Dr. Arguelles’ Six Most Important Languages

I think competency in foreign languages has almost always been looked on as a positive thing. Most of the world is at least bilingual and many people choose to learn more than just two languages. Eventually, the avid language learner will invariably ask him/herself, “Which language should I learn now?” I think that Dr. Alexander Arguelles has a wonderful answer to this question and you are free to read his words instead of just reading my comments about them. He claims that educated people should strive to learn at least six languages.

Is There Really a Single Language Combination that Is Best for Everyone?

Absolutely not! This is why I find his formula to be so reasonable. Instead of making a static list of languages, Dr. Arguelles says that we should all learn six languages that fall into four categories:

  1. Classical languages of one’s own culture.
  2. Major living languages of one’s broader culture.
  3. The international language.
  4. Exotic languages.


If you were Chinese then you would definitely learn Gu Wen (Ancient Chinese). One or two of your languages would probably be Mandarin, Shanghaiese (Wu), Cantonese (Yue) or even Japanese, depending on what part of China you were from. The third language would definitely be English. In the exotic language category you might pick Wolof, Indonesian or Slovak depending on your own personal interests.

If you were Indian then Pali and Sanscrit would fit nicely into the first category. Hindi, Tegulu, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi and Marathi would all work very well for the second category, depending on what part of India you were from. English would, again, be a must. The exotic category is the most open, obviously, but I think that Arabic, Portuguese or Korean would all do nicely. Again, it depends on who you are.

As an American, Greek and Latin are probably where you want to start for the classical languages. Spanish makes the most sense in the second category though I recognize that Italian, German and Russian are also great choices. You were probably lucky enough to have the “international” language be your native tongue so pick a global language that interests you. For the last category you could pick Estonian, Turkish, Thai or maybe even Farsi.

Flexibility and Practicality

I like this list because each category serves a purpose. The first category gives us insight into our past, our present and possibly even our future. The second category helps us to understand the cultures that surround us or that are close to us. The third category puts us in touch with the world at large. The fourth category broadens us and challenges us to look at the world in a very different way. Proficiency in six languages from these categories would make one cultured, worldly wise and probably very well read, not to mention very employable.

By categorizing, instead of static listing, we are free to choose the languages that interest us while making sure that we learn useful languages at the same time. Since each category can be filed by a single language, the challenge to know six languages allows for more than one language in one or two categories. Never becoming competent in six languages or learning more than six is probably just fine in the end but, nonetheless, I think that knowing six languages in these four categories is a noble goal to strive for. If you were to learn six languages from these four categories what would they be?

63 Responses

  1. I think I would want to learn the languages that would allow me to be able to communicate proficiently with the most amount of people in the world. So I would pick Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Farsi, and Arabic.

    Now if only I could get a good grasp of Spanish and Portuguese first…

    • I do understand why Latin and Greek are named as classical languages for English speakers, as not only English, but also many of the European languages, have historically borrowed heavily from Greek and Latin for their “high register” word-stock. However, I think it is worth mentioning that for English speakers looking to get a glimpse into our language’s history, Old English, or even Old Norse, could also be candidates for a “historic” language. And so my list would be:

      1. Old English
      2. This would depend on where in the English-speaking world you are. I think someone from the UK would want to learn German or French. As an American, Spanish is the best bet here. As I am already fluent in Spanish, then a next choice could be Portuguese. But German and Russian would also make good choices.
      3. International heavy-hitter languages (other than English) – Spanish, French, Russian, German, Hindi (definitely not taught enough!). I am studying Hindi now.
      4. (for me) – Catalan. Needless to say, this is not “exotic” for a westerner, as Catalan is a Romance language, but I’m in love with Barcelona!

  2. The recommendations don’t sound that far from where I’ve accidentally gravitated over time. My list:
    1 (Classical): Latin
    2 (Cultural): French and Italian
    3 (International): English and Spanish
    4 (Exotic): Breton

    The languages I’ve fussed with are all over the map, but for quite some time, English, French, Spanish and Italian have long been the languages I either had or would eventually have. Latin I studied in high school. Breton is off the beaten track, but since starting it I’ve had more enthusiasm for it than any other exotic I’ve looked at.

  3. Thanks for sharing guys. This may or may not change during the next ten or twenty years but these are mine:

    1. Greek.
    2. Spanish and Portuguese (maybe French, Italian or German in the future).
    3. Already my native tongue.
    4. Mandarin and Arabic.

  4. I’ll echo Jeff’s last statement. And… here’s my list:

    1. I can’t honestly say I have any interest. Perhaps that will change someday. I guess I don’t see any practical application, and again, maybe that’ll be different someday.
    2. I’ve got Spanish. I just moved to the Portland area, so it seems that Russian might be reasonable. I’ve considered an Asian language for this category.
    3. Already have English and Spanish.
    4. I don’t know what qualifies as “exotic”. I’ve dabbled in French, and I’d love to become functional or fluent.

    All this said, who knows when I’ll actually do it. I’ve always thought French and/or Portuguese would be my next one. And they probably will be.

  5. Travis:

    1. I don’t see this category as being very practical either but Dr. Arguelles made this list for the “educated” person to strive for. I really think that the average Westerner would benefit from studying classical Greek or Latin, just for his/her personal education and development.

