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is there any point to learning a new language?

not a computer language, mind you. I already know too many of those.

I mean a human language, other than english.

I'd really like to pack up my bags, move to damascus to learn arabic, or move to beijing to move mandarin, or move to mexico to learn spanish... but I'm wondering if there is any point other than entertainment. 

I have a friend who became fluent in japanese, and the only thing it helped him with, is that he can score more easily with japanese girls (which I guess is a good reason in itself; but that's not exactly what I'm going for).

Are there any jobs where being a standard american white person who is fluent in (insert other language) has an advantage over someone else?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I hear they need translators in Iraq... the last one or two got shot.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I suppose if you were applying for a IT position within a large multinational corporation this might be something you could emphasize on your resume/cover letter.

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, January 15, 2004

"Are there any jobs where being a standard american white person who is fluent in (insert other language) has an advantage over someone else?"

Yes.  When I was an undergrad I had a research job in the Chemical Engineering department working on an AIChE project dealing with physical property estimation.  The job consisted of digging through the literature for physical property data and methods for estimating surface tension as a function of temperature from other well-known physical properties such as critical temperature, critical pressure, etc.  A significant portion of the literature was written in German.  I didn't know German, so I spent a lot of time translating one word at a time using a German/English dictionary.  Had I been a fluent German speaker, I would've been much more productive.

For one of my summer temp jobs during my college years, I did office work for a blueberry processing plant.  Most of the workers in the plant were Mexican immigrants and most of them knew very little English.  So, any documents to be read by the plant workers had to be published in both English and Spanish.  We used translation software to convert the English text into Spanish which would then be proofread by an American-born manager who was fluent in Spanish.  He'd then work with a Mexican-born manager to work out the differences between the Castillian Spanish taught in U.S. schools and Mexican Spanish.

Before landing my current job, I had a telephone interview with a software company in Pittsburgh that makes financial analysis software.  A large portion of this software was originally developed in Spain, the code was in Lisp, but many of the comments in the code and other documentation was in Spanish.  The interviewer asked if I knew any Spanish.  I mentioned that I'd used translation software before and that I knew some French which, being another romance language, helped in understanding a little bit of Spanish.  I also indicated that I would gladly learn Spanish if they wanted me to do so.  It was clear though that not being a bilingual English & Spanish speaker put me in the "no hire" category.

Matt Latourette
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Do it.  The ability to speak another language opens up entire worlds which would ordinarily be closed to you.  Being able to pick up foreign chicks is just the tip of the iceberg.

I speak Spanish (my girlfriend is Colombian) and Mandarin both very poorly, but I find that even if I have to struggle to express myself, the fact that I have the ability in the first place gives me an almost instant rapport with so many people. 

I joke about learning Russian and Arabic: if I did that, I'd be able to speak with almost anyone on the planet.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Do it because it's not computers and it'll give your brain a rest while doing something productive.

Are there any countries you ever want to visit? Learn that language - it'll improve your chances of going and make the visit more fun when you go.

One other option - learn sign language. I think it's one of those skills that you may use only rarely, but it'll be incredibly rewarding when you do.


Thursday, January 15, 2004

You learn a language because it's fun and it gives you an opportunity to talk to more people, and impress people.

When I talk to people who speak another language that I've picked up a little bit of, I'm always tempted to use the standard salutations from the other language.

Learn the language of people you interact with so you can eavesdrop on their conversations, or learn French so you can sound fancy when you say things, or Italian so you can order something that isn't on the menu.
Thursday, January 15, 2004

But then, what a boring life it would be if we only did things that made sense from a purely short-term, business perspective...

Kanji is fun, btw :-)

Frederic Faure
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I've seen job ads that required Japanese fluency. Also, I worked at a manufacturing company with a Mexico plant. Through 5 rounds of layoffs, none of the people who spoke Spanish were let go. On the other hand, they had to do a lot of travel to a crappy little town in Mexico, with long days and no free time to see the surrounding areas.

