2015-10-23

Languages as the best things I've learned academically

If I'm asked what are the best things I've learned academically, I'll answer immediately without hesitation that they are languages (together with the skill to learn something new academically by myself in case of need). In addition to my native language Japanese, I've learned, or at least tried to learn, the following languages in the chronolocial order with different degrees of success: English, Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Esperanto, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Italian, and Spanish. In my private and professional life I use English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Esperanto, and Japanese actively in this order of frequency, have been working very hard to make my Russian active, and also use Aramaic, German, and French for reading. The rest of the languages are either very passive or almost forgotten.

Though each of these languages has shown me a different new world and worldview and enriched my life, I have to single out five languages that have especially affected my life - they happen to be those five I use actively now both privately and professionally. English and Japanese have enriched me mostly intellectually, while Hebrew, Yiddish, and to a lessor extent Esperanto have done so more emotionally. Now Russian is gradually joining the second group.

In addition to this cultural value of languages, I'm of course happy that I've learned all these languages, especially English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian as means of communication, with each of them playing a different communicative role. The communicative value of languages can also be either intellectual or emotional. English has a purely intellectual communicative value for me, while Yiddish and Russian are more emotional for me communicatively, that is, the very fact that I use them is no less important that what I say in them, with Hebrew in between.

So I feel I'm extremely lucky both culturally and communicatively that I and my S/O share more or less the same intellectual and emotional culture, speak Yiddish with each other as our main means of communication with a smattering of Russian, and have several additional common languages, including English, Hebrew, German, and French. If I had been very poor at languages and/or hadn't decided to study these specific languages, this linguistic luxury would have been totally unimaginable and unattainable.