    4. I think an “exotic” language is one that is very different or completely different than one’s own native language (phonologically and grammatically) and that comes from a very different culture. In my mind, most European languages wouldn’t count in this category; maybe Hungarian or Basque. At least not for Westerners like us. I think the idea is to learn a language like Swahili, Pashto, Cambodian or Tagalog; a language that really makes you rethink communication.

    As for your French and Portuguese, they’ll come along. Podcasts and MP3 players are wonderful things. Frenchpod.com is good and it’s free. I took classes for Portuguese so I don’t know what to tell you there but I’m sure there are free podcasts about learning that language as well.

  6. Hey Ryan,

    Can you make any suggestions for online Portuguese learning tools? I especially need help with pronunciation and grammar/sentence structure (I am starting from scratch, without having taken any classes for Portuguese). I have a strong command of Spanish, so the sounds in Portuguese [are a little confusing and] make me want to relate immediately back to Spanish pronunciation.


  7. Jeff:

    http://www.brazilianpodclass.com seems like a pretty good website with free podcast classes. “Brasil, Língua e Cultura” is one of the best language text books I’ve seen. http://www.lucianopires.com.br has an excellent radio program/podcast that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. I would start there if I were you. Best of luck! Portuguese is a fun language associated with really great people.

  8. Anyone with an interest in the history of Western Civilization might consider the ancient languages of Mesopotamia, like Akkadian (distantly related to Arabic) or Sumerian, which is a language isolate, so it is going to be an exotic language regardless of your mother tongue. Ancient Egyptian is also interesting. Anyway here’s my list:


    An ancient Germanic language

  9. Interesting! I haven’t come across this idea before.

    1. I’m sure many people will call me a cretin for this, but I think given the considerable amount of effort involved in mastering a language I would rather invest in a living language than a classic one. I can appreciate the benefits, but for example as a native English speaker, why not learn Italian instead of Latin. It also gives some insight into the origins of English, helps with other languages such as French and Spanish, and has the advantage that I can communicate with Italians.
    As long as I have an idea of the origins of English words I don’t see the need to learn a classic language when I could learn one that has more practical benefits. Like I said, I’m sure many of you will disagree with me on this.

    2. French, Italian, German (badly)

    3. English, Spanish

    4. Turkish, Arabic (mostly an aspiration, so far)

    I’d like to learn a Chinese language but from what I’ve read it seems incredibly difficult. If you don’ t have hours of spare time to spend on study I don’t know if it’s really practical. I’d be really interested to hear your experience on that.

    • You don’t think chinese would be “really practical”?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
      It’s probably one of the most practical and relevant languages in the world right now. That and arabic. China is going to be one of the most dominant nations within the next 50 years (atleast). Not to mention it is spoken be over A BILLION people. Opportunites galore come with a good chinese connaissance. Pull your head out of your ass.

      • William, I’m not sure if English is your native language, put “practical” refers to whether an action is likely to achieve success. Because pocketcultures doesn’t have much time to devote to his study of 中文,he figures it might not be practical for him. Cheers!

  10. John 66: Thanks for sharing your list of languages. I think it’s very interesting to see all of the different languages that people put down and how no two lists are exactly alike. Your interest in minority and ancient languages is interesting and something that you have in common with Dr. Arguelles.

    Perhaps you’d like to explain how Sumerian and Akkadian directly influenced western culture. It seems to me that they influenced Middle Eastern culture but didn’t have too big of an impact on Europe (neither western nor eastern), and therefore the countries that were once European colonies. I’m not terribly well read on this subject so any clarification is welcome.

    Pocketcultures: I understand your point but I think that reading the New Testament in Latin or Greek, especially Greek, would give better insight into western culture than reading it in Italian. Whether one is a Christian or not one has to admit that Christianity is a big part of western culture. Italian is grammatically and phonologically different than Latin; Portuguese and Romanian are more similar. That said, the Classical Language category is the one that I plan on filling last for the same reason as you mentioned: practicality.

    My Chinese is coming slowly but it’s coming. Dr. Arguelles recommends an hour and a half of study a day and that sounds about right to me, at least in the beginning. I spend less time studying it and that’s probably why my Chinese is coming slower than I’d like. Chinesepod.com is free and it’s a great place to start. Download their podcasts and listen to them a ton to get a feeling for the tones. Finding a native Chinese studybuddy to practice with via Skype or MSN Messenger is not difficult. Try looking one up at http://www.polyglot-learn-language.com.

  11. My list is:
    1. Irish
    2. French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian
    3. English
    4. Esperanto
    I’m trying to practise EACH one of those languages on my multilingual blog; so far so good! I realise all these languages are European (or Euro-centred in the case of Esperanto), so one day I may branch off!! Irish is very unlike the others in my list though. Try to read or listen to anything on the Irish part of my site and you’ll see (although Indo-European roots mean it’s not THAT bad).
    Excellent article, thanks!!

