So I got to thinking, what are the world's main languages? What gets you the world? I did a bit of research, and I believe the languages are these: English, as lingua franca in many places and the main language in north America and Australasia, helpful in India and Pakistan and parts of Africa. Mandarin Chinese, as the language spoken by the most people in the world. Hindi, which gets you the subcontinent (Urdu is just like it only with Arabic words added, and yes I know that is controversial). Arabic, which gets you the Middle East and some bits of Africa. French, which gets you several countries in Europe and a whole chunk of west Africa as well as part of the Caribbean and the south Pacific, and is still important in north Africa too. Russian, which not only gets you Russia, but gives you a way in to the Slavic languages of east and south-east Europe and is still the language of business and the lingua franca in the whole of the former USSR, including the non-Slavic parts such as the Baltics. Spanish, which gets you Spain and south America. Portuguese, which gets you not only Portugal but Brazil and several important countries in Africa. And Turkish, which gets you not only Turkey but just about the whole of central Asia, whose languages are mostly Turkic. What does that leave? Well, south-east Asia - but English is very much a lingua franca there. To these I added German, as the language in Europe spoken by the most people, Latvian (a Germanic language) because I have lived in Latvia and intend to again, Polish, because Poland is a cool and happening place I want to visit more often, Alsatian, because it is spoken around where I live - I doubt I will ever speak it but I like to understand what people are saying around me - Greek, because I go often to Cyprus and hope to live there one day, and Japanese and Korean just to build on previous foundations. I found Eurotalk, a range of interactive language learning applications, absolutely excellent. And no, they're not paying me to say this. (But they're welcome to if they read this). I do one of their modules every day, or nearly, in a different language each day. It takes about ten minutes. This morning, on the tram, it was Polish. It's fun to do - I use the iPhone app - and gives you the confidence to start talking. I also found the other day when I heard the Pope on television speaking Spanish that I could understand him, without having tried to - then when he switched to Italian, which I have never tried to learn, I couldn't understand a word.
Well, it's a little hobby of mine, and it does no harm, hein? I started as a complete beginner in most of the above. The hardest to get into? Arabic, without a doubt. The easiest? Hard choice between Polish and Spanish.
Anyone think I should add any more? I wondered about Farsi.
Update: Swahili has been suggested. Spoken by 140 million people. It's going on the list.
Further update: I have been challenged to go for Finnish. aaargh. Never could resist a challenge.