Reminds me a what a co-worker told his son, when asked if his business trips were fun. "You know, son, a conference room in Mexico looks a whole lot like a conference room here."

So, career-wise, be careful of what you hope to get out of a second language.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Just from personal experience.

My girlfriend is natively french-speaking, from Quebec. I've taken french in school, but am certainly not bilingual.

Trying to learn her language has opened my eyes to a completely different viewpoint. It's incredible how much of a culture is crammed into a mode of communication.

It's not that learning the language allows you to read more about their culture, although that is certainly true, it's that you somehow get an idea of their priorities, their feelings, their values.

Just as interesting, you get a fresh look at yourself, and where you come from.

I think most people would say that these moments of understanding, although seldom in nature, are very important indeed.

Friday, January 16, 2004

What's bad about learning it just for fun ? Fun is good !!

I'm fluent in two languages besides English (which is only my 3rd language), and I still want to learn others. I'm actively teaching myself Spanish now, it goes slow but steady.

So, do it just for fun !

Eli Bendersky
Friday, January 16, 2004

Yeah. Fun *is* good.

It also lets you read the literature in the original. I'd recommend learning Russian for the sole purpose of reading "Eugene Onegin".

Career-wise, I dunno. I have a degree in Modern Languages, which apparently sucks money out of your career. It might be different for people with languages but without the degree, YMMV.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, January 16, 2004

i think sign language also vary, so it's not enough to learn one.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Depends where you live & what you do. 

If you travel, shouting slowly in English and waving your hands (the favoured British method of international communication) can only get you so far. 

As someone mentioned German helps for chemistry, as a fair proportion of literature is in it.  Back when mammoths walked the earth and I was at university we did a short "German for Chemists" course.  Unfortunately all I can remember is the word for acid is "Sauerstöff" (yes - sour stuff!).

A cynic writes
Friday, January 16, 2004

You will not get back the time you invest in learing the foreign language if you are thinking of it helping your career.

Even if it does help your career, the time involved in getting fluent - easlity comparable to the four or five years it would take to get a Masters in Computing - is so immense that you can never recoup the money lost.

But do it anyway, it's fun!

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 16, 2004

I'm with Nigel. Learning second language would greatly help you understand other nations values.

It helps communicating with foreigners even if you do not speak their language, as you much better understand what kind of difficulties they face speaking yours.

It earns you a lot of respect and different attitude, as some people do understand that you took extra trouble to be able to communicate with them.

It really worth reading "Eugene Onegin" in original just for the sake of it. Most of films and books are best enjoyed in original.

Myself I'm fluent in three languages, two of which are wide spread and two exotic. I'd like to learn German, if I had the nerve. Makes difference to me, including financially.

Vlad Gudim
Friday, January 16, 2004

Vlad, which is your exotic-and-widespread language?

Gareth McCaughan
Friday, January 16, 2004

What kind of books or cd rom's do you use to learn other languages. I did see a bunch of them at B&N, but would appreciate any recomendations?

Prakash S
Friday, January 16, 2004

  I think it's really worthy, as many others already stated.  English is my second language, as I am a native Portuguese speaker, but I really considering learning Italian, for the sake of it.

  It's really nice if you get the chance to talk to a native speaker visiting your country.  This new year's eve, I met a german girl, and we talked in English.  But when I said the only sentence I know in German, I could definitely see a spark on her face.  It was very nice.

Ricardo Antunes da Costa
Friday, January 16, 2004

My native is Russian - its widespread.

I speak fluently (but not flawlessly) English, which makes second widespread language I speak.

Very little people have heard of Estonia and Estonian. I do speak Estonian, which is very close to Finish and in the same group with Hungarian. I hope I speak it fluently enough after 8 years of everyday practise.

Hebrew. I speak, read and write  or spoke, read and wrote Hebrew after 2 years of studies and 1 year spent in Israeli High School being tough 90% of subjects in Hebrew. Haven't used it since (8 years?) at all, so can't really pretend to be able to speak it.

I'd love to learn German, but there are other things to learn. Can speak very really basic phrases.