  12. Here’s the list of languages that I have learned (note that the only one where I have come even close to achieving fluency is Mandarin Chinese):

    1) Ancient Greek; Gu Wen

    2) French; German; Cantonese; Japanese

    3) Mandarin Chinese

    I haven’t got a language for the fourth category yet. It was also slightly difficult for me to classify some of these languages: I am from the UK, so Gu Wen is not a Classical language of my own culture and Cantonese/Japanese are not languages of my broader culture either. However, I have lived in China on and off for almost a decade, and had the (extremely difficult!) pleasure of learning Gu Wen when I studied Chinese at Edinburgh.

    If I was to make a list of the languages I would like to learn, it would probably go like this:

    1) Scots Gaelic

    2) Italian; Spanish

    3) Arabic

    4) Thai; Korean

  13. Irishpolyglot: Good for you, though learning all of your languages at once is tricky unless you’re at an intermediate level in all of them, at the very least.

    Rory: You’ve got quite a list. Good job! What a blessing it is to have lived China and picked up the language a bit in a more natural way. 我应该去中国.

  14. Born in Boston and lived in Alabama, I regretfully as most americans can only speak one language if at all well. My English has gone from ain’t to Alabami English and I would like to see this country become multi-lingual in the future like South American or European countries. We Americans are so consumed by ourselves that we do not give interest to absorb other languaegs and cultures. Why don’t we take advantage to learn other widely spoken languages in the US such as Spanish. I’ve started so Adios.

  15. An interesting and rather difficult task to find the most important languages. I like Dr. Arguelles’ four-category suggestion. It s a good idea to learn a classical language of one’s own culture first and everybody should try at least one exotic language. The latter one is particularly important because immersing yourself into a culture and language entirely different from you’r own can significantly boost your skill in learning other foreign tongue. Once you managed to become proficient in an exotic language while distancing yourself completely from your native culture, it will automatically become easier to learn another language since your brain is now able to switch between different linguistic/cultural thinking concepts.

    I cant really answer the question of which would be the 6 most important languages to learn.

    1. One old language (referring to language like hebrew, chinese,etc., which might have undergone extensive changes in history, however their basic linguistic principles have remained the same; it should not be an extinct language; not necessarily related to your own culture)

    2. Three Major Modern Languages: Here I would define “Major” as a language with around 100 Million speakers.

    3. One International Language: International Languages meaning one of the official languages of the UN (English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese [not yet official, but recognised as language in conferences])

    4. One complex (rather than exotic) language: Like Finnish, Hungarian, Basque,…

    I have been working as conference interpreter and/or translator with English, German, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian. I am not proficient in any complex languages, but I would love to learn Basque…..
    I do, however, have some understanding of Hungarian and Finnish. I also read and speak Hebrew at an intermediate level.


  16. i have a genetic gift which only 1 in 500 hundred possess when it comes to languages I learned standard 1000 words spanish in a week and a half. My brain proccesses differently and I am bleessed with a gift in music and languages. I am not bragging. i know:
    American sign language
    English of course
    However I would like to learn:
    but I am a bit hesitent.
    Italian was my first foreign language and i stil have a passion for it. I remember being in the second grade muutering pretending to speak a foreign language, and wanting to learn another language since i was 11.

    Language to me though is a disticnt ability to be able to communicate with other people that everyone if able needs to have; and not just communication but effedtive communication. It bridges the gaps in culture. The more I learn about languages I relize how hard it is for languages to be learned by some people. For instance spanish speeaking people have a hard time learning english, where as it is much easier for english speaking people to learn spanish. I know this has caused great controversy in America over the past years before more intense crisises. This largely due to a lack of communication between cultures.

  17. wow this is very intimidating.. i’m 19 and have just studied spanish for one year at university which has fuelled a passion in me for learning languages. i wish i could go back in time and start when i was younger..but i am hoping that determination and enthusiasm will make up for talent 🙂
    it is my dream to have fluency or working knowledge in all the UN language except chinese…i’m just not that good haha

  18. Awesome, so many language lovers and polyglots around…
    But lilly – there’s absolutely no need to feel intimidated. There are many people around who feel they ought to take up a language just for the sake of it, just because it’ll make them appear more intelligent.
    “but i am hoping that determination and enthusiasm will make up for talent” I sure it will, at least speaking from my own experience.
    I, too, sometimes entertain thoughts like “If only I hadn’t been idle during those ‘peak years of language acquisition’, meaning my late childhood”, but wishful thinking will get us nowhere. I am very grateful I discovered the joy of studying a language when I was 15 (I’m 17 now).

    “Once you managed to become proficient in an exotic language while distancing yourself completely from your native culture, it will automatically become easier to learn another language since your brain is now able to switch between different linguistic/cultural thinking concepts.”
    That’s absolutely true!

    My languages so far,[ I’m only listing the ones I can have a decent conversation in/read fairly authentic texts]:
    1. Latin (because it provides a helpful starting point for the other Romance languages; besides, at my High school, only French and Latin were offered – back then, I didn’t like the sound of French, so…)
    2. Spanish (not really culturally related, but at least it’s a European language) Not sure what I should learn, though – perhaps Turkish or Vietnamese would prove useful for communication here…
    3. English. (My mother tongue’s German.)
    4. Mandarin Chinese.

