Best Foreign Language for a History Major?

Oct 2011
7,654
MARE PACIFICVM
#51
What!! no one expressed interest in Spanish? tsk tsk
For the part of history that I'm most interested in (c. XVI - XVIII or early XIV) Spanish is extremely important. Especially as I have a heavy interest with the discovery, exploration and colonization of the New World.

Sadly though, many people want to be unique and don't want to be just "another gringo trying to learn Spanish"
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,968
Canary Islands-Spain
#52
You said that ''major information was translated'' yet you say ''primary sources were not'', you contradict to yourself. Besides I didn't say that everything was translated, however those which are not translated do not differ from the sources of English speaking scientists. While Russian and English speaking sources are very differ in terms of perspective, because there were and still are many information wars between Russia and the West, including in the history field. While there is no such war between France/Germany and US/UK. So knowing Russian allows you to see other perspectives, while French or German literally give you nothing except for some fetishistic internal satisfaction that your read history about France/Germany in original. But you won't know more than one who reads same history in English.
No, I said "major historiography", the work of authors, which is different. In no way the only profit of knowing French/German is satisfaction of reading original though translated works. Never. Primary information is written (or spoken) in native languages, if you want to do a good job on German history you should know the language to access the huge amount of primary sources.

Might you think that I want to downgrade Russian language importance. Just the opposite, it was one of the options that I was to comment when you wrote your solid defence of Russian. I fully agree with you on the benefits of knowing Russian, especially the idea of Russian works being nearly unknown in the West. And Russian historiography is a very extensive one.
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,968
Canary Islands-Spain
#53
Seems you just want to learn italian - just go for it mate :D

After all, we have one of the best literature of the western world, and our beautiful language has a major rapresentation in music and art

Yes the guy seem to be very interested in Italian.

I can only say that... let me put a stupid example:

If a language gives acces to... 100 units of information, but you don't like it, you learn only... 10 French for example, you have access to 10 units of information only.

If another language gives acces to a shorter 50 information, and you love it, you learn 45 Italian for example, so you are able to access 45 information.

You got a far larger profit from the second one, in spite of being a less extensive source of information. In fact, when you learn a new language you can access to so much knowledge that you can not cover it in your entire life. You could learn Italian, and spent your lifetime working with Italian sources-authors only, becoming a superb historian in many fields related to Italy, who knows.
 
Apr 2010
6,330
US
#54
Some colleges will force the language requirement on you. For example: at one time I looked at several college catalogs with an interest in their requirements for majoring in art history. The five I looked at all required the French language. Of course French painting is very important but I feel Spanish is more so. And the Orient even more so. I throw this out there as something to think about.
This is definitely something to consider. A lot of colleges will require a particular language depending on what you want to study. For example, any school worth anything that offers Japanese or Chinese programs will require you to learn those languages.(Both for Japanese history.)
 
Jul 2012
138
Penn's Woods
#55
If you're truely interested in Italian, then go for it. For real-world utility though I would say French or German. I would also consider Spanish, especially if you plan on staying in the United States.

You don't have to limit yourself to just one language though. If you're interested in more than one language, then study more than one. This is what I do.
 
Apr 2011
1,286
Melbourne
#56
I have to add to those discussing languages relating to European history - even if it's nothing to do with French or German history, might I remind you that much scholarship is written in those languages, and at a research level, you're going to have to enter the journals, too, not just the archives.

Edit: And it's absolute rubbish (I'd ask the member to empirically prove it) to say that all or the majority of historiography is translated. Certainly not journals, apart from a tiny few, very exceptional articles, and otherwise large-scale monographs or popular works. I might cite one of the most famous instances in my own field - that extends over a wide inter-disciplinary area, in fact - which is Habermas' Public Sphere theory. It took almost around 3 decades to take off ground in English, and even later in French, since it was equally that long until translations were published in those respective languages. And yet, now, of course, it's radically changed the shape of (in my case) Revolutionary studies.
 
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Oct 2011
2,410
Moscow
#58
No, I said "major historiography", the work of authors, which is different. In no way the only profit of knowing French/German is satisfaction of reading original though translated works. Never. Primary information is written (or spoken) in native languages, if you want to do a good job on German history you should know the language to access the huge amount of primary sources.
I agree that if you want to do a good job particulary about German history you need to know German, if you need to make a good job particulary about French history you need to know French. It's not only because of the sources, but languages allow you to understand mentality and traditions much better. However he wrote about ''Europe in general'' and asked what language in pair with English gives ''the highest diversity'' when you study Europe in general. So that's where Russian comes the most handy IMHO, and I've explained why. But that's just my opinion and I'm not imposing it to anyone, that's just my perspective, since I speak German, French and Russian, and came to a conclusion that the last one was the most useful for me together with English. Because history of the last 200-300 years was highly politisized in modern days due to the Cold War and other infowars that are currently unfolded, that makes it very hard to study, and while Russian opens the doors to many alternative standpoints, German or French are not, cos German and French scholars normally take the side of English speaking scholars.

Russian however has its own flaws, for a native English speaker obviously French, German, Spanish or Italian are much, much more easier to learn.

Might you think that I want to downgrade Russian language importance. Just the opposite, it was one of the options that I was to comment when you wrote your solid defence of Russian. I fully agree with you on the benefits of knowing Russian, especially the idea of Russian works being nearly unknown in the West. And Russian historiography is a very extensive one.
No, I didn't think that you downgrade Russian. I was thinking that you slightly misunderstood me thinking that I downgrade French and Germany :) I don't, all my comments about French and German contain many ''ifs''. In general they are very useful of course.
 
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Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,339
U.K.
#59
Another thought to keep in mind. I've heard from a lot of people that Spanish and Portuguese, both being Romance languages, are very easy to learn after gaining fluency in Italian. This is also mentioned in Mike Lynch's article.

Is anyone here fluent in Italian and other Romance languages that could address that?
I used to be fluent in Latin and as a result found that learning Spanish, Italian, and French was remarkably easy to learn. I've also looked at Portuguese and can see the linguistic roots of Latin in that language. Once in Italy, I inadvertantly lapsed into Latin and although it caused a bit of hilarity, the Italians I was speaking to understood what I was trying to say. Latin is highly underrated in my view as it can help open doors to about 25 living languages.
 

beorna

Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
17,473
-
#60
I used to be fluent in Latin and as a result found that learning Spanish, Italian, and French was remarkably easy to learn. I've also looked at Portuguese and can see the linguistic roots of Latin in that language. Once in Italy, I inadvertantly lapsed into Latin and although it caused a bit of hilarity, the Italians I was speaking to understood what I was trying to say. Latin is highly underrated in my view as it can help open doors to about 25 living languages.
my full support.
I allways mix pero, mas, ma and sed. Must sound funny.:)
 

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