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11 Obscure Languages for Your Next Language Mission

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

You have probably considered learning a language at some point or another. You have likely considered learning a language like French, Spanish or German. But in my opinion these are often not the best languages to learn: obscure languages are.

What are Obscure Languages?

An obscure language is a language that isn’t well known to general language learners. These may be regional languages or languages that are difficult to learn, and as such, have been neglected by many language learners.

Obscure languages are by no means the most useful languages to learn, nor the most widespread. But learning an obscure language is by far the most rewarding.

Here are the obscure languages I think you should learn:

1. Maltese

I personally speak Maltese, a language of only 522,000 speakers. As the name implies, Maltese is spoken in Malta, with small amounts of speakers in the UK and the US.

What are the best reasons for learning Maltese?

  • It is so much like Arabic. Maltese is a Semitic language. Meaning that if you speak Arabic, or want to learn it, Maltese is one of the best languages to learn! And without having to learn all the Arabic characters!
  • There’s a lot of reading material. Maltese is an official EU language. This means that all EU-official documents must be written in Maltese, too!
  • It looks great on a CV. Maltese isn’t too easy to learn, it’s also one of the most obscure languages. This makes it look quite good on a CV as it shows employers that you embrace a challenge!

Where can you learn Maltese?

One of the best places to learn Maltese is Surface Languages. This is a site that allows passionate language learners to learn obscure languages online for free!

2. Breton

Breton is a Celtic language spoken in the Brittany region of France. Breton is spoken by the Bretons, a group of people descended from the Britons, who lived in Pre-Roman Britain until the Roman Empire came to Britain. Due to the widespread nature of French, Breton has become one of the most obscure languages in not only Europe, but the world.

Breton is spoken by 100,000 people!

What are the Reasons for Learning Breton?

  • Breton pronunciation is incredibly easy. Breton is indeed one of the easiest languages to pronounce.
  • Breton industry is increasing. Brittany is becoming a major service center. If a company is looking to move to France, and Paris isn't an option, Brittany is the go-to service center.
  • Breton music is absolutely incredible! Do you love singing, but can't play an instrument? Breton is the language to learn! Breton songs are some of the best, even if they don't have any instrument backing it!

Where can you learn Breton? One of the best places to learn Breton is Loecsen. Loecsen allows you to learn at your own pace, studying what you want to learn!

3. Occitan

Occitan is a romance language spoken in the South of France, on the border of Spain. Occitan is also spoken in Monaco, as a minority language.

Occitan is currently spoken by 1.5 million people throughout the South of France.

What are the Reasons for Learning Occitan?

  • Occitan is a very conservative language. Unlike French, English or Spanish, Occitan hasn't changed that much. This means that once you learn Modern Occitan, you can also understand Old Occitan!
  • Occitan literature is some of the best in the world! Both old and modern Occitan literature is some of the best in the world! Occitan is the reason that the west as a whole has literature like we do!
  • Occitan vineyards are amazing! I took a trip last year to the Languedoc Roussillon (Occitanie wine region), all of the signs, and communication was done in Occitan. It was such a good trip!

Where can you learn Occitan? The main problem with learning Occitan is the limited number of language learning resources. This also helps it remain one of the most obscure languages. One of the best Occitan-learning resources is Orbilat.

4. Catalan

Catalan is spoken by around 10 million speakers, which is more than most other obscure languages on this list. Catalan is spoken in the Catalonia region of Spain (although some would dispute that Catalonia is independent, the Balearic Islands and Valencia.

What are the Reasons for Learning Catalan?

  • If you're moving to Catalonia, it's the only real language used! OK, maybe Spanish is used a little bit, but as a general rule, Catalan is the go to language in Catalonia. The further away you go from major city centers, the less Spanish and the more Catalan you will hear!
  • Endear yourself to locals, the locals despise Anglophones (I should know, I lived there for 3 years). However, an Anglophone who has learned the language, now they are someone who the locals love!
  • Catalan industry is becoming one of the biggest in Europe. Whilst the rest of the Spanish economy isn't doing too well, the Catalan one is. Catalonia is becoming one of the go-to ares for mainly service-based companies.

Where Can You Learn Catalan?

Catalonia is proud of its language. So, their regional government has spent a lot of money developing several free and paid services to help you learn Catalan. One of these are Parla.cat (free) and Consorci per a la Normalització Lingüística (paid).

5. Basque

Basque is a language spoken in the Basque Country, around the Pyrenees, in both Spain and France. Basque currently has around 751,500 speakers with the majority being located in the Basque Country.

Thanks to Basque being a language isolate (no other language is like it), Basque has become one the most obscure languages! But also one of the best! (Or that may just be me!)

Why Learn Basque?

  • Basque is one of the most mysterious languages out there! We know very little about where the Basque people or where the Basque language came from. There are an abundance of theories, but nothing conclusive.
  • It is difficult, but not as hard as you'd think! Yes, there may be little in the way of similarities with other languages, but that's not the point. Think about it, you are already halfway there — you know the alphabet, there are many loan-words from Latin and Spanish, and there aren't any genders!
  • You like a challenge! If you love challenges, one of the most obscure languages in the world is certainly for you! It has complex grammar and very few similarities with any language, so it's perfect for a challenge!

Where Can You Learn Basque?

Because Basque is one of the most obscure languages on the planet, there are very few resources for learning Basque. One of the best comes from the Etxepare Basque Institute.

6. Leonese

Leonese is yet another language spoken in Spain. Leonese is one of the most obscure languages in the entire world- only being spoken by between 20,000 and 50,000 people, and only known by a handful more people!

Like most other languages in Spain, Leonese too, is a romance language.

Why Learn Leonese?

