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Thread: Second Language?

  1. #1
    Registered User Vincent Black's Avatar
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    Second Language?

    I'm considering learning a second language and I was wondering, from a literary point of view, what would be the best language to learn? In other words, (In your opinion) what non-English language has the best literature?

  2. #2
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian. Those are the common ones, in probably the common order for the English speaker, though some people do German before the romances. Personally, I am English and Hebrew learning Italian, which I find easier than French (phonetically I cannot pronounce many French syllables). In terms of literature, most people learn Italian for Dante, and Spanish for Cervantes, and French for a whole slew of authors.

    This is of course a western-centered biased list. You could do worse than learn Eastern languages, especially Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, Arabic, or Persian.

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    Registered User John Goodman's Avatar
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    French will probably get you the greatest body of work to read. You will understand much more clearly when people say the translations of books from French to English are written in more archaic English than the original French. Modern French has been around for a long time.


    Maybe I'm just biased, being raised by French parents in English Canada. :P

  4. #4
    I too would recommend you to learn a language that stems from Latin, because once you master one of them it's very much easier to try your hard at another, since most of the vocabulary is similar (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish).

    On the whole, Spanish would be probably the best idea, because then you can also read the literature of almost all South America and be able to read Portuguese reasonably well, since the written form is very much alike.

    German too is a good idea if you're into philosophy, and since it's the second most spoken native language in Europe it's always a good choice. I only know like 7 words in Russian, so can't tell you how hard it is to learn, but the Russian literature sure makes me wonder whether I should give the language a try.

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    Registered User armenian's Avatar
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    learn arabic just in case you ever decide to become a muslim

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    Registered User sofia82's Avatar
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    First of all, it depends if you are interested in the literature of any country or not. IF not, as i know the first is french which is difficult, at least for me
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    http://almatrafij.blogspo HerGuardian's Avatar
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    I think each language has its own characteristics but if you are a fan of poetry, Arabic poetry is the best ever. Arabic poetry has such amazing meanings and expression that need a lot of words to express in other languages. However, novels, plays and other genres are still not that great as poetry.
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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Arabic is hardly the easiest language though. Not only is the written language different than the spoken language, the calligraphy is downright nearly impossible. Latin languages are far easier than Semitic languages for English speakers to learn.

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    Tu le connais, lecteur... Kafka's Crow's Avatar
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    I knew Arabic once, gave it up and fell out of touch. The most difficult language I have come across. Italian is easier, French is great. Invest some time in French. The language is very different from English, the idiom is very different. It will give you access to a great body of literature, qualitatively, the greatest literature in the Western world.
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

  10. #10
    Registered User Brasil's Avatar
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    for a native English speaker

    In terms of being easier: try another Indo-European language (German, Russian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian...).

    German is a good choice. German Literature and Philosophy are very rich:
    Goethe, Bertolt Brecht, Nietzsche...
    Another oppiton is Russian, for Tolstoi, Dostoievski, etc...

    Romance Languages:
    Spanish - for Cervantes and other Spanish writers. Also, for Latin-American Literature (Pablo Neruda, for example). A very rich choice.
    Portuguese- Literatures from Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Moçambique...
    Camões, Fernando Pessoa, Machado de Assis, Carlos Drummond de Andrade and other writers are good choices too.
    Italian - for Boccaccio, Petrarca (Petrarch), Dante, Machiavelli...
    French - there are a lot of well known writers (in Literature, Theatre and Philosophy) as Rousseau, Montesquieu, Victor Hugo, Descartes, Rimbauld, Exupèry, Dumas, La Fontaine, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Sartre...

    Ask yourself what would be the best Literature for your own taste.

    Songs are also a good oppition when you're learning another language. Take this in consideration.
    Last edited by Brasil; 05-30-2008 at 10:39 AM.