    Other languages I’ve studied so far: Arabic (on-and-off, I can’t even read a bit), Finnish (4 months, terribly complex with all that vowel harmony, shifts within words etc), French (4 months, can’t get a grasp on the pronunciation), Japanese (3 months, degree of fluency is somewhat better than for the three others, in fact, I think it’s fairly easy)

    I plan on studying the following languages (most likely in that order):
    – Arabic (useful, beautiful script, a challenge)
    – Russian (complex grammar)
    – Vietnamese (for communication with some immigrants here; beautiful and tonal – a great combination)
    – Cantonese (yet more tones, probably not too difficult a language once I’ve mastered Mandarin)
    – Turkish (a challenge)
    – Hindi (I admit it – only because it’s exotic)
    – Portuguese

    I’m not too keen on taking up one of those more obscure, rare language – of course, they are just as intriguing as any other language, but I don’t think I could muster the enthusiasm necessary to learn a language spoken by only a few million people, as long as there’s no other incentive for me (as in the case of Vietnamese, Finnish or Turkish).

  19. Very interesting post. It got me thinking. I might go for something like this:

    [b]1. Classical language[s][/b]

    Latin or maybe Hebrew

    [b]2. Major living languages of one’s broader culture.[/b]

    [b]3. The international language.[/b]

    [b]4. Exotic languages.[/b]
    Spanish and / or Russian

  20. i think that most important languages as following:
    1- english (international language)
    2- arabic ( language of arabic countries and islamic world language)
    3- spanish ( prevalent language)
    4- chinese ( largest speakers language)
    5-french (beautiful language)
    6- russian ( prevalent language)

  21. english is aglobal language .
    french is the second language .

  22. I’m 15 and only recently have seriously tried learning foreign languages. It’s really interesting and a lot of fun. As for my list

    Classic: Greek
    Cultural: German, French
    International: Chinese, Esperanto (if it counts, I guess)
    Exotic: Japanese
    do you guys think that it’s practical for me to start pursuing this right now? (I am being slightly discouraged by others that as a busy student I should try learning languages later.) Should I try to learn these languages by a certain time? I’m not forcing myself or anything but if we really learn languages better while young I just want to make the most of my age while I’m still (fairly) young.

    Also, right now I am only (seriously) learning one language at a time, do you think that learning another at the same time would impair my learning ability, or get me confused?

    a newly avid language learner 🙂

  23. I would much rather learn languages that would allow me to speak to people all over the world

    1. English (speak it…of course =P)
    2. Spanish (speak it)
    3. Mandarin

    That is pretty much, but other than that

    4. Arabic
    5. French (speak it…..sort of)
    6. Portuguese

    I believe English is already like the official language in India, so Hindi is unnecessary….And all those other European languages are spoken by only a few.

  24. 1) SYRIAC ARAMAIC, the literary language and lingua franca of the Middle East before the Arab Conquest, also the language of Christ and the language of the first christian followers and populations following his death and resurrection.
    2)ARABIC (my native language), FRENCH (even though French cannot be really considered as the language of a middle-eastern’s own broader culture, I still consider it as such for me due to the following reasons:
    – French used to be the co-official language of Lebanon along with arabic.
    – Lebanon was a French colony for more than 20 years.
    – In order to differentiate themselves from their arab islamic environment, lebanese christians adopted French as an essential language of communication and education.
    – France had special relations with lebanese maronites throughout Lebanese history.)
    3) ENGLISH
    4) SPANISH (a large base of speakers, official in more than twenty countries).
    ITALIAN ( I have a personal attraction to Italian for the following reasons:
    – I love the way Italian sounds.
    – As Italian society is mediterranean, a lot of points in common can be found between the Italians (especially of the south) and the Lebanese.
    – Italian is the language of the Vatican, the center of the catholic church, to which we, maronites, are strongly bound e,g, the maronite patriarch is a Catholic Cardinal at the Vatican.
    – Italian had very warm relations with Lebanon throughout lebanese history, culturally economically politically( e.g. The Lebanese Prince Fakhr el-din II made an alliance with Tuscany against Ottoman rule)

    I’m also maybe considering PORTUGUESE due to its proximity to spanish and beauty, and because it’s the language of 7,000,000 lebanese in brazil twice the number of Lebanese in Lebanon !!!!!!!!

  25. 1. Hebrew (Classical). I am fluent in Modern Hebrew, but going back and studying Biblical Hebrew is always interesting, and easy enough if you already know Modern Hebrew.

    2. Spanish (Cultural). My family speaks Spanish as most as Sephardic Jews, moving from Spain to Holland, Italy and Mexico, then eventually to the US and to Israel. Already semi-fluent

    3. English (International). Fluent and one of my two mother languages

    4. Italian (exotic). Not the most exotics, but with family and friends in or from Italy, and being a language of art and fashion, I’d love to become fluent in it

