You want to learn a foreign language, and you’re an introvert.
You don’t need me to point out the irony. There are a maximum of five people in the world you actually want to talk to and they’re all people you’re close to. In other words, they all speak your language.
Okay, I pointed it out. I’m like that.
I’m not laughing at you. I totally understand. I’m an introvert and I don’t even want to talk to anyone in English, yet over the years I’ve attempted to learn at least six foreign languages. As a result, I am currently fluent in one, English. (In case you’re wondering, yes, it is my native tongue.)
The first step in learning a foreign language is deciding what language you want to learn. In this post I’m going to talk about the critical factors that should determine your decision.
1. The prettiness of the printed writing
Clearly you have no intention of speaking to anyone in your new language, which means you’re likely to spend a lot of time reading it. One of your top priorities should thus be choosing a language that looks awesome. Because let’s face it, some languages when they’re written might as well be English, whereas others look totally kick-ass.
Any language written in the Roman alphabet (English letters, that is) automatically loses points. Yes, vowels with hats and kites and horns are marginally cooler than naked vowels, but you can’t honestly tell me they’re half as cool as writing like this:
2. The ubiquity of speakers
A rookie mistake made by many language learners is picking a language spoken by a lot of people who live in their area.
Picture this situation. You’re at a party, already uncomfortable enough, and you end up alone in a conversation with a person you don’t know. You make small talk: isn’t the rain torrential? Isn’t the music like screeching monkeys? And then you run out of things to say. Panic.
He asks what your hobbies are. In a moment of desperation, you blurt, “I’m learning Scoobylanguage.”
His eyes ignite. “Really? That’s my native language!” He then proceeds to talk to you at length in Scoobylanguage, which you find totally incomprehensible. Your whole body flushes and your heart races like a hunted rabbit.
You have two options. You can say, “I think there’s a fire in the kitchen,” and when he turns to look, run away. Or you can laugh and say in your best Scoobyaccent, “Sorry, I’m not very good at Scoobylanguage yet.”
Sorry, three options. You can just run away, but he might think you’re weird.
Even better is to never get into this situation at all. You can accomplish this by not going the party in the first place (I mean, what were you thinking?). Alternatively, you can learn a language spoken only by a hundred people who live in the depths of the South American rainforest, all of whom are over the age of sixty. Do this and I guarantee you’ll never have to fake a kitchen blaze.
The best way to minimise the risk of meeting a native speaker is to choose a dead language. On the slim chance you do accidentally travel back in time, you’ll have bigger problems than linguistics. Like dragons.
3. Usefulness as a secret language
You’re an introvert, not a sociopath (hopefully), so you do have those five friends you enjoy talking to. What if you could talk to them in public and be certain no one nearby was eavesdropping on your conversation? The idea gives me tingles.
If you both learn a foreign language, it saves you all the effort of having to make up your own language. Then, voila! Secret conversations.
Not so fast. What many rookie language learners fail to realise is that a lot of languages are similar enough to English that a casual eavesdropper will be able to pick up the gist of your conversation. Some people will tell you this is a good thing because it makes learning the language easier, but they don’t understand.
You’re much better off learning a language as dissimilar to English as possible, and with few loan words. Then you can be sure your secret conversations are really secret.
4. Impressiveness factor
Foreign languages are cool and you know it. What you might not realise is that the coolness goes up exponentially with the uselessness of the language.
Your friends will be impressed if in a casual conversation you slip in a comment like, “or as you’d say in French, [insert pithy remark in French].” They’re your friends, so they’re obliged to be impressed.
But anyone, even a person who considers you pond slime, will be impressed if you can slip into a conversation, “or as you’d say in Swahili, [insert pithy or even lame remark in Swahili – it’s guaranteed no one will know which it is].”
They’ll be so impressed that you’ll have fulfilled your conversation obligation for the rest of the evening, maybe even the week. As a fellow introvert, I know how happy that will make you.
Basically, the more obscure a language, the more points you get for speaking it.
Now that you’re equipped with this information, it’s time to go out and select the most beautiful language that not a soul in your country will understand. Let me know how it goes, and stay tuned for my tips on the most efficient ways to study your chosen language, coming sometime before 2019 (probably).
Have you tried to learn a foreign language? What criteria did you use to select your language? With the gift of hindsight, what criteria should you have used? Have you ever had to fake a kitchen fire?
One you’ve chosen what language to learn, you might find these tips on how to study it useful.
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Postscript: Please don’t think I’m callous for posting this lighthearted piece in light of what’s happening in America. Even here in New Zealand we’re reeling and apprehensive about what the future might hold for the US and the world. But this blog is a politics-free zone, so I’ll leave it at that.