Dr. Arguelles’ Most Important Languages Revisited

Having this blog has been an enjoyable way for me to reach out to people from all over the world to share in the joy and challenge of language learning. About two years ago I wrote one of my most popular posts about Dr. Alexander Arguelles’ suggestion for choosing languages to learn. In reaction to that post, quite a few people have written on this blog which languages they would learn if they followed Dr. Arguelles’ advice. It has been a lot of fun for me to find out which languages people want to learn and why.

There does seem to be some confusion about the fourth category: Exotic Languages. Exotic is a word that is often used to describe Rio de Janeiro. It’s a lovely, vibrant city that is unlike any other city in many ways. When Dr. Arguelles mentions exotic languages he is referring to the fact that they are unlike the languages of one’s back ground and/or culture. Rio may seem like an exotic place but the Portuguese language they speak there is anything but exotic if you speak a European language, like English.

Exotic languages have different grammar, few cognates (similar words like carro and car) and, usually, a different writing system. The cultures they come from should also be very different from one’s own culture. I smile when Mexican friends I have say that their culture is so very different from American culture. They should try spending some time with Koreans, Eastern Turks or Bushman Africans. They would then see that the Christian, Latin, Western background that we share actually makes us much more similar than they think. That similar cultural background leaves a big imprint in the languages of Europe. To break away from that and fill in the fourth spot in Dr. Arguelles’ list, you need to learn a language (and therefore a culture) that is completely unlike your own and that has a completely different background.

Something else that has surprised me about people’s reactions is the aversion to the first category: A classical language of one’s own culture. Is learning some Greek or Latin such a big waste of time for Americans, Russians, Spaniards and Dutch? Is studying Sanskrit not beneficial to the Indians and Pakistanis? I’m a bit hypocritical here, since I haven’t filled this category myself, but I see merit in studying these languages.