I really like the post “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything” by Linda Holmes at NPR’s Monkey See blog. It is sad that because of the sheer number of books, music, films, and TV shows that exist, we will never get to everything. The post mostly explores the elimination of things to focus, ie people do not think about certain things because they decided those things are not worth the time. I guess I tend to think of it in the opposite way: we focus on our interests, so we don’t have the time to focus on things in which we do not have interest.
This particular quote is relevant to languages:
You can hit the highlights, and you can specialize enough to become knowledgeable in some things, but most of what’s out there, you’ll have to ignore. (Don’t forget books not written in English! Don’t forget to learn all the other languages!)
I remember a conversation while I was in high school. At the time, I had a reading list of books recommended for high school students. The books were classical and modern literature. It also included world literature in translation. Since I was taking French, there was a thought that I should not read the translated (English) text, but the original books in French. But then what about literature in other languages? There’s no way for me to learn every language. I have to read most world literature in translation since I can only read three languages.
The same way we cannot manage to read every book written, it is also unlikely that we will learn every language on the planet. But I think I will be satisfied to learn all that I possibly can about the languages and cultures that peak my interest. There is no end to cultures and languages, only the amount we can process. Pick a language and culture that you find interesting and explore that. Within that culture, there will also be particular things one find more interesting in others. Just make sure to never stop exploring and never stop learning.