Learning a "useless language" vs a useful, practical language

Interesting read about learning Swedish, or another small, “useless language”.

The basic argument is; learning a language takes so much time, is it really worth it to spend your valuable time learning a small language that you won’t get much use out instead of a widely spoken, practical language like Spanish, French, or Chinese?


great read!

“When I tell people I’m learning Swedish most respond “why Swedish?” with a furrowed brow.”
We’ve all been there.

I would say Quechua is probably more of a “useless” language than something like Swedish since even though there aren’t that many native Swedish speakers, Sweden is a wealthy country and I’m sure that you can easily find podcasts, tv shows, etc.

I understand why Swedish could be considered by some as pointless to learn since “they all know English” but I find that you get way better feedback from speakers of those languages that few people try to learn. That can help you stay motivated.


to speak any language that is not your own is great .i learned to speak a language that is not considered useful by most people definitions compared to the big world languages but i have never regretted it and i do use it when i can

and people learn specific languages for different reasons like the way it sounds,the culture associated with it the country etc. is italian useless ?,romanian,?cantonese ?polish?

Any economic reason for doing anything is really sad.

So to me, ‘useless’ is usually the person saying ‘you won’t make any money/networking connections who can make you money/become part of X workforce with that language’.

If you’re not motivated, you won’t learn any useful language. So you’d better learn a “useless” one than none.

Then the concept of “useful languages” is a bit of a nonsense to me. It depends a lot on where you live, what your interests are, what you do, who you know. Spanish outside of America is “useless”. Chinese might be spoken by a billion people but it has no use at all to me. German would be useful to someone working in the car industry, not really in my field. etc…

The only exception in my opinion is English, but lots of people live very well (and even very very well) without knowing it.

I once had my second cousin’s wife actually tell me that Dutch is a dead language, and that she should know because her father was stationed in the military in Europe and had said so, as if that meant anything other than that she and her father are not very bright. I told her, “23 million native Dutch speakers would disagree.”

When I told my oldest sister that I was learning Dutch, her response was, “I hate Germanic languages,” to which I responded, “English is a Germanic language,” to which she responded, “Well, yeah, but…” (She’s kinda like Mikey in the Life cereal ads; she hates everything. Unless it’s something she really likes, then it’s the greatest thing in the world and she expects you to agree with her.)

So yeah, you can always find plenty of children running around in adult bodies with the attitude that learning a certain language is “useless,” probably starting with your own family.


One year ago I was interest in learn Mebêngôkre, who is a language spoken by a tribe in Amazônia. Because my school did a visit and i found so interest the culture and the language, so that time I was really motivated to learn, however, it’s so difficult to find content to study that I lost my motivation.

But I don’t think it’s a useless language at all. When I was there was so fun even when I say one simple word the react of them makes my day. Only a basic knowledged about them enrich me.
Maybe one day.


Well if you want to be reasonably affluent at some point in your life, you might want to consider your economy as well when making life decisions.

My point of view is that the only “useless” languages are the invented SciFi/Fantasy languages.

Learning languages is a highly personal endeavor. You’ll always find detractors who want to shame you. Virtually all of them are monolingual :slight_smile:

Having said that, we often connect the economic utility of learning a language with fast growing or giant GDPs – in the early 90’s, my college guidance counselor suggested that I learn Japanese, because it was the fastest growing economy of that era. Today, guidance counselors suggest Mandarin.

I have two stories:

I met a businessman who learned Norwegian, which is spoken by just around 5 million people. Most people would consider that an odd choice. He didn’t have any Scandinavian ancestry.

He saw an opportunity for a relatively untapped market. Through learning Norwegian, he started making lots friends and business contacts in Norway over the years. He developed close relationships, and was eventually able to create a niche petroleum engineering consulting business. He was a trusted outsider, not because he was a great engineer, but because he spoke their language.

I met a native Spanish speaker who was learning English as his third language. His second language was Russian. I understood wanting to learn English or Portuguese, since he was living in South America. But why did he learn Russian?

Because when he was a teenager, he became obsessed with helicopters. He was convinced that the best made helicopters were Russian. So he began to study Russian, eventually went there, then got degrees in aeronautical engineering and repair. He came back to his country and opened a business that trains pilots and repairs Russian helicopters. I asked him how many other people in his country were fluent in Russian. He guessed only a few hundred. His language skills gave him a competitive edge in a place where everybody has English Mania.


Wow, those are fantastic stories! (Much better than my silly anecdotes.) And you’re right; both of my detractors are monolingual.

I would say there is much truth to the idea that, all things being equal, some languages are more “learn-worthy” than others.

That being said, I suppose native speakers of English do have some extra latitude here? I mean, it’s very often the case that we don’t need to lean any foreign language at all. If we choose to do so purely for intellectual kicks, perhaps it might as well be something super-obscure!? :slight_smile:

This is slightly off-topic, but here is a quite interesting TED talk by a Linguistics Professor about some good reasons for English speakers to learn other languages:

4 reasons to learn a new language | John McWhorter - YouTube

That may be so, but it’s still a hollow reason because it’s motivated by money, which is worthless.

Thanks man!! Very good story, very motivated.

As a language of 10000 people spoken officially in two countries, one of those countries being the largest in Scandinavia - Swedish feels hardly a ‘useless language’. Granted not many people in comparison to the big major world languages speak it, and a lot of Swedes do learn English in school but still Swedish certainly does not feel “useless” to me. I was sitting on the bus the other day going into town here in North England and I heard some Swedish on the bus. I started saying some rather disjointed sentences to these people who smiled although they did seem a bit confused that I would know any Swedish since it isn’t a massive language but it made them smile and we had a good laugh about my horrendous Swedish.

Anyway! I am however, learning Welsh! Now there is a language that could certainly be considered ‘useless’ and I’m also quite keen to do Irish another seemingly redundant language. After all only about 10% of Ireland actually speak Irish. Someone ended up in the news the other day for pointing out that Ireland has more Polish speakers than Irish speakers - it might seem mean but it is most likely true. There isn’t even an Irish language act upholding the language (unlike in Wales with Welsh). Irish is often thought of with some connection to angry Irish nationalists (ask my mother in-law) or sheep farmers far off in some remote Irish village to the West of the country (ask my university lecturer from Ireland). Who wants to learn that?! In fact I did once pick up a book on teach yourself Irish with a friend several years ago in a book shop we had a bit of a giggle - who the heck would even learn that!

What I didn’t know then, and what I appreciate now is that Irish & Welsh are some of the oldest languages in Europe. Irish dates back to around the 4th century. They are also languages of a nation, and of Britain. They are my indigenous languages and they are special because they are part of who I am as a British person. They are also part of a a rare language family, Celtic. They are also incredibly beautiful languages. Just listen to Janet Devlin singing whisky lullabies as gaeilige (it always gives me goosepimples).

I really enjoy learning words in these Celtic languages. The challenge does come in finding the resources to learn them and ultimately the chances I am going to bump into someone speaking them does dip my motivation from time to time. Sadly, when I went to Ireland for a few days last year the only Irish I heard was an automated announcement on a train. There was no Irish language section in a major Dublin bookstore. It was almost as if the language didn’t even exist. In a way that makes me want to learn it more. British Colonial history makes me feel angry, we had a terrible impact on native languages from the Punjab to Galway. It may sound weird, but I feel a sort of necessity to learn these celtic languages, I feel an immense pull and affection for them

I think what I am trying to say - is that the value of a language is not necessarily found in the number of speakers speaking it. It lies in the heritage it holds, and the identity of a nation it carriers. For that Welsh and Irish are highly valuable languages (even if not everyone in Ireland and Wales and the rest of the UK and the world are aware of that value - it is still there in however many people speak it on a daily basis).

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Money isnt worthless. You can buy all kinds of things with money

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the sci fi people are gonna come for you lol .i don’t get it either the fascination with learning these languages like klingon and dothraki and elvish and god knows what else people ae gonna invent for the next big sci movie or tv series

I think it really depends on what people count as getting “use” out of a language. I read novels and watch TV in both German and Romanian, and I enjoy both just as much, and don’t even question it when I am using it to read or listen :), it is just pure enjoyment! I plan to visit both in the summer, and I have about 1 or 2 good friends in both languages, so its really not a waste at all :).

I think people also need to really focus on how long it takes to learn a language to a proficient level. I have been learning German for 3 years, reading toooons of novels, and watching TV series etc, and I still make so many mistakes and struggle to express myself at times. Why I would maybe a decade of work into Chinese, just because it appears more “useful”, unless I absolutely loved the language and culture, just doesnt make any sense to me :).

And? It’s still worthless. It’s only given value by people. Some people who don’t do things in life for money realise they are just pieces of paper that can never make you happy because spiritually they are worthless. If you do something like learn a language solely to improve your chances of earning money you’re soulless.

I don’t know man, money is not the best reason to learn a language but where I live francophones have to learn English and anglophones have to learn French in order to get a decent job.

I don’t see how that makes some learners soulless. Some can really get into it even if they started learning another language for “bad” reasons.