  • The Leonese language is just so unique! Whilst Leonese shares many linguistic similarities with Spanish and Portuguese, it has many linguistic features that are unique to the Leonese language!
  • Leonese is not on Google translate! Most obscure languages are supported by online translators such as Google Translate. But with Leonese, this is just not the case! Neither Leonese, nor its sister language, Asturians, is on Google Translate. That’s really obscure!
  • Many books have never been translated out of Leonese! If you're anything like me, I love to read original work, in their original language! Thankfully, Leonese has had a string of talented authors, whose work has never been translated into other languages!

Where Can You Learn Leonese?

Whilst there is a shortage of Leonese-resources in general (both in León and on the wider web), there is one that is quite easy to use, Faceira. The only downside is that you may need to know a little Spanish in order to get started!

7. Cornish

Cornish is probably the most famous, and least obscure language on this list! Cornish is famous for having gone extinct, and then being revived. Cornish is a Celtic language spoken in Cornwall and some small towns in Devon. Despite its fame, and revival, only 3,000 people know how to speak Cornish!

What are the Reasons for Learning Cornish?

  • Thanks to its revival, there is so much content! This may seem rather strange on the surface, but it makes sense. The array of content in Cornish is so diverse because of its background! Whilst there are blogs and newspapers in Cornish, there are also quirky videos made by kindergartners!
  • Cornish music is absolutely incredible! For such an old language, there is certainly style to the language! You can find such an array of different music in the Cornish language, from rap to opera music to jazz music!
  • It looks great on a CV! Cornish is one of the most obscure languages on the planet. So not many people speak it. This makes you stand out, as it proves that you like a challenge!

Where Can You Learn Cornish?

Due to the fact that Cornish is one of the most obscure languages, there are relatively few resources for the language. One of the best resources for learning Cornish is KDL Cornish.

8. Hawaiian

Hawaiian isn't one of the most obscure languages, thanks to it being spoken in Hawaii, but it is indeed quite obscure in many other regards. Hawaiian is spoken by around 24,000 people, mainly on mainland Hawaii, but also the surrounding Hawaiian islands as well!

Why Learn Hawaiian?

  • Hawaiian is an endangered language! You heard me right, Hawaiian is considered to be on the verge of extinction! That alone is one of the best reasons to learn Hawaiian!
  • It sounds amazing! Hawaiian has quite a few distinctive features to it. Mainly, this is the apostrophe that is used in so many Hawaiian words (including Hawaii itself, which is actually spelled ‘Hawai'i).
  • It's more widespread than you'd think! Hawaiian has been featured in so many TV shows- you just don't know it! Do you remember Magnum P.I.? Hawaiian was in it! Do you remember Phineas and Ferb? Hawaiian was in many episodes!

Where Can You Learn Hawaiian?

Hawaiian has recently debuted on Duolingo! This means that you can easily learn Hawaiian from your phone if you want!

9. Xhosa

Xhosa is spoken by 8.3 million people around the south of Africa.

Xhosa is an indigenous Bantu language, and in addition to being spoken in South Africa, it’s also used in parts of Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

Where Can you Learn Xhosa?

One of the best places to learn Xhosa, is actually a slightly older resource. The resource is called Unisa. It aims to take you from learning the basics to becoming fluent in it, in a matter of months!

10. Belarussian

Belarussian is one of Eastern Europe's most obscure languages! It is not as widely known as Russian is, nor as easy, but it is still worth learning!

Belarussian is native to Belarus, although only about 10% of the population use the language in their daily lives. It is also spoken in large parts of Western Russia. Belarussian is spoken by around 7 million people in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Why Learn Belarussian?

  • Supplement your Russian. If you speak Russian, or are currently learning Russian, Belarussian is a good ‘add-on' language! Belarussian will allow you to understand Russian grammatical concepts more easily.
  • It sounds amazing! It may only be me, but I think Russian sounds amazing! Belarussian on the other hand, sounds even better! Just type into Google or Youtube ‘Person speaking Belarussian language' and you'll see what I mean.
  • There are many Belarussian immigrants in Europe and the Americas! After the fall of the USSR, many Belarussians emigrated abroad. They tended to cluster in Western Europe and North America, which means that you could live near a Belarussian community who would love to practice with you!

Where Can You Learn Belarussian?

Due to Belarussian being one of the world's most obscure languages, there is a shortage of Belarussian teachers. But one of the best places to connect with them is uTalk.

11. Tibetan

Have you ever dreamed of packing up and leaving your material life for something more… spiritual? Tibetan may be one of the world's most obscure languages, but it is by far one of the best obscure languages to learn!

Tibetan is spoken in the Tibet region of China, by around six million people.

What are the Reasons for Learning Tibetan?

  • It has one of the easiest grammatical structures on the planet! Everything is pronounced as it is written in Tibetan, so if you see an ‘a' sound, it is pronounced as an ‘a'. Forming tenses in Tibetan is also quite similar to how you would form it in European languages such as French.
  • It's easier to get around Tibet with it. If you plan to go to Tibet, brush up on your Tibetan. Not many people in Tibet speak English.
  • It helps you with other Asian languages. Tibetan has borrowed some vocabulary from its neighboring languages over the years, this means that if you speak a language that is geographically close to Tibet, you probably already know some words!

Where can you learn Tibetan?

Tibetan, too, suffers the problem that so many other obscure languages suffer from — a lack of teachers. One of the best resources is Shambhala, not only do they teach you about Tibetan, but also the culture and history behind the language as well.

author headshot

Gareth Seagull

Freelance writer

Gareth is a writer and language enthusiast who has worked as both a translator and a language teacher.

Speaks: English, French, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese

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