Familiarity and languages

If you’d like to learn a language and are not sure which one to choose, one way you could decide is to listen to a variety of languages and decide which one sounds good to you. This might bias your choice in favour of languages that are related to your mother tongue, or at least contain quite a few familiar sounding words, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The languages with the most in common with English are Germanic languages such as German and Dutch, and Romance languages like French and Italian. Speakers of dialects of English from northern England might also find familiar sounds and words in languages like Norwegian and Danish.

Completely unfamiliar languages may sound strange or even unpleasant to you, but could also be worth learning if you live in or make regular visits to in a region where they’re spoken, or regularly come into contact with people who speak them in your own country.

I believe that one reason why unfamiliar language might not appeal to you when you first listen to them is precisely because they are unfamiliar – there is nothing in them you can recognise and they will probably sound like incomprehensible sounds. If you make the effort to learn one of them though, they will begin to sound familiar and you will eventually be able to make sense of them. You may also come to like their sounds, even if you were not too keen on them at first.

Some of the languages I’ve studied, such as Italian, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic and Irish, appealed to me very strongly from the beginning. Other languages, such as Taiwanese and Cantonese, didn’t sound particularly wonderful to me at first, but the more I learnt of them and the more familiar I became with them, the more I liked them.

So in the case of languages, familiarity does not seem to breed contempt, but can in fact do the opposite.