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Complete 10-Language Learning Program

Dear Professor Arguelles,

I am so happy that you are making yourself available for questions again.

You mentioned somewhere that the great lexical founts are Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, and traditional Chinese, and then you might add Persian and Greek. Is this still your current thinking, and if you were to extend this list to 10 or more, which languages-families would be next?

I have 2 initial questions that address my immediate language learning needs.

1. What learning resources would you recommend for a complete language program for learning all aspects of the language (eg, grammar, phonetics) from beginning to “end” for the following languages:

  1. Spanish
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Latin
  5. Ancient Greek
  6. Arabic
  7. Sanskrit
  8. Mandarin with the traditional Chinese writing system
  9. Korean
  10. Japanese
  11. Indonesian
  12. Tagalog

For resources that are difficult to find, eg, 1st generation Assimil or 1st and 2nd generation Linguaphone, would you please recommend alternates, and possibly multiple alternates in order of quality?

2. You once wrote:

”For anyone who might want to learn a language based on the existence of an excellent course for doing so, I feel that far and away the best Assimil ever was “el catalan sin esfuerzo” (you do have to know Spanish already to use it). “L’occitan sans peine” is wonderful as well, and the 60’s – 70’s era Russian course was also great; likewise, the Serbo-Croatian book that they offer is a real feast for the mind, and there is a total of full hour more recorded material than there is for most of their courses, but lamentably at what seems to be an unnatural pace throughout.”

What are your favorite most-joy-to-learn-from best-that-you-have-ever-found-in-the-world individual language learning resources? They can be for learning any target language, in any source language, at any level of language learning (beginner to very advanced), and for any aspect of language study (eg, grammar, phonetics). Assimils, reference grammars, usage dictionaries, phonetic descriptions… Maybe a list of 10-40…? Looking over your resource collection, which ones bring the most joy to your mind when you remember your time using them? Hopefully, these examples of language learning at its best and most enjoyable will be motivating.

Thank you,

Ryan Carl

My reply:

Dear Mr. Ryan Carl,

Thank you for writing with your request for the best courses I know of in many languages.

Let me begin by answering your initial question as to whether I still think, as I wrote long ago, that there are a handful of “source” languages that provide the etymological roots for the vocabulary as well a good portion if not the bulk of the literature in the world’s major civilizations. Yes, I do, and yes, they are as you listed them above. Latin and Greek for Western Civilization, Arabic and Persian for Middle-Eastern Civilization, Sanskrit for Indic Civilization, and Classical Chinese for East Asian Civilization. What would I add if I were to expand this to 10? Well, I would not expand this to 10 just for the sake of doing so. When I look at this, there is possibly one more language that should be here, but lamentably I am just as ignorant of the overall situation now as I was then. I have reason to believe that there is a classical tradition in the southern Indian Dravidian languages that has a body of literature comparable to the better-known Sanskrit in the north. I do not know if there is any one language there, though, that is the etymological source river for its descendants. Likewise, I have never known enough about what we might call Southeast Asian Civilization – whether a mix of Indian and East-Asian or an utterly independent entity, does it have texts of great antiquity, and is there an ancestor language or languages for it? If so, then that language might go on this list.

As to your main request that I list the best materials from start to finish for a dozen different languages… I am afraid that I will have to defer this because my language laboratory is largely boxed up and in transition at the moment. When I have it all organized on shelves again, I may be able to go through it and provide your some of the resources you seek.

Finally, as to your request to list the most satisfying courses to work with, I will also have to defer that if you really want 10 to 40! You have already listed most of those that spring to mind from Assimil – the old Catalan, Occitan, 70’s vintage Russian. Working from memory, since you jarred my recollection of Catalan, I would add another course for that called Digui, Digui! Then there was a 1960’s Poliglota Institute beginner’s course in Polish called Mówimy po polsku that has bilingual text format like Assimil with a developing story line and a nice sense of humor. Then there is Peter Scharf’s Ramopakhyana – The Story of Rama in the Mahabharata – An Independent-Study Reader in Sanskrit. Then for Latin, William G. Most’s Latin by the Natural Method can be lots of fun…

I hope this is enough for now?

With best regards and best wishes for successful studies,

Alexander Arguelles

Dear Professor Arguelles,

Thank you for kindly answering my questions.

