The 37 language project begins.

Those who know me very well would not be surprised when I tell them I plan on zipping through nearly four dozen languages with the intent on becoming fluent in one or two. But for those who have never met me and are reading this for the first time, I can imagine your disbelief before your jaw falls. “Why … and how?”

The why is very easy to explain. Ever since I was nine, I’ve always been enthralled by the world around me, specifically with languages. This meant many days strolling through libraries and picking up dictionaries and language books and ditching them for more, trying to mimic the sounds I saw on paper. If you had spoken to me 14 years ago in fourth grade, I could roll my Spanish Rs as naturally as my teacher. In high school, I wrote down Japanese lessons in a hand-made book (and to this date can still utter several phrases from it).

What inspired this was originally a desire to learn Norwegian, mostly because of an inexplicable desire of moving to Scandinavia in my golden years and also because it was easy. Plus I was already proficient in Spanish, which is the most widely spoken language after English.

Then, in usual Keith mode, I wondered about all the other regions around the world and equal desires to not just learn the official lingua franca from those places, but to encapsulate myself in another world entirely. A culture different from my own, but one I would grow to love or one I had loved from another life. One that seemed intrinsically familiar and warm to me.  The language project was born.

I will be the first to say that I was hesitant about blogging, specifically because this is a personal project and I was initially worried that my observations would be too generalizing or selective. I also thought that I wouldn’t have the energy to blog. But, after some prodding, I thought it would be a great idea to share with other people interested in the global community like myself and hopefully get a healthy amount of feedback, especially from a global and linguistic angle.

Here’s how the project will work. I will review the 37 languages in the first part, called Osmosis. This is intended to serve a “quick and dirty” overview of the languages, the areas in which they are spoken and how they sound to a non-native speaker of English:

A. Learn about the culture and history of the region

B. Learn writing system and vocabulary

C. Listen to audio/video recordings or broadcasts of language

D. Describe immediate impressions of language

E. Evaluate according to:

  • Intelligibility (1-5 with 1 being “not familiar at all” and 5 being “easily recognizable”)
  • Complexity (1-5 with 1 being “very complex” and 5 being “not complex at all”)
  • Resonance (1-5 with 1 being “discordant” and 5 being “harmonious”)
  • Continuation (1-5 with 1 being “unwilling” and 5 being “very willing”)

Part Two is called Immersion, with the title being the key objective. At this point, after evaluation from Part One, 10 languages will be selected and reviewed on a more intensive basis. The language will be recited and listening sessions will be more frequent. If possible, I will also communicate with other native speakers.

A. Describe why language was chosen

B. Delve into language by:

  • reviewing alphabet, numbers and writing system (if applicable)
  • change Web applications to language
  • listen to daily podcast, radio station or TV show

C. Recital

  • greet in language
  • practice numbers and alphabet
  • communicate with native speakers

D. Describe final impressions and compare with descriptions about previous selections

E. Evaluate according to:

  • Effort (1-5 with 1 being “little effort given” and 5 being “much effort given”)
  • Assimilation (1-5 with 1 being “no assimilation” and 5 being “much assimilation”)
  • Enjoyment (1-5 with 1 being “not enjoyable” and 5 being “very enjoyable”)

Lastly, the final (and most anticipated part of the project) will be Selection, in which I finally determine which language I will study based on the evaluations from Part Two.

And, of course, here are the languages:

  1. Romanian
  2. Macedonian
  3. Spanish*
  4. Vietnamese
  5. Norwegian
  6. Bulgarian
  7. Slovenian
  8. Malagasy
  9. Japanese*
  10. Moldavian
  11. Hindi
  12. Finnish
  13. Azeri
  14. Arabic
  15. Czech
  16. Albanian
  17. Cambodian
  18. Serbian
  19. Chinese
  20. Xhosa
  21. Portuguese
  22. Armenian
  23. Korean
  24. Croatian
  25. Afrikaans
  26. Greek
  27. Swedish
  28. French*
  29. Thai
  30. Turkish
  31. Dutch
  32. Hebrew
  33. Danish
  34. Filipino
  35. Polish
  36. Lao
  37. Catalan

*I have already tried to study several languages, like Spanish and Japanese, so in these cases, Part One will be a review.