    Vitória-ES, Brasil

  11. #11
    Tu le connais, lecteur... Kafka's Crow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HerGuardian View Post
    I think each language has its own characteristics but if you are a fan of poetry, Arabic poetry is the best ever. Arabic poetry has such amazing meanings and expression that need a lot of words to express in other languages. However, novels, plays and other genres are still not that great as poetry.
    I didn't like Arabic Literature at all, specially the modern Arabic Literature. As far as novel is concerned, this language can give you access to people like Nagib Mehfooz Tayeb Saleh and Khalil Gibran's philosophical works. It is bloody difficult though. Nine years of regular studies and after falling out of touch for a couple of decades I have nothing to show for those years. I just failed to love that language. Now if you really want to learn an Eastern language, learn Persian. A literary history spanning thousands of years, this language has the most beautiful poetry. Almost untranslatable in English, you can spend your life-time studying poet after poet after poet right from the 6th century BC to the 21st century AD. Compared to Arabic, Persian is dead-easy. With only 7 clauses of mostly fairly straight forward verbs (Arabic has fourteen and most of them irregular!), the grammar is a doodle and a pleasure to learn. The vocabulary is huge but you learn with the passage of time. Here is a taste of the 20th century Persian Literature:

    http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri.../blindowl.html

    Surrealism, decadence, horror, no this is not French, this is Iranian Literature!
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

  12. #12
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Well, I am unsure about your regard for Arabic poets, Adunis seems amongst the finest writing today.

  13. #13
    Registered User jgweed's Avatar
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    For the humanities major, French would be my suggestion. First, it is perhaps easier to learn because of the similarities with English words and sentence structure. Second, the language itself has remained relatively stable through modern history and dialects are less of a problem. Third, the sheer wealth of important authors in all fields provides the widest range of specialised studies. Fourth the clarity and precision of expression of French authors provides a useful model for one's own writing.
    German, because of its content, then Spanish. Unless to further your employment opportunities, I would not waste my time on any other languages or second-rate literature.
    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

  14. #14
    Registered User sofia82's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post
    Now if you really want to learn an Eastern language, learn Persian. A literary history spanning thousands of years, this language has the most beautiful poetry. Almost untranslatable in English, you can spend your life-time studying poet after poet after poet right from the 6th century BC to the 21st century AD. Compared to Arabic, Persian is dead-easy. With only 7 clauses of mostly fairly straight forward verbs (Arabic has fourteen and most of them irregular!), the grammar is a doodle and a pleasure to learn. The vocabulary is huge but you learn with the passage of time. Here is a taste of the 20th century Persian Literature:

    http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri.../blindowl.html

    Surrealism, decadence, horror, no this is not French, this is Iranian Literature!
    So you know about persian literature, it is interesting?

    I am persian and persian and Arabic alphabets are the same, but it is really difficult even for me to learn, i can read it sometimes understand but just a little, i do not like it so much its grammar, phonology, and words are difficult, about its literatue i cannot say anything as i do not know so much although in persian literature there are lots of arabic words used in poetry.
    Art is a lie that leads to the truth.
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  15. #15
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jgweed View Post
    For the humanities major, French would be my suggestion. First, it is perhaps easier to learn because of the similarities with English words and sentence structure. Second, the language itself has remained relatively stable through modern history and dialects are less of a problem. Third, the sheer wealth of important authors in all fields provides the widest range of specialised studies. Fourth the clarity and precision of expression of French authors provides a useful model for one's own writing.
    German, because of its content, then Spanish. Unless to further your employment opportunities, I would not waste my time on any other languages or second-rate literature.
    Spanish over Italian? Italian is known for its poetry, whereas many of the greater Spanish writers are known for their prose. Italian poetry cannot be translated into English as well. In addition, Italian is an easier language, because the grammar is simpler. Generally people start with 1 of the 4 major Latins (surprisingly not so much Portuguese even though it is more widely spoken than both Italian and French), and work their way from there. It isn't difficult to go from Spanish to Portuguese, or from Catalan to French, or Catalan to Spanish, but Italian to French seems weird.

    I would say Italian is probably the best starting ground however, since Tuscan is the closest to Latin, and therefore will help more with learning the others.

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