What language should one learn?
If one had some extra time and felt ambitious, what language would be best/most practical to learn? I mean spoken languages, and I already understand how useful Spanish would be, so no Spanish suggestions please. It's just too easy a suggestion.
I'm somewhat attracted to Mandarin, but which would be best for business/technology: Mandarin or Cantonese? Would German be better than French?
I personally think that Arabic would be very interesting. I'd love to be able to read all of those extremist webpages and to listen to raw Al Jazeera.
I always wanted to learn Russian.
Quote from an email:
Lexolution is recruiting for a project requiring an attorney fluent or
nearly fluent in Mandarin Chinese who is licensed in DC; pending in
DC; or licensed in NY, to start immediately. Ten hours/day; about
2-3 weeks. Located downtown.
Rate: $50/hour plus time and one half for OT.
-DC Metro Contract Attorneys Yahoo Group
The only reason I haven't learned it yet is that I imagine just conversational Mandarin would be hard. Legal documents in Mandarin would probably be a nightmare.
I've also done a litle (very litle so far) patent review work, and I saw a LOT of Mandarin flying back and forth.
There are a couple of fundamental problems that Japan has to work through:
1) Efficiency: My brother has worked in Japan for an international corporation for quite a while, and the stories he tells would shock you. The Japanese are still struggling to rid themselves of the "one job for life" mentality. They also don't value standing out in a crowd, which stifles innovation. Nobody wants to take a risk or draw attention to themselves. I could tell you numerous stories, but let's just say that the Chinese are embracing the global marketplace better.
2) The Economy: Japan's economy is in big trouble. People are aging and nobody is having children. In the US, this works out fine since we have immigration. Japan has barely any immigration. Anyone who has taken Economics 101 can tell you that this is a recipe for disaster. It's just a matter of time. (NOVA did a fascinating special on this.)
Sadly, Japan's heyday is over. China is where it's at. My brother can't believe how quickly and efficiently the Chinese act compared to the Japanese. He says it's like the wild west with money flowing everywhere. Nobody questions how much something will cost, they just question how quickly it can be done.
I stick with my Arabic recommendation. I think you could learn a lot about the people if you could understand Arabic. I also suspect that there must be growing employment opportunities for Arabic translators. Heck... You could make $176,000 per year if you're willing to work in Iraq! It's just a little bit dangerous. You'll just have to decide if $176,000 per year is worth it. (I believe much of it is tax-free.)
Probably Pig Latin too.
The Cyrillic alphabet is pretty easy to learn, and Russian, similar to Spanish, has phonetic spelling. I found it easier to spell Russian words than English or German. The grammar is a little harder (six cases to English's four, if I recall), but there are no articles (a Russian told me "we don't need no the' s or a's"). I like that, as I have a helluva time with the articles in German.
Mandarin is also easier than Cantonese. They are both tonal languages, where the same syllable can mean wildly different things depending on the pitch pattern the speaker uses. Thai is also like this. I think Korean and Japanese are not tonal.
My teacher in a Russia/China history class I took in high school (basically a History of Commies) used the example of the syllable wu, which--he said--could mean battleship, blanket, soil, or vomit in Mandarin, depending on the pitch pattern. Mandarin has four distinct patterns, Cantonese something like nine. This gets hard to learn as we get older; past a certain age, our brains seem to get trained to not hear the tonal patterns if we've not been brought up with the language. Chinese will be hard for an older (post-30?) person to learn, but probably not impossible. It would probably be best to be immersed, where falling back into English is not an option.
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong English-language newspaper, has a daily news podcast that has a feature called the Mandarin Minute, where a man and a woman teach a few words in Mandarin each day. I found that interesting, as Hong Kong is a Cantonese-speaking place in the heavily Cantonese-speaking south. Maybe they figure Mandarin is simpler to teach us foreign devils.
But you should make your decision on how useful a language is going to be to you as an individual.
Learning Chinese would be no good to you if you're not going to use it though. Do you actually see yourself engaging with Chinese speakers in the future? Even if you do, they'll probably speak pretty good English anyway. Are you interested in Chinese media and would actually read/watch it to keep your skills up over time? *shrugs*
If I wanted to learn some common languages, I'd do it in this order:
Also, Carole is Sicilian. Her dad was born in Sicily. He couldn't speak English 'til he was fourteen years old. Italian might be a possibility.
If French is easier than German, I might try that as well. However, I'd be a lot more interested in Cajun French than European French. I'm sure there are some differences.
Mandarin and Japanese sound so good though. Maybe instead of really learning them, I'll kinda learn some conversational things, just to be able to throw a few words around.