I have a problem. Let me show you my problem.
This is my language-learning wish list. You might already see part of the problem.
First of all, although this is an extensive wish list, it is not an exhaustive one. These are just the ones that have popped into my head when I’m sitting at a computer and think to log in to my Ta-Da List. I pretty much want to learn every language ever written or spoken. There are a handful that don’t grab me quite as much, but frankly my list of languages I don’t desperately want to learn would be a much simpler and shorter list to write.
So one of the problems is, obviously, I don’t have infinite time. And though I am a devoted lover of languages, I don’t consider myself a genius on par with some of the hyperpolyglots the internet has developed cults around. So each one of these languages would require, and deserve, my full, undivided attention for substantial periods of time.
And therein lies the bigger problem: with a life surrounded by time constraints and a brain surrounded by cognitive constraints, something’s going to have to give. I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I can either learn the tiniest bit of all of the beautiful languages of the world, or I can learn just one or two of them really well. I’m pretty sure this is what the word “dilemma” was invented for.
Beyond that, there is also the problem of definition. You’ll notice this list is a checklist…mostly because I adore checklists. Looking around my desk right now I see three different checklists, not including the one I have up on my screen. (Please try not to judge me on my neuroses.) Checklists are fantastic for things you need “to do”, to accomplish, to “get done”. But how does one do a language? When on earth will I ever be able to check off one of these languages? If you look at that list up there you’ll see three languages that I have, in fact, studied in great depth, and I was at one point at least partially fluent in one of them. But I don’t feel like I can check it off, because…what does that even mean? I’m not done learning Russian. How could I be?
I think everyone at some point has to make this kind of choice; mine just happens to be language-centric. So which is better? Breadth or depth?