  26. I have to agree with those who found that the HUGE amount of time necessary for learning a “classical” langauge (aka a “dead” language) IMHO would be much better invested in learning a language which allows one to communicate with living human beings… unless of course your interest lies in studying ancient scipts and documents for research, etc.
    So with this in mind, here is my list of currently spoken and aspired to languages:
    1) Classical languages of one’s own culture : Personally I’d rather invest the time in learning an additional major world language
    2) Major living languages of one’s broader culture: already speak French and Spanish, have studied German and Italian but do not consider myself proficient in them. I have also learned Lebanese arabic and while many might say that this should fall under the “exotic” language category, since I am married to a Lebanese I think I can consider it as being part of my “broader” culture, at least in the home.
    3) The international language : English, my native language.
    4) Exotic languages: I studied Japanese for one year, but had to stop due to circumstances beyond my control. Also, exoticism is subjective. In lieu of what most would consider to be an “exotic” language, I would suggest that this category should be enlarged to include “lesser studied” langauges as well. For example, I have always been fascinated by Scandinavian languages and am currently studying Norwegian. Ok, I know this is a Northern Germanic language and my native tongue English is also a Germanic language, but still, due to the “sing-song” tonality of Norwegian, the use of phonemes and letters that do not exist in English (å æ ø), the alveolar trilled “R”, etc. in addition to the fact that it is not a language you hear spoken alot outside of Norway, I find it somewhat exotic. Nothing like Mandarin or Thai for sure, but exotic nonetheless.
    Good luck to all in your linguistic persuits.

  27. For a someewhat older person who might struggle more with active command of speech as opposed to reading, a classical language might be ideal and in some sense less frustrating. I think one should also consider languages that are in danger of dying out. For me that includes Yiddish. Though it is not as moribund as some, the Yiddish of my ancestors was all but murdered by European fascists. I am motivated by the view that knowledge of Yiddish and Yiddish preservation are keys to maintaing our link to and understanding of the largely exterminated millenium of Ashkenazi culture in Europe. Another issue for me is whether I should mainly focus on Spanish, which seems like a lifetime, effort instead of trying to learn several languages.

    • For Europeans, my list is long and comprises twelve languages that are quite easy to pick up once one has mastered the ‘matrix’ one of the three main groups. The scope is not to speak but to read books and understand movies – speaking or writing is a labour that is too dangerous for the ego and thus a hurdle to further learning. 1 GERMAN, English, Dutch, Swedish (the Germanic group) 2 ITALIAN, French, Spanish, Portuguese (The Neo-latin group) 3 RUSSIAN, Serbo-Croat, Polish, Czech (the Slavic group). I would stress the study of British English and its literature, quite different to the poor global version of TV spots. Italian may be spoken by too few people to be worth the effort, but being the closest to Latin, makes it cardinal in the study of French or Spanish. Of course, one does not have to become proficient in Czech: it’s enough to be able to read signs, grasp the meaning of a waitress’ phrase at Prague airport and so forth. This is feasible after mastering Russian. In fact Slavic languages are extremely similar to one another. After this twelve Hercules’ labours, I would add four classical languages: 1. Latin 2. Ancient Greek 3. Sanskrit 4. Ancient Hebrew. The former two are often taught at high school, while the latter two are a challenge for the cleric. That makes 16 languages. For very motivated people, with plenty of time (retired or well-off people?), four languages of choice may be thrown in the menu, like: 1. Irish 2. Hungarian 3. Finnish, 4. Lithuanian or Armenian. That makes 20 languages. On top of that, the final six Asian languages: 1. Arabic (spoken from Marseille to the Comore Islands), 2. Turkish (understood from Istanbul as far as Tashkent and Kashgar) 3. Farsi ( three Middle East languages) 4) Chinese (good luck!), 6) Japanese, 7) Indonesian ( three Far East languages). That makes a total of 26 languages, which, for what it’s worth, is considered a magic number in the Jewish tradition (see the Jewish linguist Peter M. Bergman who wrote a famous book bearing the title ‘A Concise Dictionary of 26 Languages’ – though he chose different tongues, including …Yiddish!). I have left aside native American or African languages, as my list was intended for the ESP (European Super-learned Person) – learning languages for the pleasure of reading, with a wide literature available, so excluding anthropologists by profession. Swahili may be tempting but it’s difficult to find consistent written literature. Afrikaans, Danish , Catalan are not included in the list as they are within easy reach. By the way, I am Venetian and I speak Venetian language at home and Italian and Russian at work.

  28. Coming from India, I am proficient with Hindi, Telugu,Tamil, Kannada and of course English.
    I have just enrolled for Italian language classes, my first foriegn language. I intend to learn Japanese some time in thefuture.

  29. I’ve had time to think about this one. I realized the languages that matter to me are not the ones that make me erudite like Dr. Arguelles. I just want to speak the languages of the people I care about.

    Classical languages of one’s own culture. That would be Latin, which I took in grad school but don’t really care about.

    Major living languages of one’s broader culture. English, Spanish (fluent). I’m filipino american, so Tagalog and my parent’s Pangasinan are my heritage languages… they’re hard to learn because most speakers of those languages are English bilinguals, who will switch to English unconsciously, which sabotages your language study. Also, methods and materials are not great.

    The international language. Spanish (fluent), French (recovering fluency), Italian (rusty). I’d like to learn Portuguese, mostly for musical reasons; it’s prolly next on my list.

    Exotic languages. It seems ethnocentric to put Mandarin as “exotic” but I’m putting it here because of the tones and characters… it’s a whole different ballgame. I’m a lower-intermediate speaker. I’m also pretty fascinated with Shanghainese, just because a good friend of mine spoke it, and it’s cool to be the guy who can sound down with the locals.

