37 Languages: A brief look back

From the beginning, I never would have guessed that this project would take over a year. I had expected to be complete within five months time, choosing the language with little fan fare and studying it privately.

After being prodded by my friend Dana, I decided to publish the blog. I chose a bunch of languages randomly, with 37 being the amount selected. I picked them based on areas I could see myself living in, along with how many speakers each language had and how accessible they were. I left out languages I learned about before and/or just didn’t like, such as German and Italian, but added a few that I knew a great deal about but stopped learning, such as Spanish and Japanese.

Romanian was the first one. It almost seems like yesterday when I first  remember listening to the words of “Ghita” and trying to figure out if it was a weird progeny of Latin or something else. My interest grew when I got to Macedonian, a language I had really never heard before in my life.

Norwegian, the language that really prompted me to do the blog, was an early favorite and was one of the first on the list. It was fun to pronounce and it seemed familiar to me, as if I had heard it when I was a kid. My feelings about it were so strong that I wondered if any upcoming language would be able to compete.

It didn’t happen for a while. I flew past Slovenian and hated its case system. I Malagasy because I could never find any resources for it. And I dismissed Hindi, frustrated with trying to understand the Devanagari script.

Then came the interview with Patrick Cox and the World in Words. Overnight, my readership went from 10-20 per day to hundreds. I began to receive more and more feedback about the languages I selected, which only proved to be helpful.

Such was the case with Finnish and Czech. I initially passed on them for their many noun cases, but was challenged by readers who tried to explain how logical their declensions were. I didn’t see it at first, but when I got to Serbian, I had an “aha” moment. I started to appreciate them and when I became acquainted with Croatian, which is nearly identical to Serbian, I was swooned.

I continued down the list, mastering the tones of Chinese and Xhosa’s click sounds but was left underwhelmed. Right after them came Portuguese, which I thought would be a duplicate of Spanish and thus, leave me with even more ennui. But once I learned how to pronounce its nasal vowels and heard its Ds and Ts, we hit it off instantly.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all in the blog was Turkish. A non-Indo-European language with lots of declensions and an agglutinative nature, I was sure to ditch it right from the start. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was easily swayed and it stayed on my mind, along with early favorite Norwegian and new favorites Serbian, Croatian and Portuguese. It easily made it to Part Two, along with Albanian and Swedish, which were both surprises.

Part Two, despite being the most brief , was the most fun because I had a chance to speak the languages with native speakers. The feedback I received was invaluable and amazing, but it also gave me a chance to imagine if I were actually a native speaker. A kind of surreal moment happened when I was speaking with my friend Ethan in Swedish. When he spoke, I noticed I kept saying ja (yes) a lot, sometimes out of habit. I realized I was able to understand some of what he had said, even though I had only looked at the language for a total of two weeks. I was inching close to the same familiarity with the languages from Part Two as with Spanish and French, languages I had learned for years. I some cases I may have exceed it. I even started forgetting Spanish phrases and grammar throughout the midst of this project.

If I could rewind to Part One, I would ditch the evaluation scale I used. Out of all the languages I’ve looked at, I’ve realized that each one has a feature or je ne se quoi that makes it stand out, that makes it its own. The evaluations were meant to be a quick way for people to grasp my reviews, but they were based on my first impressions as an American English speaker. I have my preferences (for example, I prefer the Roman alphabet as opposed to Cyrillic and don’t like languages that tend to be monosyllabic), but these were my preferences alone.  It seems rather silly now, trying to “rank” a language based on them.

In general, there was never one factor that made me like or dislike a language, either. It was rather a weird mix of factors, such as the vocabulary, how it sounds, how it sounds when I speak it, grammar, orthography, etc. My inferences about these things also gave way to a heap of mistakes (e.g., posting a video in Russian for a Moldovan post!), but I was thankful for any comments or tips I received, from people correcting me, giving me links to resources or just telling me how much they enjoyed reading the blog. There’s little I would change, if given the chance. (Maybe the project could have been a little shorter, but eh.)

This could not have happened without you. I honestly don’t have any words for how much this project means to me and getting to share it with others. Regardless of the language I select, this project’s vitality and meaningfulness has yet to fade away.

Stay tuned tomorrow, as I reveal the final language and plans after the 37 Language project.

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