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Language Snapshots|Roadmaps to Success

25 Tips to Survive and Thrive Your Freshman Year

Tip #9

Seek a balance.

College life is a mixture of social and academic happenings. Don't tip the balance too far in either direction.

see full list here

by Daniel Manders, International Studies

Languages aren’t created in a brief period of time; they are the products of several centuries of history within the society that speaks it, as well as the people’s interactions with other cultures. As I recommend in the General Do’s and Don’ts section of this guide it is best to pick a language that you find interesting. If you want to learn about the Renaissance or the formation of Germany, language study will add another dimension and help keep you motivated in your language studies. If you are still indecisive on which language to study then take a look at these language snapshots.

Spanish -What is Spanish?

cordobaSpanish, also known as Castilian when referring to the dialect of Spain, is the second most spoken language in the world. Its formation was influenced by the Latin language when Rome invaded the area in 210 B.C. Later invasions from Germanic groups and the Moors also introduced Vulgar Latin, or non-formal Latin, and Arabic influences. Because of this Spanish is very easy to learn for an English speaker, since there are numerous parts of speech that are shared between the two languages.

Spain and Latin American countries are famous worldwide for their tourist attractions, from beaches to mountain climbing. If you visit one of these nations and are ever stricken by boredom, you’re doing something wrong. Learning a little about the history of a country will also give you a deeper traveling experience, and Spanish speaking nations are not lacking in this category. From the formation and expansion of imperial Spain, the history of the Mayans and Aztecs, and the heroic revolutions of Simon Bolivar, the George Washington of South America, there is a lot to know and love about this area of the world. So if you decide to take a course in Spanish you won’t have to fear that you are taking the vanilla flavor of languages.

French -French

French is similar to other romantic languages, like Spanish and Italian, since they descend from Latin. French, however, doesn’t follow the simpler rules for pronunciation as other Romance languages. Even though it is a little different, French loan words are prolific in other languages. Vis-à-vis, lingua franca, and bouquet, all come from French. France has been a cultural center of Europe for centuries, and the French language shows the influence it has had. Throughout the Middle Ages France held a large amount of influence on the continent, making knowledge of the French language an important aspect of international affairs. This influence continued well into the 20th century, with many international summits and publications being conducted and published in French. Today, English is the new language of international relations, but France is still an important language to know when doing business in Europe, being one of the major players in the EU and the world’s fifth largest economy, and many important works and the history of Europe itself has been influenced by France and its French speaking people.

German -German

German is a complicated language from a complicated region. During the Middle Ages, the area where Germany is now was the Holy Roman Empire, with the language differing greatly in each area of the Empire. It became more standardized over time, although it was primarily a written language used in administrative and legal situations until the 1800's. The Germanic language tree has had a major influence on languages in northern Europe. English has many similarities with the grammar structure of German, and with the amount of cognates between the two English speakers studying German can make some connections between the two.

Germany is an economic powerhouse in the European Union. Between it and France much of what happens in the EU is determined by these two countries. In world trade, Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy, making German an attractive language for those looking at a business career. Knowing German also makes traveling in Europe easier, since German is widely spoken on the continent. Along with an attractive culture and popular destination for international travelers, German can help its students go an extra mile.

Latin -Latin

Latin hasn’t been widely spoken in ages, but it is still of importance today. Many terms in academia originate from Latin, and Latin is used in the creation of new words, especially in scientific fields. As the progenitor for many languages in Europe, just about any language coming from that continent will have some similarities because of Latin influence. Because of the language’s age, it is considered difficult to learn due to the amount of archaic grammar present. Its grammar is simply another way of describing the world, but other languages decided to describe it other ways.

Latin has limited uses in modern life. The only place that it is spoken regularly is in the Vatican, but many ancient texts are written in Latin. For those interested in history, have a desire to work in Catholicism, or simply want to use Latin to complement knowledge of other languages or field of study, then Latin is worth exploring.

Chinese -chinese

With examples of written characters dating between the 14th and 11th century B.C., the Chinese language has had a long history. Contained in the Sino-Tibetan language family, Chinese has been influential in all of East and Southeast Asia. Many writing systems in the area, such as Japanese Kanji, use Chinese characters. But don’t make the mistake that all Chinese is the same. As a country comprised of around 50 ethnic groups, as well as China’s history of different dynasties ruling from different parts of the country, there are several dialects to ‘Chinese’. This is not as bad as it sounds. The standard dialect, Mandarin, comes from the Beijing area of China and is understood by most Chinese speakers. Chinese characters are also the same no matter the dialect as well. As the world’s oldest pictograph language, the meaning is contained in the character itself. You don’t need to know how to say it in order to get what it means (which is also why it can be seen in other East Asian languages).

