning languages. I have been studying French, Swedish, German, and Russian, to varying degrees and levels of success. I feel that my knowledge of my own native language, English, has improved as a result of studying foreign languages. It’s like programming languages — one begins to see them as a tool for communication, and much of the mystery and complexity disappears.

Here’s what I’m currently studying:

French (level 18 on Duolingo)

This was a clear choice, since I had three years under my belt. Of course, I had forgotten much of what I knew, but I have since learned many new things. The hardest part of French, for me, is the pronunciation. So many of the vowels are slightly different or even non-existent in English, and I’m used to hearing clear, consistently stressed syllables, whereas in French, it’s the order of the words that determines how they sound. The easiest part of French is the similarity in vocabulary with English.

Swedish (level 18)

For the longest time, I wanted to speak a Nordic language (I love my Swedish death metal and Norwegian black metal), so it was basically a tossup between Norwegian and Swedish. The other choices are a little too obscure for me, right now. My friend was learning Swedish, so I picked that one, to have a language buddy 🙂  Swedish isn’t very difficult for a native English speaker, but I would say the hardest part is also the pronunciation. They have a few sounds which don’t occur in English — namely the infamous sj-sound. The easiest part of Swedish is the verb conjugation, it doesn’t matter the subject, the verb remains the same!

German (level 14)

I’m in touch with a number of German speakers, so this was another choice, and I thought it might tie in nicely with Swedish and English, which are also considered “Germanic languages.” Actually, German is quite a bit different, as English has mostly lost its grammatical cases (we only retain them in pronouns like “I”, “me”, “he”, “him”), while German has retained them. That is the hardest part of learning German: you must accept that every noun, adjective, determiner and pronoun is going to be inflected for case, which is practically a non-consideration in English. The trade-off, of course, is that German has significant flexibility of word order, which can produce subtle differences in meaning, where you would employ prepositions and more rigid ordering in English. The easiest part of German is that every word is spelled exactly how it sounds, and also, it has very consistent, well-organized grammatical rules.

Russian (level 8)

This was my choice for a real challenge. At the time, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese weren’t available on DL yet, or I might have selected one of those. I even bought a cheap International US-Russian keyboard, so I could type comfortably in Cyrillic 🙂  Surprisingly, learning a new alphabet isn’t that difficult. The biggest challenge of Russian is, much like German, the case system, which is somehow even more complicated. Russian has six cases, sometimes even more, which means that for e.g. every pronoun you learn, there will be three genders, as well as plural, and each of these will have six different cases. The easiest part… that’s a tough one, maybe the pronunciation?

Language “Bucket List”

  • Latin – I would love to read Virgil and Ovid in their original form!
  • Ancient Greek
  • Chinese and/or Japanese
  • Old Norse
  • Finnish
  • ?