It makes difference in perception of other peoples and cultures. Makes me understand that no nation or language is a centre of known universe.

I managed to spot, that people speaking more than one language are more tolerant, less arrogant. They are better communicators.

And something else. I never was talented in languages. I had lowest marks in Russian amongst my other grades. I failed English at school. Director was worried if I'm able to pass Estonian mandatory exams at all...

All I did - found a group of native speakers and tried to spent as much time with them as I could.

Vlad Gudim
Friday, January 16, 2004

I never got into languages properly at school. There is the classic english speakers of problem of english being one of the worlds great "second" languages. The other one is "noun" cases which I never really understood. A recent article in the economist had more on this:

"English was often described until well into the 20th century as having six different noun cases, because Latin has six. (A noun case is how that noun's grammatical use is distinguished, for example as a subject or as an object.) Only relatively recently did grammarians begin a debate over noun cases in English. Some now contend that it does not have noun cases at all, others that it has two (one for the possessive, the other for everything else) while still others maintain that there are three or four cases. These would include the nominative (for the subject of a sentence), the accusative (for its object) and the genitive (to indicate possession). "

No wonder I was confused (also the near complete lack of gender of nouns in english doesn't help) I keep on trying to learn French, but it never seems to happen (Too much other stuff to do in my life)

Peter Ibbotson
Friday, January 16, 2004

If you're interested in computational linguistics, knowing a second language could be very profitable.

There is a high demand at the moment for tools that can perform knowledge extraction and linguistic analysis, especially on texts in middle-eastern languages.

If you're already well versed in computational linguistics, and you become fluent in a middle eastern language, there are quite a few companies that will be very interested in you.

(Actually *MY* company will be very interested in you. You should email me.)

Benji Smith
Friday, January 16, 2004

I bet people with background in computational linguistics and Middle Eastern languages would find not just that there are many companies interested in them, but specifically that the Company is interested in them...

OK, bad joke, time for more coffee :-)

John C.
Friday, January 16, 2004

Oh, one other observation - if you only know one language, *definitely* learn a second, as (in my experience) you'll really finally learn grammar.


Friday, January 16, 2004

Good point Philo.

In my one German class, I learned more about English than German.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Who said "Being able to pick up foreign chicks is the tip of the iceberg" ?
Foreign chicks (resp. chaps) are the only force that is powerful enough to make you (successfully) learn a new language as an adult. Excepted hunger, maybe.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Got 4 down so far.
Swedish (Native)
English (Fluent)
French (5 years in school + several stays in France)
German (living in Germany since Oct 2001, no earlier education, just had a small course here).

This gives me a good platform to learn more European languages, but working in a Japaneese company it would be realy cool to learn some more Japaneese. I know small things like Hello etc.

Is there any *Open Source* courseware online ?
Just came to think about the MIT thing

Anyone know any other sites? A Wikipedia to learn languages.
The basics of languages does not change so much..
MP3 files with the correct pronunciation.. Forums with people helping eachother.. globaly..
Could call it

With the elder Spolsky working with language(s), any similar thoughts in this community, Joel ?

Fredrik Svensson
Friday, January 16, 2004

Pakter: guilty as charged.  I lived 60 miles from the Mexican border for seven years and didn't bother to learn any Spanish until I came up north and ran into a Colombian woman.

I'd like to point out in my experience that women are a major motivation men switch religions or get more involved in religious organizations, too.

In fact, 99% of what men do is all to impress chicks, if you think about it.

Friday, January 16, 2004

the other 1% is code;-)

Prakash S
Friday, January 16, 2004

I've done Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Romanian, French, and Aramaic.  The more you do, the easier they get; the first one is the hardest.  (Except if the first one is a written one like Latin, then the first _spoken_ one will still be hard.)

The point?  Well, I wooed my wife in Romanian.  That has definitely been worth it.  I don't think learning human languages is all that similar to learning computer languages, but I also don't think learning anything is ever a waste of time.  You never know when you'll use it.

