The Unfortunate Inaccessibility of “Unpopular” Languages

Time and time again, I want to learn the smaller languages, ones that don’t happen to be popular in the U.S. or in most of the world. I’ve been dabbling in Latvian lately, and it’s such an interesting language. At first listen, I thought it sounded similar to Russian even though I was aware it’s only distantly related to Russian at all (Latvian and Lithuanian are Baltic languages while Russian is Slavic). Now that I’ve listened to a fair bit of Latvian radio, I can’t believe that I ever thought I could confuse it with Russian! It sounds incredibly unique now, and that’s only making me want to learn it more.

The Baltic languages are some of the oldest of the Indo-European family. Latvian folk music and folk poetry are wonderfully beautiful– I’ve been listening to Latvian music almost every day for a couple of weeks now. I like the way Latvian is written (for some reason, even if the language uses the Roman alphabet, certain alphabet choices seem “prettier” to me), and words are so different from other Indo-European families with which I am more familiar, and yet I keep coming across words with interesting connections (Latvian for “husband” is vīrs, while Latin for man is vir— related? I think so!). The grammar is complicated, sure, but it’s not incomprehensible.

Unfortunately, I only have a small phrasebook/dictionary in the language, and that’s it. What’s worse is that I can’t seem to find an affordable textbook on Amazon or any online course of decent quality. My beloved Teach Yourself brand is way overpriced. I don’t know if I would be able to acquire a Latvian novel either.

This kind of puts a roadblock in messing with the language further. I’m all for challenges, and there is reading material online (websites, news articles, you know). There are some radio stations. I’ve found plenty of music. Technically, I could probably make something of the language with my phrasebook/dictionary and its brief grammar section. However, I’ve been down this path before just last year when I took up Icelandic.

Iceland is obviously a tiny country and doesn’t put out too much media internationally. But I wanted to learn Icelandic to an intermediate level in seven months for my trip last August (a lofty goal, but I like setting tough challenges for myself). My resources consisted of a Hippocrene textbook (which was really good), an older Teach Yourself book (which was really bad), an older textbook/grammar/glossary, a random crime novel I found on Amazon, one consistent radio station, and a handle of podcasts. I read the news pretty diligently and tried to maximize the few resources I had. Still, this experience highlighted the importance of a wide, wide variety of resources to play with. Logically, I had a good amount of information in front of me, but without variety, things can get boring and tedious.

That being said, I did learn a fair amount from my collection, but it seems like Latvian has even fewer materials available. I like to learn languages that have lots of high quality radio, fairly easily accessible literature, and at least a couple of decent textbooks to get me started. I love a lot of small and even endangered languages, but when I take the time to look into ordering a book or finding a course, it’s a little disheartening when there’s not much available.

Oh, well. This is just a rant about the fact that not every language has the power behind it to make publishers write lots and lots of textbooks. I suppose I should be happy that the internet makes an unbelievable amount of media available in the first place, and I suppose I’m being a little spoiled. I want nice learning resources in every language!

Luckily, I brought home armfuls novels from Iceland, so I have quite the library available to me should I ever want to move ahead with Icelandic 🙂

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2 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Inaccessibility of “Unpopular” Languages

  1. I guess this is where it would be nice to get in touch with native speakers of that language. Not so much for the direct “speak from day 1” approach, but so they can signpost you around their culture with their personal recommendations for books, songs movies etc. Maybe they could even gradually send you armfuls of novels with enough pleasant persuasion? 😀

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  2. http://language.ws is a web for pirated materials web but it also has old books that may still be useful (I don’t think you cheat if you download a book that you can’t find in other places. Nobody loses anything and you at least win something) or materials that are in the public domain but are hard to find in google (like this dictionary http://language.ws/finnougric/an_english_-_latvian_-_liv_dictionary/ ). It is also useful for an overview of what resources you may have available in a particular language (amazon or google are useful too but they have their particular bias) and checking if something is really for you. This islandic set of Glossika sentences for instance http://language.ws/icelandic/icelandic-fluency-123/ looks like good but not everybody likes such kind of stuff.

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