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:
- Classical languages of one’s own culture.
- Major living languages of one’s broader culture.
- The international language.
- 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?