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Learn Modern or Ancient language first?

  1. Jan 7, 2006 #1
    I am planning to study (briefly) a modern European language such as German and Latin during the 2007 and 2008 summer semesters.

    My question is which language should I study in 2007?

    They say that learning Latin will lay a solid foundation to learn other languages so I should learn Latin first. But Latin is also much harder to learn so it seems more natural to learn an easier language such as German and than learn Latin in order for a more natural progression since I have never studied other foreign languages in this way before.

    My ultimate aim is to make learning both languages easier.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 7, 2006 #2


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    Latin is a modern language?

    I'm not sure what would make a language easier to learn, but I'll look into it (I happen to be curious about that myself). You're basically going to be learning fixed units and rules or patterns for manipulating those units. At some level, physical form (sound, gesture, symbol) and meaning must combine; in English, this happens most often at the level of words and their parts. You're going to have to memorize these units (of which there are usually many -- tens of thousands), so it may be easier to learn a language that has a lexicon, or vocabulary, similar to English's. But you're also going to have to learn how to manipulate units of sound and meaning at the levels of words (and their parts) and sentences. It may be easier to learn a language that has similar word or sentence structure. Perhaps this depends more on whether you are better at memorization or learning and applying rules. I'll check out the field anyway.

    Which one are you most enthusiastic about learning? Which one do you want to speak? I think that would make the greatest difference for me.

    I think that if you are considering learning a dead language like Latin, you should think about the roles of speech and writing systems. It seems that it's easier for our brains to learn and use spoken (or signed) language than it is to learn and use writing systems. Perhaps reflecting on your own experiences with language for a moment would help -- do you run into more problems with speaking or writing, which seems more natural, easier to pick up, etc.? For example, you might compare how often you forget how to pronounce words with how often you forget how to spell them. Every writing system that I've seen, excepting those used by linguists for the purpose of capturing the properties of speech, also leaves out part of the structure of the language -- important information that is contained in speech is absent in the writing system. Consider also that spoken language has existed longer than writing systems, healthy children learn to speak a language by hearing and speaking it without needing any formal instruction, not from reading and writing, and the majority of the world's languages don't even have a writing system (I'll try to find a figure if you want; I think I ballparked it once at less than 15% having a written form).

    I'm not suggesting that you can't learn a language primarily through writing and reading it; I'm saying that if you want to go the easiest route, I think it makes sense to use what you already have: a brain that managed (I'm assuming) at one time in your life to make sense of and use spoken language with little or no formal instruction and probably still works better with speech than with writing. Maybe just listening to some languages -- German, Latin (if you can find it), whatever -- and seeing if one clicks for you would be worth your time. And I suppose reading (looking at) the same languages wouldn't hurt either.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2006
  4. Jan 7, 2006 #3
    Learn Latin first, afterwards it will be much easier to learn any other language... If you learn German, Latin will not be much easier to learn than it would have been the other way around.
  5. Jan 7, 2006 #4

    What you say makes sense but my goal in learning these two languges is not the same as why a kid would to learn (his first) language. I like to get the experience of learning new languages although I know that I will never master them because to do so would mean using them everyday which unless I go to Germany or become a Latin teacher, will never happen. However, I will try to be in contact with these languages as much and as early as possible before enrolling in these courses. So as you can see it is important for me to decide which language to learn in 2007 so I can practice it sooner.

    Latin was used by the Ancient Romans so I assume that the language they used would also be referred to as an ancient language.
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