There is a picture at the bottom. If you don't feel like reading all this, you can just skip to the picture.
By geek, I mean language geek, to be more precise. Though I will admit that I have a distinct bias towards East Asian languages, since I'm most familiar with them after English.
I got so excited the other day when I was reading my Korean language book that I received for Christmas (see? I asked for that for Christmas = I am a language geek), and I could understand an entire written conversation without the use of translators. I suppose that would be rewarding for any student of any language, but this accomplishment was the product of countless hours poring over dubious sources on the internet, pasting words into multiple translators to see what they might really mean, attempting to translate song lyrics, documenting the uses of every single particle I discovered, and writing random Korean words over and over whenever I had pencil and paper to familiarize myself with the writing system.
So reading that conversation felt good. Really good.
One of the most discouraging things in the world is when you paste "dama" into Google Translate, and it comes out "dama."
I think I love and hate Google Translate at the same time. On one hand, the dictionary-ish thing that pops up for single words can be extremely helpful in figuring out various uses for them, and it's great for translating simple vocabulary terms that I just don't know--and for Chinese, the "read phonetically" function aids me tremendously, because it gives me the pinyin needed to type the characters. On the other hand, I will be frank: it's well known that the grammar is atrocious.
"I like that cat better because it's prettier than other cats" in Chinese becomes "I prefer the cat, the cat because it is beautiful than the other."
Also, I don't know how much to trust the thing, period. I put "한치 (hanchi)" in once, trying to find out what it means after hearing it in a song, and I got "FLAMMABLE LIMIT". I don't think that was quite right.
I also have a love-hate relationship with my Mandarin Chinese course. Firstly, I love it simply because it's teaching me Chinese, and that is a language that I am totally ashamed to not already know. My parents are both fluent in Mandarin as well as a few other dialects. I feel like I should be, too. Most of my relatives speak Chinese. Some of them don't speak good English. I want to be able to talk to them.
One of the good things about the course is that it makes me write and read a lot, which is absolutely essential for any foreign language, but especially so for learning Chinese characters. Another good thing is that when we are given passages to read, my teacher never provides the pinyin (phonetic spelling of the characters, in case you didn't know) along with it. I know that other Chinese students can have problems with learning the actual characters when the pinyin is always included, because they end up just reading the alphabet they're familiar with in order to recognize words. I'm forced to memorize the characters themselves. No alphabet. Just words. MEMORIZE.
But then, my teacher also forgets to include pinyin when she's first teaching us new vocabulary. It took me a while to figure out that I had to just go to the course dictionary to find how to spell something. Before that, I just stared at the complicated characters, baffled as to how she expected us to just understand her sentences, grammar, sounds, new vocabulary, and all. Oh yeah, that's another thing. A lot of times she gives us long PowerPoint presentations to teach us new stuff, and there will be absolutely no translations inside. You have to figure everything out from prior knowledge and the pictures. Perhaps it's an attempt to simulate the way you'd learn through immersion. Just figure it out yourself.
I think that's a little similar to Rosetta Stone. Supposedly, you're going to "learn like a child." I wonder if that really works without actual immersion in a separate culture, where you'd be forced to use the new language all the time. Can you learn like a child while sitting at your computer and listening to one person's voice speak?
Maybe. I've survived through my course so far. All the same, I'd really like it if my teacher gave us translations.
If anyone asked me whether Korean or Chinese was harder--a question I think I've received at least once--I don't have a definitive answer. Both are really quite difficult for the native English speaker, but definitely not impossible for the dedicated student. Korean's writing system and phonetics are simple, a whole ton easier than the Chinese characters and tonal phonetics...but its complicated grammar structure and nearly inseparable connection to hierarchial Korean culture balance out any difficulty advantage that the alphabet provides. (Seriously, you use a different set of vocabulary and conjugate all your verbs differently depending on the societal status of the person you're speaking to.) Chinese grammar is a little more similar to English. IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING PICKING ONE OF THESE LANGUAGES TO LEARN, I RECOMMEND CHINESE, NOT BECAUSE IT IS MY HERITAGE AND I AM BIASED, BUT BECAUSE IT WILL PROBABLY SERVE MORE USEFUL IN YOUR FUTURE, AS CHINA IS A RISING WORLD POWER RIGHT NOW. AND IF YOU WANT AN EASY LANGUAGE, JUST GO FOR A EUROPEAN ONE THAT IS RELATED TO ENGLISH.
I haven't dabbled much in other languages. I took a little bit of Spanish when I was maybe ten, so I forget virtually all of that. I took an eight-week course in German once, but I forget most of that too. I tried learning Irish once. It's not as bad as Welsh, but the phonetics and spelling hardly made any sense to me, so I never really got past that. Japanese is one of those languages that I think I'll get to studying sometime in my future, but I'm not too interested at the moment. And Latin...eh. I learned that for a little while too. I will probably find my old books and go through them at some point soon, since I'm aiming to study biomedical stuffs, and it'll help.
Then, I'll learn Icelandic and Nahuatl and Aboriginal Australian. 'Cause I totally have the time. Pfft.
Oh wow. This is a pretty long post. I guess that suits the title.
To make it even longer, here's a cool infographic I found: