Language learning philosophy

I love languages. Since I was young and in elementary (primary) school, I’ve been fascinated by them. The first time I realized there were other languages in the world was when I was in my school’s library and the teacher was reading a book about Ireland to us. I learned about Irish Gaelic and immediately began looking for any books I could find there about the language. Sadly, but not unsurprising, there were no dictionaries or other books on learning Irish in my elementary school in Roy, UT, USA or even in my middle and high (secondary) schools Rawlins, WY, USA. I did, however, come to embrace Spanish while in school, as I felt there would certainly be a reason for me to learn the language and I would have many opportunities in the future to use it.

 

Fast forward 20 or so years and here I am; fluent in Spanish, mostly thanks to my LDS mission in Atlanta, but also due to my continuing efforts to absorb the language and culture. I’m also able to carry on conversations in Brazilian Portuguese (maybe I’m giving myself too much credit here, my Brazilian friends will have to comment). I also know some common phrases and am familiar with the pronunciation for words in Icelandic, Swedish and French (thanks to my wife). My chosen profession involves spending a lot of time understanding how translation works and how to appropriately create software and web sites to handle the languages of the world in its user interface.
I would love to be able to know all of the world’s languages, but I’m keenly aware of how impossible that truly is. The desire to learn other languages, however, remains unabated. Learning languages requires dedication, but it also requires pragmatism, especially for language fanatics like myself. I’ve begun to ask myself a series of questions after I discover a new language I want to try to pick up. These are based on my own language learning experiences and reading a number of books and articles on the subject.
Where will I find people that speak this language?
If there’s a sizeable population of the speakers in Utah, I have a good shot at adopting and maintaining the language. If I travel there regularly for work, I also have a higher likelihood of learning the language.
Do I have friends that speak this language?
My network extends around the globe. Even if there are no speakers of the language in Utah, I can rely on members of my global network to support my efforts to learn their language.
Do I have a practical reason for learning the language?
Besides travel, do I have a use case for the language? For example, my family comes from Sweden. Not only have I had the opportunity to travel to Sweden regularly as part of my involvement with Mozilla Sweden, but I’m passionate about my family history. Learning the language would bring me closer to that side of my family tree.
Is there a part of me that identifies with the culture?
With Spanish, I identify with the cultural inclination to live in the moment and the love of flavorful food. With Icelandic, I identify with the emphasis on fatherhood, freedom, and I tend to be more introspective.

If I can answer those questions, I try to add it to my language learning priority tiers and plan out time/opportunities to learn it a little bit at a time. Curious about what’s in those tiers currently?

Tier 1
These are languages that I would like to be able to speak at an advanced level, read, and write. They are Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish, and Hindi. Utah contains many speakers of the languages, my global network too, my work and personal interests create use cases for learning them, and I can find elements of their accompanying cultures that I identify with.
Tier 2
These are languages that I would like to be able to speak conversationally and read. They are Icelandic, French, and Welsh. Utah doesn’t really have many speakers of the languages (except French), my global network does though. My personal interests create use cases for learning them, and I can find elements of their accompanying cultures that I identify with.
Tier 3
These are languages that I would like to be able to read. They are other Indic langauges using the Devanagari script related to Hindi, Celtic languages related to Welsh, Romance languages related to Spanish, Portuguese, and French, and finally Scandinavian languages related to Swedish and Icelandic.

I in no way expect this to happen quickly. I would be super naive to think that could happen. I see this as a roadmap of language learning throughout my life and the focus and attention I give to each will vary throughout my life. If you speak one of these languages and are interested in helping me out, please reach out to me (@gueroJeff). I may not take you up on your offer immediately, but knowing that I can add you to my support system for learning each one certainly helps.