I recommend one common language (e.g. French) and one uncommon one (e.g. Romanian).  I have found that you find Romanian speakers in the unlikeliest of places, and it's always a nice thing to surprise them by speaking their language fluently.  A similar feeling to what Philo was talking about with sign language, which could also be classed as an uncommon language.  And I second his point about learning grammar.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Actually, I've read some about the roots of various languages.

German is related to English.

French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and a few others obviously grew out of Latin, the so called Romance languages. French was influenced by German/English and Romanian was influence by Slavic/Russian.

It would seem to me that knowing a small handful of languages - English, Italian, German and Russian, for example, would allow you to get around just about all of Europe.

I don't know if you'd be able to speak with someone in, say, Polish, but Polish would be very easy to pick up based on your knowledge of Russian. French too would require some adjustment, but not too much, mostly just in learning words, but not grammer.

Whenever I'm trying to follow a conversation in a langauge I don't really know I find that I know basically the verbs but not the nouns too frequently. "Vamos a la ___" Let's go is such a basic concept, but if it's not "la tienda" or "el disco" or some other word I know I can't follow the conversation.

You could also get by in much of the Western hemisphere. Canada is French and English mostly, and eveywhere else is English and Spanish.

I know less about the languages of Africa and Asia. In New York City I believe there's a langauge club (or several) who go out to dinner and basically forbid you to speak English. There also used to be the "Learn a Language Bookstore" but I doubt it still exists.

The Internet is also a great resource to learn languages. From chat in other languages to a program I found the other day to learn the Japanese Katakana and Hirigana.
Friday, January 16, 2004

"but Polish would be very easy to pick up based on your knowledge of Russian"

No it's not. It's tangentially related, but more a member of a central european family of languages which include Czech and Slovak. I've had three years of Russian and I can't read Czech or Polish at all, but my wife (Polish) and dad (Lithuanian) could almost talk to our exchange student (Czech).

The important thing is that a LOT of europeans are bilingual, so by having a broad base of languages you're likely to find something in common. :)


Friday, January 16, 2004

Thanks for the clarification. My girlfriend knows Russian, but can only get the gist of the mail we get - I get mail from a Polish phone company because of my Polish last name.

I wasn't aware that Czech, Polish, etc. were that distinct.
Friday, January 16, 2004

Romanian is an eastern Romance language, like Romansch spoken in Switzerland. Perhaps you could clarify on the Slavic Russian influences. I don't know any Russian at all but can read and understand a text in Romanian to a large extent, even though I've never studied it, because of my knowledge of other Romance languages. In fact I astonished my sister-in-law, who is Romanian, by being able to read it aloud with a considerable degree of competence, simply because it sounds very like Catalan.

I am also suspiciton as to the English influence on French (at least before the second half of the twentieth century!). Could you give more details?

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 16, 2004


All I know is what I found one day searching Google while talking to someone about it. I could be very wrong.

A quick google search turned these up:

Origin of French Language

The French language was developed from the vernacular Latin of the Roman Empire, and is divided into three historic and linguistic periods: Old French, which developed before the 14th century; Middle French, which was used between the 14th and 16th centuries; and Modern French, which was used after the 16th century and continues to be in use today. During all of these periods, the French language was heavily influenced by other languages.

For example, Old French was infused with Germanic words and sounds when barbarian tribes invaded and settled in France after the fall of the Roman Empire. Middle French also borrowed heavily from the Italian language during the Renaissance. The close proximity of both Germany and Italy also allowed for a great transmigration of linguistic and cultural practices.


About the French Language

The French language as it exists today is the result of a long and complex evolution. Ancient France saw many periods of invasion by different ethnic and linguistic groups: Greeks, Romans, Celts, Franks and other Germanic tribes, and Arabs. The name, France, actually comes from the name of the Germanic tribe, the Franks, who entered France during late antiquity and gradually became the dominant people. They adopted the late form of Latin being spoken in the country at the time, but added many of their own words or changed some of the Latin forms to resemble their own more closely.


