It sounds crazy right? Learning 26 languages in one year?! Hold up and I’ll explain. You see I’m a complete language nerd, and it all started with McDonalds.
I was living in the Middle East at the time, and although like everyone else I’d studied (and promptly forgotten) French and German at school, I had no real desire to learn any other languages, not even Arabic. What I do love though are codes and patterns, and the squiggles under the signs of American brand stores were phonetic spellings of the English words. So I started to ‘decode’ the alphabet without any textbooks, simply by collecting fragments together from different signs.
That’s all it took to get hooked, and my fascination with languages that use different writing systems began. I’ve been lucky enough to live in many of the countries whose languages I’ve studied, which include: Arabic, Bulgarian, Mandarin Chinese, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian. I’ve also gathered fragments from other languages along the way, but these are the ones I’ve devoted most time to.
One thing I enjoy most about learning different languages is spotting the patterns between them, mapping how words and grammar merge and morph from country to country, discovering how history and the movement of populations has affected the way we speak today. What I’ve come to realise however, is that maintaining several languages at once is hard work. They’re like muscles which need regular exercise or they start to deteriorate. I’d love to learn every language going, but feel that I’ve reached saturation point.
So the obvious step is to try and learn 26 more! Except I’m not planning on learning them in depth, just to get a taster for each language and their grammar to add to my mental map of the languages I’ve already studied.
Why 26? One year has 52 weeks which gives two weeks per language, and there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, so I’ll be studying an A-Z of languages across the globe. I have no previous experience of studying each of these languages, so if anyone reading this is a native speaker of any of the following, or a fellow learner then please get in touch! Here’s the list, and a short explanation of why I chose them:
I already speak German so am hoping that Afrikaans won’t be too much of a shock to the system to start this project. (I also have exams in January in other languages!).
This language has no linguistic relatives, so it will be interesting to learn and probably plain awkward.
I speak Mandarin Chinese but most Chinese people I meet outside of China are are Cantonese speakers!
Dutch should be easier, but Dari is one of the official languages in Afghanistan, one of my favourite countries.
I have never studied a constructed language before so thought this would be a good start.
I love the Middle East, and this is one language I haven’t dug into before.
Another new alphabet! I’ve travelled in Greece before, but only picked up a few swear words, time to build on that foundation.
Both languages fascinate me, especially their scripts. Hindi is the fourth most spoken language in the world, and I’d love to see how much of Hebrew links with Arabic as they share similar roots.
Indonesian is a language family I have no experience of, but I’d also love to learn some languages from closer to home.
Ok there aren’t that many languages that begin with J!
Coming from two areas I’d love to explore more, I will make a choice depending on available resources.
A ‘dead’ language on the list, but the granddaddy of the Romance languages.
Genghis Khan is one of my heroes and Mongolian is written using cyrillic. Malayalam has a completely different script, but I had some former colleagues who were native speakers and I loved the sound of this language.
I have always wanted to study an American Indian language, and this seems the one with most available resources online.
I know more about the history of other languages than I do of my own!
Pashto / Pijin
Pashto is the other official language of Afghanistan, but Pijin English would also be an interesting choice.
Not many languages begin with Q, but this is an Incan language which used knots to transcribe their language.
When I lived in this region I was surprised how unfamiliar Romanian is compared to the surrounding slavic languages, it’s closest to Italian.
Spanish/ Swedish/ Swahili
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages, but my inability to roll r’s has put me off! I’ve studied at Swedish Universities so would love to learn a little more than the classroom phrases I already know. Swahili? Sure why not.
Tagalog/ Turkish/ Thai
I have worked with many Filipinos and love the sound of their language, their energy, and how they slot in English words every few seconds, it sounds schizoid. Turkish is a language I expected to be similar to Arabic, but apart from the greetings, it’s completely unintelligible to me which makes me want to learn more. Thai has one of the most difficult scripts in the world.
Script similar to Arabic and seems to bridge the Hindi/Arabic languages.
One of the hardest things about learning Chinese was the four tones, so a language with six tones should be even more torturous.
I’d like to study an African language, and this used to be written using Arabic script. Welsh is another option from the homeland!
Why don’t more languages begin with X?!
I had a Nigerian colleague who taught me a smattering of Yoruba, it would be great to converse more with her, and Yiddish…oy vey!
What have I got myself into!
Some simple rules. I can only spend two weeks per language, probably an hour a day. At the end of two weeks I’ll try and have a (very brief!) conversation with a native speaker, or record a self introduction in the language. Hopefully this will also inspire others to try learning a language, by seeing just how far you can get in a short space of time (fingers crossed) so please get in touch if you want to learn any of these languages along with me! I’ll mostly use free resources available online and will make a couple of posts a week documenting them. So, that’s the plan, stay tuned here or @26langs
for updates. Will it be a horror show, or хорошо?