    I may attempt another asian language someday (japanese? korean?) or another austronesian (bahasa?) or Swahili or Arabic if I get around to it, but I prolly won’t.

    I was learning ASL for a while, back in high school. I can still have a basic conversation, with a lot of fingerspelling. Not sure which category that fits into.

    Anyway, Dr. Arguelles is missing an important category: heritage languages. Dr. Arguelles didn’t have ethnic minority linguists in mind, I’d suggest swapping out his classical language for my heritage language(s). Certainly it won’t kill anyone to know a classical language, but I don’t feel the same longing for Latin that I do for Pangasinan.

  30. Using Dr. Arguelles’ categories, this is how I would divide the ones I’m interested in:

    1. Classical languages of one’s own culture: Latin.
    2. Major living languages of one’s broader culture: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Italian, and German, in order of proficiency from most to least proficient.
    3. The international language: English, my native language.
    4. “Less commonly taught” languages or languages outside of my own culture: Quechua, Euskara, Mandarin and Japanese as well as some “creolized” languages (Haitian Creole, Papiamentu, Creolized English, Pennsylvania German) and languages sometimes classified as dialects (Gallego, Catalán, Sicilian).

    I was determined at first to learn languages commonly spoken in the Americas and then became interested in others that didn’t fall into that category.

    Regarding what type of “glot” I am, I couldn’t call myself a “perfectoglot” because I grew up learning only English, then added Spanish in college and the others at various times throughout adulthood. I may seem like a “lectoglot” but I always try to add speaking into the mix, even if I can only master a handful of words and phrases at present. I also struggle not to be a “dispersoglot,” though with some of the languages I may seem that way with how I attack them. The principle I use is that I never stop with a language once I start, regardless of how long it takes to acquire an acceptable level of proficiency, I will continue to try to practice regardless of how little I can speak, and there is no rush to proficiency unless I plan to travel to a place where one of the target languages is spoken.

  31. Hello Dr. Arguelles,

    I very much enjoyed reading your prescriptions on which languages an individual must pursue learning given his or her cultural and linguistic backgrounds. But, I have had some difficulties in deciphering my own track. You see, I am originally from Korea and I immigrated to the United States at the age of 8. I have spoken Korean in my household and at a Korean church I grew up in all my life, so I speak fluent Korean and can read and write quite well. Obviously I am fluent in English having grown up in the States, and currently I have been learning Mandarin Chinese for about four years now. Through learning Chinese, and especially its characters, I have gained some insight into the script that Koreans utilized before the invention of hangul. But unfortunately, Korean has no linguistic predecessor. I have also learned German while I was in high school for about 4 years. And I also learned some Spanish during my trip to Peru for 3 weeks and can carry on very basic conversations.

    I am looking to decide upon which language I should learn next. While I would love to learn as many languages as I can, I have realized that in reality, I should focus on a set number of languages because trying to learn so many languages really dilutes one’s ability to become truly “fluent” on any given language, which is why I enjoyed your prescription on the categories of languages in deciding which languages I should learn. I have Korean, English, and Mandarin Chinese. I am looking to become fluent in one more if not two more. I was thinking about picking back up German since I have the foundations down. And one exotic language.

  32. 1. Never had much of an interest in languages I can’t use almost anywhere I go for communication
    2. I am near fluent in Spanish, learning Russian and dabbling in German
    3. Again, Spanish. I might some day learn Arabic as it’s something I find very interesting.
    4. Russian may count. But I am 5th generation American, ancestry is from Ireland and I would love to learn Irish Gaelic. Hmm…could Irish count as a classical language of my own culture?

    Thank you very much for posting a link to Dr Arguelles’ site, it looks to be very informative. Keep up the good work with the blog!

  33. The spanish is not and interesting language because there is no bussines asociatde with it.


  34. well.. the languages that i want to learn are the following : French Portuguese (on the verge of perfecting it) Catalan Arabic Hebrew Turkish Kabyle and Amazigh.
    1. ok.. i would be willing to take some lessons in greek and latin but im not seriously thinking about it..
    2. being a mexican-american and living in a border city i already know spanish.. so this category doesnt apply to me either..
    3. i consider french portuguese and catalan to be international languages even though catalan is only officially spoken in spain , southern france and italy i believe. Also, and a lot of people in the world speak maybe at least one romance language..
    4. exotic languages !!! my favorite category xD i would really love to learn arabic kabyle amazigh and turkish
    the first 3 are my favorites though only because i truly love the morrocan and algerian cultures ! where, to my understand, besides speak arabic and french, some people speak kabyle and amazigh 🙂

    • Oops!! please excuse my ignorance.. i was trying to say “tamazigh” but that’s just the same thing as “kabyle”, hehe ok, I was just trying to clarify that.. haha how embarrasing :p

  35. Hi Dr. Arguelles!

    First of all, I think you are truly an inspiration! It’s amazing how knowledgeable you are in such a multitude of languages and how you have taught yourself to study them so intelligently — oh gosh, I am only 18 years old and it feels so intimidating writing to you because everything you say/write sounds super intelligent and your vocabulary is beyond anyone I have ever met!

    Anyways, I don’t want to get too off topic so these are my choices for your system. Here is a little background of myself so you know where my choices are coming from: I am a Canadian of Portuguese/Vietnamese descent. I will be entering university this year and plan to study Linguistics & Languages, hence the reason I am on this “Linguist Blogger” website!

