Anyone interested in foreign countries will be interested in languages, which are the most obvious symbol representing each country. It’s never authentic to know all about some country’s culture but not its language. Supposing that you want to learn the most languages in the shortest time possible, in order to show your extensive knowledge of different parts of the world, and supposing that as of now you only know English, can you guess which languages you should focus on?
The answer can be found in this infographic made just for you.
I guess I feel just a twinge of pride that I was blessed to know both English and Mandarin from young, which are recognised as diametrically opposite languages in this classification. Knowing Mandarin did help me a lot in learning Japanese, and similarly, English helped me with French. I think the greatest benefit I derived from knowing these 2 languages is the access I got from thoughts and ideas in 2 halves of the globe. Asia is a whole different world from Europe and America, and having a foot in both regions prevents me from closing my mind to the paradigms and mindsets of one or the other.
That said, sometimes knowing a similar language to what you’re learning, and applying that to the new language, can be detrimental in itself. You get frustrated because the new language is simply not the same as the one you knew before, and the “illogical” differences blind you to experiencing the world in the eyes of the native speaker. Rather than accept, say, that the Arabs have a strange way of pronouncing their words, think about how the Arabs feel pronouncing English. Think about how the Arabs view basic concepts like syllables (which are defined by a consonant plus a vowel, at least to most of us), and how Arabs with a stuttering problem will encounter different speech difficulties from a stuttering Spaniard. Languages are used everyday, every minute even, in a land different from your own. How have those people coped? How have their children lamented on grammar, or spelling, or compositions, in school? Learning a language is living a life all over again.
I have often emphasised, perhaps one too many times, that one simply cannot base one’s prior language knowledge to learn a new one. And yet when I think about it, maybe I was too sure of myself. I mean, arguably related languages have to help, right? Why else do kanji words become much easier to learn when you know Chinese, and Spanish and Portuguese can converse with each other fairly easily? What I should instead say is to avoid over-relying on your prior knowledge. Certain things are similar but not alike, and one disastrous example of language transferred too liberally is when the Japanese still pronounce English words in their katakana way (meaning English itself must be Ingurishi). Use your prior knowledge as a stepping stone to become like a native, but once you’re a native, don’t ever look back.
I hope that despite this infographic, English speakers continue to learn languages like Korean. Similarity is only half the picture! Remember that exposure and interest are even more important. Anyone can learn any language if they set their mind to it! We have all the time we ever need after all.