Chart for Part One:

INTELLIGIBILITY

COMPLEXITY

RESONANCE

CONTINUATION

Romanian

Macedonian

Spanish

Vietnamese

Norwegian

Bulgarian

Slovenian

Malagasy

Japanese

Moldavian

Hindi

Finnish

Azeri

Arabic

Czech

Albanian

Cambodian

Serbian

Chinese

Xhosa

Portuguese

Armenian

Korean

Croatian

Afrikaans

Greek

Swedish

French

Thai

Turkish

Dutch

Hebrew

Danish

Filipino

Polish

Lao

Catalan

Chart for Part Two:

LANGUAGE

EFFORT

IMMERSION

ENJOYMENT

And now, questions and answers to several questions I anticipate might come from this project.

Q: Why wasn’t _________ chosen?

Several languages were specifically not selected. I picked regions that were gay-friendly for the most part, which isolated Russia and many of its neighboring countries, much of sub-Saharan Africa and some of the South Asian countries.

Also, many of the South American and African nations either speak English, French or Portuguese as the official language although many countries within both continents have speakers who are native in multitudes of, in a general sense, tribal languages. Because these are so specific to each region and are spoken within such limited populations, I decided to focus primarily on the official spoken language of that country. Lastly, several were not chosen due to extreme geographic isolation (Mongolian and Nepali, for example).

Sign language was not selected because, contrary to popular belief, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of sign language systems around the world which are specific to each region (e.g. American Sign Language, Auslan, German Sign Language, etc.).

Q: Many linguists study language systems for years. How do you expect to learn a language in such a short amount of time?

I’m not trying to learn languages on a purely academic level, at least not immediately. I’m attempting to familiarize myself with the language and culture and find one that, in a purely subjective sense, “fits” me.

Q: How do you know when a language “fits”?

I don’t know, which is why I started the project. I’m assuming that there will be several inexplicable factors that will help me make my selections.

Q: Wouldn’t it just be better to pick languages that were marketable (e.g., Chinese)?

This depends on how you define “marketability.” While it is true there are more speakers of Chinese than Catalan, for example, I believe it is equally as possible to enter a market as a bilingual speaker who speaks English and a non-widely spoken language.

Also, the marketability aspect is an advantage, not a prerequisite. I wanted to have as many options as possible and I believe the languages I selected, despite several restrictions, are spoken by quite a few speakers around the world. And plus it’s more fun than learning half a dozen languages.

Q: What happens if you select more than one language at the end of your project?

If there are languages with the same scores, I will consider choosing one based on a “gut” feeling or just learn multiple languages. Hey, it’s just who I am.

I promise, future posts will not be as pedantic and insufferably long. I’ll try to make them interesting by adding videos, conversations and perhaps funny pictures about my experiences.

And so we begin. Let’s start with Romanian.

8 thoughts on “The 37 language project begins.

  1. I’m a big fan of this approach. The first foreign language I studied was German, and that stuck basically right away. I spent a year in Germany, where I studied Croatian, and although I enjoyed the language, I struggled from the beginning, and it just didn’t feel like it ‘fit.’ Later, I tried Indonesian, and had the same reaction. At some point I picked up a Mandarin book my mom bought to prepare for a trip, and I have been crazy about it ever since. I initially resisted because I thought the characters would be too difficult, but I really enjoy learning them. I feel like they are my little buddies. Plus, I eat Chinese food all the time, and now I can chat with the staff when I pick it up. I’ll do some catching up on your blog, then keep following. It’s always a treat to learn a little nugget about an unfamiliar culture.

  2. Hey any chance you could fill in that chart for the languages you’ve already looked at? I’m interested to see which languages you’re most likely to choose 🙂

    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog so far, good luck with the rest of the languages, only 5 more to go!

    1. Oh, do you mean for the evaluations? I’ve been putting a list for the languages already reviewed in posts, but I think I will do a chart after I go through the final language. Thank you for reading though, I really appreciate it!

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