What Is My Next Language?

On 17 March, I’ll be sitting the DELF exam for level B1. Whether I pass or not, I reckon that this will mark the end of my formal studies of French. While I’ll not claim to speak the language well, I can be understood and I can understand others as long as they speak clearly. I’ll still read French history in French and watch french cinema. But the only way to become fluent from this point is to spend a significant amount of time in a French-speaking country — and I can’t see that happening in the near future.

The question now becomes which language will I tackle next? Two candidates have become front-runners: Italian and Mongolian. That’s right: Mongolian. (Stop looking at me like that.) I can’t decide which to choose. Help me puzzle this through.

Italian: The Case For:

  • There’s a logical progression from my previous study of Latin (which I’ve largely forgotten) to the Romance languages of today such as French and Italian.
  • Being able to compare how a grammatical concept in Latin has morphed differently into French and Italian will be dead interesting from an academic point of view.
  • It makes for a great excuse to travel to Italy and wallow in the ruins, sit in street cafes drinking coffee or grappa and lurk in the dark corners of the multitude of museums there.
  • A lot of the rapier fencing manuals I read in translation are Italian. Someday, I may be able to read them in the original. If this proves anything like my experience with French, it’ll open a whole new world of understanding.
  • I’m dead interested in, especially, Renaissance literature and the history of the Renaissance.

Italian: The Case Against:

  • It’s another Romance language. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Inflected with local periphrastic differences. Yawn.

Mongolian: The Case For:

  • It’s not a Romance language. Hell, it’s not even Indo-European. It belongs to the wholly different Altai language family whose members include Turkish, Uighur, Mongolian and possibly Korean, Japanese and Finnish, depending on which linguists you choose to believe.
  • It will be a real challenge to learn because it’s so different from Indo-European with such features as vowel harmony and being agglutinative rather than inflected or periphrastic in nature.
  • I like the image of me riding across the steppes of Central Asia speaking the language of Genghis Khan with the locals.

Mongolian: The Case Against:

  • Dude, seriously?
  • When the hell are you ever going to get to practice speaking, listening, reading or writing Mongolian? Are you ever going to travel to Mongolia?