Starting with the exciting news that you are continuing to work on your book, may I ask, what is your current projected publication date for your book? Is there anything more about it that you can reveal now, especially about its topics or highlights or selections of specific contents?

Polyliterate language selection
Which languages do you recommend aspiring polyliterates to learn in order to receive the most polyliterate educational benefit from the world’s existing Literatures? What are your reactions to lists of languages of learning that commonly include Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, and Classical Chinese?

Resources to assess quantity and quality of Literature in different languages
To aspiring polyliterates who are selecting their languages, which resources would you recommend reading to prospectively assess the literatures available in different languages? For example, I was unaware that there is an extensive literature available in Old Irish / Gaellic. Is there some introduction to the classic authors and writings in Old Irish that is written in English, French, German, or some other widely learned contemporary language, or in any language at all?

Are there similar introductions for other languages that would assist aspiring polytliterates in their language selection decision by enabling them to assess comparatively the quantity and quality of literature available in different languages? For example, Polish versus Akkadian versus Swahili versus Turkish versus Tamil versus Indonesian? I suppose these resources would be especially useful for the literary languages that are not widely known to be literary languages, at least among English speakers from the United States. These resources might also be especially useful for assessing what might be called “secondary literary languages,” that is, languages that have some literature but less than the languages that have the most or the best literature.

Thank you,

My reply:

Dear Ryan,

Thank you for asking about my manuscript. It is gathering dust right now, but if people like you keep asking about it, once I get everything up and running on the site and get into a new routine with the academy, I will revisit this.

Regarding Polyliterate languages, the five you list are the ones that I commonly refer to as the etymological source rivers and they are definitely all belong on the list as being the core classical languages of their respective civilizations as well. For India, a case might also be made for one of the classical Dravidian languages; for Middle-Eastern Civilization, Persian belongs there as well; and for Western Civilization, in seems to me French and German, and although I can also formulate cases for many other languages, it seems to me that this is due to my own origins and familiarity with them rather than for their true inherent richness over, say, many other languages of India.

For your other two questions, the next page to come on this site will be my expanded Great Books lists, which can be viewed by language, so you can judge for yourself which literatures might be worth going after for you. Beyond that, and referring to your earlier question about resources, although I am making my academy virtual for the most part, once the regular circles have gotten going, I hope to host occasional in-person retreats for those who, among other things, would like to go through my physical resource library.

With all best regards and wishes for success in your studies,

Alexander Arguelles

Dear Professor Arguelles,

Please do publish your book and thereby hopefully firmly establish a high-level field of knowledge of Polyglottery/Polyliteracy! I would love to have access to your thoughts on polyglottery and polyliteracy in a complete, carefully-written, carefully-edited, unified, permanent form, i.e.,, all in 1 permanent book as opposed to scattered in possibly ephemeral and sometimes repetitive forum posts, videos, comments, and Q&A posts.  Your polyglot/polyliteracy experience is rare in the degree to which you have learned many languages, the global and temporal scope of the selection of literary languages you have learned, and your intention to study the Literatures in these languages.  Your analysis of your experience is unique; nothing comparable is available, to my knowledge, especially in such aspects as time management, systematic considerations, your way of learning languages, and the truthfulness of your explanation of your analysis of your experience. Based on your experience and your analysis of your experience, you have made the core of a useful field of polyglot/polyliterate knowledge. Anyone pursuing education by accessing the world’s Literatures in the languages in which they were written would benefit from carefully learning your unique analysis of your rare experience.

Perhaps publishing your book would further contribute to inspiring others to learn many languages, study the Literatures in those languages, and publish about their own experiences. For example, I wish Joseph Conlon would make his book Polyglot Life available again, too, or any book about his experience. It would be wonderful to have access to a collection of such resources, a field of knowledge!

A complete, carefully-written, carefully-edited book on Polyglottery/Polyliteracy might hopefully clearly and firmly establish the currently inchoate field of knowledge on a higher level than many small article-length resources, and also attract and provoke the best efforts of intelligent students to emulate you.

Sincerely yours,


My reply:

Dear Ryan,

Thank you so much for your kind words of appreciation. This is exactly the kind of encouragement I need to finally finish this book project, begun now so many decades ago. As I wrote before, once I get the academy up and running, I hope to turn my attention to this.

With best regards,

Alexander Arguelles

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My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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