    Latin – since I am half Portuguese, I live in a bilingual (English/French) country and I speak English

    Vietnamese – my mother is Vietnamese so I already am semi-fluent in this language, but only in speaking/comprehension at this point

    Portuguese – my father is Portuguese so I am currently aiming to gain fluency in this language

    French – being a Canadian, this is the number one language I hope to master

    English – this is already my native-tongue

    Japanese – I have always enjoyed the media of Japan, from their amazing video games to their popular “anime” shows
    Chinese – since it happens to be the language with the largest number of speakers in the world and I also enjoy listening to Chinese pop music

    Well, that’s it for now! I know you don’t need me to say this but keep up the amazing work! Don’t ever stop what you are doing because you really are so inspiring! 🙂

  36. 1. Latin (studied at school), Ancient Greek (studied at university)

    2. Italian (studied at school), Spanish (studied at university)

    3. English (studied at school)

    4. Finnish (studied at university, but my vocabulary is too limited)

    Additionally, Bavarian as what would probably be called “home language” or “heritage language” elsewhere. It is really quite different from Standard German, that’s why I’m counting it.

    I’ve also attended a class in Russian back at school, but didn’t get very far. I’ve started Czech, which I have a personal connection to, but stopped it soon again, although I’d really like to reach at least a modest proficiency at it.

    I’ve attended classes on many more languages, such as Sanskrit and Old Church Slavonic, Old, Middle and Modern Persian, and even Basque and Arabic, and my self-taught French allows me to read texts in the language (and in my youth I even upheld a conversation in it), but most of my languages I consider “sleeping” languages in that I have no real practice in them anymore, but I can probably “reactivate” them once needed.

    There are also languages such as Dutch, Swedish, or Portuguese, which I’ve never studied actively but am able to make sense of (at least when written) through my knowledge of related ones. Once in a country where the language is spoken I’m sure I’d learn them relatively quickly

    Due to my linguistic training, I’ve come into contact with dozens of really exotic languages (historical and still spoken) that have given me a good insight into the astounding variety of human language. Therefore having only Finnish (which isn’t actually THAT exotic) in category 4 can be excused, I think.

  37. I am from India and I speak Hindi, Marathi, English..
    I have started learning Portuguese..is it good for me or not???

  38. […] Posts The Wisdom of a Man Who Knows 115 LanguagesHow Many Languages Is It Possible to Learn?Dr. Arguelles' Six Most Important LanguagesCareers Involving LanguagesDr. Arguelles' Most Important Languages […]

  39. Native English speaker.

    1. If I had to learn an ancient language, it would be Ancient Greek, as I’m interested in philosophy and theology, but I would much rather learn a modern language instead. So the count’s still at 0.

    2. French, German (already speak both, working towards fluency).

    3. English (native tongue). Spanish (studied for two years)

    4. Korean, Japanese, Chinese?

  40. 1- Latin (Learning)

    2- German (Learning), Russian (Learning)

    3- English (Second native language), Spanish

    4- Japanese (Although the term exotic is in question as I’m a native speaker of Turkish which bares similarities with Turkish)

  41. I have:

    1. English & Irish (Native Speaker)
    2. Spanish (Studied in secondary school and currently at university)
    3. French & Italian (Studied in secondary school)

    I would love to learn Polish as there are a vast amount of East Europeans now living here in Ireland.

  42. 1. Latin, Greek, Ancient Hebrew (learning)
    2. Spanish
    3. French (learned in school), Chinese (learning)
    4. Indonesian/Malay (fluent)

    I’m just curious – for those of you who are successful at learning languages – do you learn them simultaneously or focus on one at a time?

  43. This is a great blog! Great to see all language lovers and polyglots! I am from India. Currently I know:


    I have good fluency in all of them except possibly Kannada. I am learning Greek and want to learn it well. My next choices are:

    Any one out of French/German/Russian – global language other than English.

    Mandarin Chinese – A major ( and exotic) language in the world.

    Tamil-a major classical language in Dravidian family.

    Persian- for reading old historic documents.

    Some major African language, Swahili/Afrikaans- exotic.

  44. I can’t even remember when I started to have a love of languages and culture but I’m glad that I do. My first languages were Haitian Creole (i know it’s really a dialect) and French but when I my mother (miss her so much) officially decide to move to the US I lost the french.
    I speak Haitian Creole fluently though I should probably practice more often (not to hard to do in south florida).

