Learning foreign languages is addictive, and if you already know one (most likely English), you will probably soon want to learn the second, and maybe even the third or fourth. At this stage, the most serious question is which language to choose? To correctly answer this question, we decided to turn to professionals. With the help of Yekaterina Matveyeva, a linguist, Yasna Aksyonova, a Hebrew tutor, Yekaterina Pukhova, an expert on Middle East history, and Oksana Nalivaiko, a translator from Japanese, we talk about nine very different languages and share tips and resources for those who would like to learn one of them.
↑ Site with video tutorials using the Polyglot method
One of the most popular foreign languages, moreover, very common in Africa, Asia and the Middle East - here many still speak it better than English. French is accepted, along with English, as an official one in the EU, the UN, as well as many international corporations. It is one of the Romance languages, which means it is related to Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. So, knowledge of French will help you navigate not only in France, but also in countries where they speak close languages.
There are many opportunities to learn French, the most obvious is to enroll in one of the many language schools, since it is taught almost everywhere. On the Web, Duolingo resources, the TV 5 Monde training section, and many video tutorials are available, for example, according to the Polyglot method (although this system is only suitable for beginners).
↑ Website of the Cervantes Institute
Along with English and Chinese, Spanish is one of the three most spoken languages in the world. At the same time, the population of Latin American countries is only growing, which means that Spanish will spread further and further. If you are ever going to travel to South America or to the homeland of the language, you will have to learn at least basic phrases. Most residents of Spain and Latin America speak only their native language, but they are always ready to listen carefully to a gesturing and confused foreigner. So do not neglect the lessons - even a couple of dozen Spanish words can make your life much easier.
Of all the Romance languages, Spanish is the easiest to learn and the easiest to start speaking. The matter is facilitated by the network of Institutes of Cervantes, open around the world, and the availability of the language on all major online platforms: Duolingo (there are courses in Russian), Babbel (you need to know English) and Amolingua - a new paid resource built around Skype lessons and chats with carriers. The latter platform was invented by the Russian linguist and polyglot Yekaterina Matveeva, who developed her own methodology and wrote a book about it.
↑ Website of the Italian Cultural Center
This language is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. The practical benefits of learning it are not as obvious as in the case of Spanish or French - but if you value classical opera, Italian art, or just love and miss Italy (this fate will not pass by almost anyone who has been there at least once), then learning a language is a good way to get closer to the local culture. In addition, Italian has had a strong influence on the Spanish dialects of Latin America (especially Argentina, where many Italians left in the 19th and 20th centuries), which means that knowing this language will be easy for you there too.
Italian courses can be found on all major online platforms (Duolingo, Amolingua, Babbel), as well as in Italian cultural centers in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In addition, Italy actively participates in international volunteer programs, and local language schools open summer courses every year.
↑ Website of the German Cultural Center
German is the most spoken language of the Germanic group: knowing it, you will be able to navigate in Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Despite the fact that in the Nordic countries, and in Germany itself, many speak English fluently, knowing at least a few German words makes it much easier to communicate with those who speak this language: outwardly harsh Nordic interlocutors become friendlier right on your eyes. And if you learn German well, you will be able to appreciate German and Austrian literature: Mann, Zweig and Hesse are much juicier in the original than in translation.
German is known for its complexity: even the Germans themselves complain about the complex case system. At the same time, it is as popular as French, and the German government spends a lot of money on promoting its native language. There are several German cultural centers in Russia where you can find German courses - often free of charge. In addition, you can study German remotely on large Internet platforms: Babbel, Amolingua, Duolingo. And training videos and tests can be found on the website of the German channel Deutsche Welle.
↑ Website of the Swedish Institute
Swedish is the most accessible of the Scandinavian languages: it is understood in Norway, Denmark and Finland, where it is actually the second state language. This language is a dream come true for those who love Scandinavian design and minimalist lifestyle, Bergman's films and the Nordic noir genre. If you want to get to know them in the original or go to study in Sweden in the future, tempted by free tuition, you should take a closer look at Swedish.
Swedish courses are available on the aforementioned online platforms (Babbel, Duolingo and Amolingua), on a special website launched by the Swedish Institute, or at the Scandinavian Cultural Center.
↑ Online courses for repatriates
It is worth learning this language for those who want to try something fundamentally new for themselves, but not very difficult. Hebrew is an ideal compromise between European and Oriental languages, because, despite the pronunciation and new writing that is unusual for the Russian ear, its grammar is very similar to Russian. The first months will be the most difficult, when you will not only have to learn a new alphabet in which there are no vowels, but also get used to reading and writing from right to left. The study of Hebrew itself makes it possible to look at European history from a completely different angle, because Hebrew has long been associated primarily with mysticism and Kabbalah - hobbies through which many European intellectuals have passed. After delving into this language, you will surely be able to understand much better the novels of the Prague writers and Umberto Eco.
You can learn Hebrew for free in Israeli cultural centers open to everyone, as well as online courses for returnees (free and also open to everyone). You can practice Hebrew while watching films and videos collected in the thematic public "VKontakte". In addition, there is a good electronic Hebrew dictionary and a site with interactive exercises. When choosing courses, pay attention to those where the emphasis is on spoken language: in modern Hebrew there are no hard style differences, and if you learn to speak well, then you will easily learn the book version.
The general name "Arabic" actually hides a whole group of Arabic dialects, often sharply differing from each other. In addition to the many dialects, there are two variants of Classical Arabic: Fusha, the medieval language in which the Qur'an is written, and Modern Standard Arabic, the language of major media and business contracts. Before you start learning Arabic, you need to choose your option. If you want to bargain in your own way at your favorite bazaar, it is worth learning the local dialect.Remember that Lebanese and Syriac dialects are closest to standard Arabic, but Moroccan is the farthest, and no one understands it except the speakers themselves. If you want to read modern literature or understand contracts in Arabic, stop at Modern Standard. If the calls of the muezzin have sunk into your soul or you want to read the Koran in the original, you need a fusha.
For those who are intimidated by the abundance of varieties of Arabic, the good news is that all of these languages use the same script. Arabic script is widespread in the Muslim East as well as the Latin alphabet in Europe - it is used even in languages that are not related to Arabic, such as Farsi (Iran) and Urdu (Pakistan). In addition to purely practical reasons for learning Arabic, there may be one more - the desire to touch a completely different culture and aesthetics, to try to understand the intricacies of calligraphic patterns. To learn standard Arabic, there is a convenient platform Arabiconline, the Leipzig University website has exercises (although you need to know German), interactive exercises can be found in the Salaam application, and more advanced ones can explore the Al Jazeera training section.
↑ Peking University Course on Coursera
Perhaps, there are not so many legends about which language as about Chinese: they like to call it the most difficult, then the most ancient. At the same time, almost one and a half billion people speak it, and the attractiveness of China as a business area is only growing. Of all the Eastern languages, this language is the farthest from the logic we are used to. If you are not prompted to study it by a practical necessity, it is worth taking up it at least in order to try to understand it. Chinese hieroglyphic writing is the hardest part of the language that you will be studying throughout your study. Conversational Chinese, on the other hand, is very simple. After suffering from three to five weeks with the tone system, you will quickly learn the most necessary simple phrases and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that in Chinese there are no grammatical delights like many tenses, cases or articles. Another good news is that you probably won't have to learn dialects. The entire Chinese world, with the exception of Hong Kong residents, remote villages and longtime immigrants, understands standard Mandarin Chinese perfectly.
Learning Chinese on your own is difficult: you need the help of a teacher at least to understand the peculiarities of the tone system and to establish pronunciation. You can taste the language and learn the basics on the Peking University course on Coursera, and learn it in one of the many Confucius Institutes that are in all big cities, or on courses at universities.
↑ Website of the Japanese Cultural Center
Japanese is the only language on our list that is spoken in only one country and does not have a single close “relative”. It is worth taking up its study if you want to try something fundamentally new: Japanese aesthetics are as distinctive and as different from European ones as the Middle Eastern ones. It is not worth equating Japan and China: they are in many ways close, but the differences between them are as many as similarities. Even the hieroglyphs that the Japanese borrowed from their neighbors back in the Middle Ages, in Japan retained the old style, and often the meaning, while in China they managed to noticeably change. However, not beyond recognition - therefore, knowledge of the hieroglyphs of one language can, to some extent, facilitate the existence of another in the country.
Japanese is not as common as Chinese, but it is just as difficult to learn - so just like Chinese, you need a teacher. Japanese courses can be found at cultural centers and universities where there are oriental faculties: Moscow State University, the Diplomatic Academy and MGIMO in Moscow, FEFU in Vladivostok, St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg.You can practice Japanese grammar using the Japanese 1 and Japanese Grammar applications, using an electronic dictionary.
The photo: Olga Kovalenko - stock.adobe.com