About Romanian

Romanian (also spelled Rumanian) is the official language of Romania, a country on the eastern half of the Balkan Peninsula. Romanian is spoken by about 20 million people and holds a special status as the only Romance language in Eastern Europe. Because of its geographical location, Romanian has developed differently from the other Romance languages. Slavic and Hungarian influences on Romanian are particularly apparent. Despite this foreign influence, it is the closest to Latin, in a grammatical sense, of all the Romance languages.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Teh influence of Hunagarian doesn't suprise me; there is a large Hungarian minority in Transylvania.

The fact that it is "closest to Latin" is not surprising either. The Romanian language came from Roman Legionaries who settled there. Whereeas other Romance languages would have been influenced by the previous languages of the inhabitants Romanian wouldn't. Mind you, I would have thought Italian was closest to Latin.

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 16, 2004

Oh, and also from that last link "Romanian was written in the Cyrillic script until the mid 1900s. Today it is written in the Roman alphabet."
Friday, January 16, 2004

Incidentallly the article on France completely fails to mention that until the end of the nineteenth century almost a third of the geographical area of France didn't speak French at all, but spoke Occitanian (and the area would have been even greater had not the Occitanians lost the schism between the Pope in Avignon and the Pope in Rome). The "patios" of most of the Midi still shows its influence.

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 16, 2004

Hmm. What do you do when your Patio wants to be a Veranda?
Friday, January 16, 2004

Patios are central open courtyards surrounded on four sides. Verandas are normally at the front of the house, and have a roof.

So the answere is some serious building work.

Stephen Jones
Friday, January 16, 2004

So I'd just have to demolish all the buildings around mine? Sounds doable.
Friday, January 16, 2004

I've found the free notes on to be pretty decent, plus it has some sound files of Iberian and Latin American pronunciation.

Was never good at languages in school but since college have wanted to have extra languages. Tried (lazily) to improve my Spanish but only through self-study which isn't as good as attending classes or getting a tutor.

Am in India and trying to learn Hindi but it's hard when people see someone with white skin and want to speak English to them. Still I'm happy to learn every little bit and can at least curse in Hindi if not much else ;o)

Irishman in India
Saturday, January 17, 2004

MarkTaw -- you intrigued me about Romansch being similar to Romanian, so I looked it up.

It doesn't sound a bit Romanian, more like a mix of Spanish and Italian. I almost caught myself thinking, "this is bad Spanish" and "this is bad Italian".


surtut da lingua tudestga. Las midadas economicas
^^^^ so Italian...................  ^^^^ so Spanish

My 2c :)
Saturday, January 17, 2004

>>One other option - learn sign language. I think it's one of those skills that you may use only rarely, but it'll be incredibly rewarding when you do.

I think you're right, I want to pick up deaf/mute chicks too. I think they moan really well.

pervert coder
Saturday, January 17, 2004

Alex, it was me who commented about Romansch. It didn't say it was close to Romanian. I said it was another Eastern Romance language, like Romanian.

If you want a language that sounds like romanian try and find some tapes of Catalan (you will want the Central Catalan accent). Written catalan is less similar to written Romanian but spoken Catalan is amazingly close, even though Catalan is no closer to Romanian than Spanish, French or Italian.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, January 17, 2004

There are quite complete German courses on
They have beginner, intermediate and businness level.
Anyone knows about on-line courses for other languages?

Saturday, January 17, 2004

If you know Romansch can you speak to gypsies? That alone would be reason to learn it.

[mmm.... gypsy chicks]


Saturday, January 17, 2004

> If you know Romansch can you speak to gypsies?

No: gypsies speak Romany (which is derived from Sanskrit).

Christopher Wells
Saturday, January 17, 2004

Yea, the gypsies came from somewhere near Bengal around the ninth or tenth centuries AD. Migration from Bengal is quite common as the Sinhalas moved from there about two thousand five hundred years ago, there was another migration to the west coast of Sri Lanka in the tenth century, about the time of the gypsey exodus, and of course there is Brick Lane now in London.