    Since English is my dominant languge follwed by creole here are the languages I’m currently studying, I’d like to study, and or refine

    My List

    1. Greek- would love to learn
    2. Haitian Creole- needs some refining. I can read and spek but not write it
    Spanish- Currently studying and quickly threatening to overtake my Creole. Plus I’m going to spen 5 months in Colombia
    French- Studied for three years in high school so I have a good grasp on it, can read and comprehend I just need to start up again
    Italian- My dream language (inspired by my bff who speaks italian and sicilian)

    3. since I already speak English I want to learn Arabic or Pakistani which I hear is really close to Hindi

    4. Japanese- love their culture or Russian- turns me on lol too much info I know but I would just love to learn it

  45. 1.Classical languages of one’s own culture.
    2.Major living languages of one’s broader culture.
    –Spanish, French, and German
    3.The international language.
    –English (native)
    4.Exotic languages

  46. Great logic, definitely got me thinking about which languages I should consider. So far my list stands as:

    1. Latin (after completing the others, out of practicality)

    2. Portuguese (Brazilian, currently mastering)

    3. French (I’m a native English and Spanish speaker, this is the next logical choice)

    4. Mandarin Chinese and Arabic (considering picking up the Egyptian dialect after MSA)

    I’m also considering learning Nahuatl for the Classical category instead. I’m Hispanic (Mexican-American), and feel as though the purpose of recognizing one’s past ancestry is fulfilled by Nahuatl. Don’t know how I could start learning the language though, unfortunately.

    • Neat choices Sebastian. I would recommend doing Arabic the other way around. Learn Egyptian first and practice it with natives and then MSA or spend 20% of your time working on MSA and 80% on Egyptian. They are really like closely related languages more than they are the same language.

  47. Well, here is mine:
    1.Classical: Sanskrit and/or pali

    2. Cultural: Bengali, Punjabi, Telugu,Gujarati
    3. International: Spanish and or german ( I know english well)

    4. Exotic: Japanese ( because i am a anime fan!), Chinese , Korean or even vietnamese.

  48. Sorry for posting again. (Actually I had not read others comments)
    I am also a very big language fan and want to learn as much languages as i can. Hailing from a country which has 24 officially recognized languages, i liked learning language since childhood. Since no one was there who could teach a different language, I used to learn the alphabets by decoding them.(Packets and instruction sheets are in multiple languages.)
    Currently I am learning (by myself) Japanese because im a big anime fan.

    I hope to be fulent in the following foreign languages:
    a)Japanese (as said above)
    b) chinese (large population and many products are imported.also , anime are subbed in chinese mandarin)
    c) Spanish (spain and almost of south america speaks it)
    d) Arabic (to know of the islamic world and also to be able to read urdu, farsi, egyptian,etc.)
    e) German ( germany, sweden, ausrtia and others)
    f) malaysian i.e. bahasa melayu (south east asian culture, a prosperous country, and malaysia is ‘truly asia’!)

    I have been very selective in choosing as these six foreign lang.s wud be very useful 4 me in future.

  49. 1. Ancient Greek & Latin
    2. Djambarrpuyngu, which is an Aboriginal dialect spoken here in Australia, only in the area I live in.
    3. Japanese & Spanish.
    4. Arabic & Romanian (because of my ancestry) and also Italian (because I’m in love with it)

    There are 8 here but what can I say, I’m ambitious…and also not sure which ones I would get rid of.

  50. 1. I’d have to pick Old English here – historical, not exactly classical – because I’ve some knowledge of other Germanic languages (Icelandic, some German, some Scandinavian through exposure) already.

    2. I’m going to have to differ slightly from ‘major’ languages, at times.. My country is England, and my ancestral history is mostly southeast England, so really I’d have to pick immigrant/native British Isles languages. And there are many I really want to learn in these categories:
    – Polish
    – Hindi (currently doing so)
    – Irish (dabbling)
    – Scottish Gaelic
    – Welsh

    3. My native language is the most international language, which makes me very lucky. I have little current interest in French or Spanish, but a trip to South America soon might ignite some interest in Spanish.
    – Swahili for East Africa.
    – ‘Scandinavian’ (rooted from Norwegian) because I can already read some, and they’re international across Scandinavia.

    4. I could go crazy for exotic languages. Luckily some that I’m most interested are already in group 2.
    – Greenlandic/Inuktitut/Northern Sámi (fascinated by the extreme north; both would really require Scandinavian languages to learn)
    – Navajo (the most abundant native American language, in an area I’ve visited without being aware of its language)
    – Finnish (not crazily exotic, but again northern and I love how it sounds and its grammar)

    So that’s … 11 or 13 languages, from 8 language families. Challenge accepted.

  51. I personally am learning three other
    Languages. Im fluent in English and spanish and im studying french portuguese and italian. I chose these because of their global signigicants
    And how easy it would be to achieve fluency since There all romance languages. Im studying french the most. I am learning in order of most important. I do study portuguese and italian a bit but mostly french. French is my third language.

  52. I am a native speaker of English. I have conversational abilities in Indonesian/malay and good conversational abilities in German, although i study german at university and i need to use it academically. In terms of ancient languages, i think it would be good to learn latin.
    Chinese and arabic would be useful, as i live in australia. I would like to learn russian just because i think it’s a cool language, but i’m not sure of a minority language that i would like to learn.

    • Those sound like good goals Hannah. Might I suggest Italian, Greek, Turkish or Vietnamese as a minority language? From what I understand, there are lots of Italians, Greeks, Turks and Vietnamese in Australia.

  53. Every Language is a new world, I love Foreign Languages. I have a channel on youtube concerning Foreign Languages. If you would like to check it out just search ou youtube: Nelson Lino. Thanks.

  54. My first languages are Mandarin, English.

    a) Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Guwen, Old Norse
    b) Indonesian/Spanish/German
    c) French
    d) Uyghur/Persian/Hebrew/Arabic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: