I’ve decided to learn Russian and maintain a log of my learning. I chose Russian after careful consideration for reasons which I will now explain. My primary motive for learning another language is to access to literature that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I am not particularly interested in being able to speak Russian well, but want to be capable of comprehending non-text media to a reasonable extent.
Availability of Media
As I researched candidate languages to learn, I mainly was searching for an abundance of available media and literature.
Russian is the second most used language on the internet as of September 10th 2020. According to W3Techs, 59.9% of the internet’s content of known language is English, and 8.7% is Russian.
Many great mathematicians (Cantor, Chebyshev, Lobachevsky, Perelman), physicists (Cherenkov, Landau, Podolsky) and philosophers (Dostoevsky, Kropotkin, Tolstoy) came from modern day Russia. Given how the Russian language is noted for its literature, I expect there will be no shortage of new material for me to read and ideas to learn about.
Number of Speakers
Related to the availability of literature, I want a language that is spoken by a large number of people. According to Wikipedia, the most widely spoken among the languages being considered is Arabic, followed by Russian.
Being an official language in 11 states, and a minority language in several others, Russian is spoken over a very large geographic area. This means that I will be able to access a large variety of perspectives all within the same language.
Time in Use
Out of the languages I read considered, many of them have existed for a very long time and have a large span of history in writing. Russian has a large advantage over Latin here because Latin is now a dead language, whereas Russian is still extremely active. Likewise, Hebrew was a dead language, but is one of the only languages to have been successfully revived. This means that there is a large gap in history during which little to no works were produced in Hebrew.
Dialects and Other Languages
Old Church Slavonic
Russian speakers understand 90% of Old Church Slavonic. Old Church Slavonic (OCS) was used a liturgical language and was used in a large volume of religious texts. I know very little and would like to learn more about the historical religious practices of the Russian-speaking nations. My favorite album of all time, Литоургия - Батюшка, was written in Old Church Slavonic.
Ukrainian and Belarusian
Russian speakers can understand an estimated 70% of Belarusian and Ukrainian, which will be nice should I ever visit either.
Difference from English
Language can change the way you think, and I would like to learn something that isn’t as similar to English as some languages that I’ve played with in the past. I don’t exactly have a great justification for it, but I prefer to learn a language with a different alphabet.
Ease of Learning
I would like to be able to use the language sooner rather than later, and though I am willing to put in more than a little bit of work, preference is given to languages that are quicker to learn while still differing from English. According to the FSI (Foreign State Institute), which ranks difficulty to learn other languages, Arabic requires 2,200 class hours to learn. This is twice the number of hours than that listed for Greek, Russian and Hebrew.
I have chosen to learn Russian because it is quite different from English, has been in use for a long time, is used by many people today, is not as hard to learn as Arabic, and is closely related to other languages.