Roamany is in fact a tenth century Prakrit (a North Indian language, either derived from Sanskrit or parallel to it). and many gypsey traditons are mirrored throughout India.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, January 17, 2004

When I first read Romansch, I thought that it was like an Italian trying to speak Catalan. Or vice-versa.

I've noticed too that one will see the common points between two foreign languages, whereas a native speaker will tend to see the differences.
For example, I can easily spot the similarities between Icelandic and German, whereas most Germans would probably consider it has nothing to do with their language, at first glance. For a Japanese, I suppose that Catalan and Italian are virtually identical.

Pedantic mode : grammatically, I think that [English name for "Sardo"] is closest to Latin. Not really mainstream though.

Interesting links :

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Knowing Russian I can read Polish food recipes. Actually, being 14 I even had a programming book in Polish. I could understand up to 30% of comments.

Actually "Spolsky" sounds for me like "From Poland", and it well might be last name with Polish roots. Obviously Joel knows better.

Romanian does have words very close to Russian ("lopata" vs "lopata" = spade), but I wouldn't really understand a Romanian speaker. Moldavian's - they can. Moldavian and Romanian as close as Estonian and Finish, or Lithuanian and Latvian.

But be careful, sometimes understanding more than 50% of foreign language may be very deceitful. "Prost" in Russian mean - simple, in Romanian its "a fool" (am I right?).

Estonians would usually think that "ravintolla" is a hospital in Finish ("ravila" in Estonian) and would be really surprised to see a restaurant instead. "Linnan katua" sounds for Estonian like "Town street", although its "Prison street".

There are a lot of funny "miscomprehension" between Russian and Czech as well.

Vlad Gudim
Monday, January 19, 2004

In fact, politics apart, Moldavian and Romanian are the same language. The split appeared after the Russian czar Alexander I annexed half of Moldavia ( ) in 1812. The other half, together with Wallachia, founded what it became Romania. Since then, Romanian language westernized while Moldavian acquired more Russian words due to Russian forced assimilation policies, common across the empire.

On European scale, except Hungarian and Finnish all languages are Indo-Eurropean and as such they have a common root somewhere in 4000 BC. It is not uncommon for linguists to speak or comprehend 10 languages or more since they learn languages by families - the Romance or Germanic or Slavic family of languages. One can even transform words from one language to another by applying sound changing rules like Grimm's laws (of Brothers Grimm fame's_law ), rhotacism, methatesis and other.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I would love to offer my candidature for Arabic - English data processing, Arabic translation post, if you have any.

I am 25 yrs old graduate of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (A Central Univ. of Govt. of India). I have finished Dip. in Computer Application,  Dip. in Modern Arabic Language & Translation (Delhi University).
I can speak, read & write Arabic & English. Moreover, I have  experience in handling office administation work efficiently.
Apart from that, I have good proficiency in English-Arabic typing  (35-45 wpm), as well as I can work on in-bilingual computer (MS-Office:English-Arabic) and I can type all kinds of English Arabic documents.

Having worked at Transworld, New Delhi as an Office Secretary for  two years, now, I am working with Good Fellow Foreign Services as an Office  Secretary.

Having knowledge of Arabic & English, I can deal with all kinds  of assignment in the form of documents letters, reports, publication, queries,  etc.

I have been dreaming of working at professionally managed organization like yours, where brilliance, hardworking and performance are recognized, appreciated,
and handsomely rewarded.

I hope my professional skill may receive your prompt attention  and give me a chance to prove my potential.

Looking forward to hearing a favorable response.

Thanking you,
Yours faithfully,
Malik Tauhid Reza
1st floor, 7/1, Jogabai,
Jamia Nagar, New Delhi-25 (India)
Mob: 09810607976, 09818054043(Friend)

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Hafiz Mohammad Sohrab - Arabic And French Interpreter
Contact me for translation, interpretation

Mobile NO. +009811413528

Hafiz Mohammad Sohrab - Arabic And French Interpreter
Saturday, April 24, 2004

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