If you decide to study Chinese you will definitely get your money’s worth. Some of the world’s oldest historical works and records come from China. Confucius’s writings began to spring up around the 5th century B.C., and several poems, books, scholarly and political treatise, and records of Chinese history litter the timeline of Chinese existence. China’s rise an economic power also means that those with Chinese language skills will have an edge in the job market. And with monuments like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, as well as travel locations like Sichuan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, China offers a lot to those who want to unlock it.

Russian -Russian

The Russian language is a Slavic language, which is the group of languages around Eastern Europe. The Cyrillic alphabet, what Russian is written in, was actually brought over by monks around the 10th century AD. When Peter the Great was Czar of Russia, Russian was more regularly seen in writing. For many, the history of Russia may feel closer to home than other languages. The Soviet Union was a world power only a few decades ago, and many remember the Cold War era vividly still. But Russia was also a country of scientific advances, with scientists like Dmitri Mendeleev (made the periodic table) influencing the world. Its pre-Soviet history is also colored with charismatic leaders and seemingly crazy feats that put Russia in the forefront of European political worries (And the rest of the world in the 20th century).

Russian is spoken primarily in Russia and the former Soviet Republics. In politics, Russia’s position as a UN permanent Security Council member places it highly in world importance. Economically, Russia is numbered as a BRIC nation (A group of nations that are considered economic powerhouses among developing countries) and is very important in the economies of Asia due to its natural resources. Few business want to invest in Russia due to high amounts of corruption, but its investments abroad make Russian a useful language to know.

Arabic -

Arabic, taken generally, is the language spoken primarily in Arab countries (North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula). However, Arabic has many dialects and some of those are mutually unintelligible to other Arab dialects. The most widely spoken dialect, and the main one that is taught abroad, is the Egyptian dialect. Arabic is also written from right to left, so learning it will be a pretty different experience compared to most languages. For many, this region is considered backwards compared to the rest of the world, and current military conflicts in the region have not helped this image. Historically, Arab nations were centres of learning and knowledge. Before Mongols conquered Baghdad it was home to the largest library in the world. This region also gave us Algebra and recorded the works of the ancient Greeks and Romans that would have been lost otherwise in the Middle Ages.

Arabic has some definite uses. It is highly sought after in government jobs right now, since there are a low number of Arabic translators available. The region’s history, containing a long lineage of science, philosophy, and religious study, provides a look into a very unique culture. Business options are not quite that varied, revolving mainly around the energy industry, but prospects may improve in the future. Tourism of the area covers a large range of possibilities and cultures, including Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, religious sites like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the ruins of Petra in Jordan, and as the birthplace of many early civilizations there is plenty that this region has to offer.

Japanese -Japanese

Unlike the other languages on this list, linguistically Japanese is considered to be completely separate from any other language. Basically, unlike how you can trace English back to Germanic and Latin roots for words and word usage, Japanese doesn’t have that family tree to look back on. This makes for a very unique language experience since it limits similarities of language usage between it and other languages. The writing system is comprised of three parts: Chinese characters called Kanji and two syllabary systems, katakana and hiragana. In syllabary writing systems, a symbol will represent one syllable.

Potential Japanese students will find that this language has plenty of utility to offer. Japan offers a vast array of historical and cultural topics to explore, and has been a subject of interest in the 20th century due to its rise as a world power in such a short timespan, and its economic position on the world stage means that it will be of continuing importance in the coming decades. For those who simply want to travel, Japan’s unique geography allows for several touring options, from skiing and hiking to beaches and hot springs, and the country is abound with cultural sites. A study in Japanese may be difficult but worth the price.

Hebrew -hebrew

Hebrew is a very old language, with many religions of the world having their origins in Hebrew texts. The writing system is interesting in that it is traditionally written from right to left, and from the bottom of the page up. Today, Hebrew is spoken in Israel. Other than that, like Latin, it is mainly studied in academia or in religious settings.

For anyone wanting to study religion or the Middle East, Hebrew will provie a window to study through. Israel is also a centre of high technology businesses, as well as many world class science and technology based universities. History majors may also find it useful, depending on their focus, and those in Religious studies may find it an indispensable language to have.

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