J. R. R. Tolkien created many languages as foundations to his imaginative storytelling, with the characters coming later to fill the speaker roles. There are over 15 different languages and dialects within the Elvish tongue, making it nearly impossible to learn all the variations. However, there are two languages with enough words and grammar functions to be complete: Quenya and Sindarin.
It’s very hard to learn Elvish. Because it’s an incomplete and fictional language, there are limited resources for learning it. There are also very few people with whom you can practice. Elvish languages are also based on Welsh and Finnish sounds, making it harder for English speakers to learn.
Nevertheless, many people still attempt such an undertaking. Throughout this article, I’ll discuss the challenges of learning Elvish and explain how some people still manage to speak the intricate tongue.
The Challenges of Learning Elvish
Learning any new language is extremely difficult. Learning a new language as an adult is even more of a challenge, with much of the success level dependent on a person’s brain structure and intrinsic functional capabilities. In fact, most people will find that it’s nearly impossible to become fluent in a second language once they’ve passed age ten.
So, it stands to reason that learning a completely fictional language would be no easy feat.
In addition to the learning barriers associated with second languages in general, other difficulties specific to Elvish make it even harder to learn.
Unlike learning French, Spanish, or German, Elvish is a language that you’ll have to learn primarily on your own. There aren’t classes in high schools or colleges that offer extensive coursework to develop your skills.
The limited amounts of resources available make it very difficult to learn Elvish.
Even though numerous websites and YouTube videos are dedicated to the topic, the volume of material is very small compared to the endless amount of content available for learning other languages.
Another issue is that the language is constantly evolving and changing. Even when the creator himself was using the language, he was inconsistent throughout his works. Tolkien changed grammar rules and vocabulary over time in favor of alternatives that he liked more.
Because of these inconsistencies, the available resources are often outdated. Most of the “rules” and many additional vocabulary words were standardized by students or language and literary experts who attempted to fill in the gaps.
Limited Number of Other Elvish Speakers
The best way to learn a second language is to do so in an immersive environment. Whether studying abroad or staying with a host family that only speaks the second language, hearing the language and having conversations with native speakers is the most effective way to become proficient in a new language.
Unfortunately, there’s no faraway land where you can go to hear native Elvish while being forced to speak the native tongue for survival. In fact, you’d probably find that it’s not easy even to find another person with whom to practice.
Without any means to practice listening and speaking, it would be difficult to learn any new language. Reading the words and repeating pronunciations are much different than having a dialogue with another speaker.
Even if someone finds another person who knows or is also learning this fictional tongue, there are still several different languages that are all considered “Elvish.”
Many of the Elvish languages present pronunciation difficulties for native English speakers. For example, the rules for which syllables of the word should be stressed versus unstressed differ from English.
Vowels are sometimes challenging for native English speakers learning Quenya. Unlike the diphthongs that are common in English, vowels in Quenya involve variations in sound lengths and quality.
Sindarin, the other primary Elvish language, was written to have Welsh-sounding phonology. These language sounds may be unfamiliar and tricky to master for native English speakers. To make it even more confusing, nearly all the plurals in Sindarin involve changing the vowels in the word rather than adding “s” to the end.
How To Learn Elvish
Despite the challenges of learning Elvish, many people still decide that they want to speak and understand Tolkien’s mythical language. In this case, there are some things you can do to help make your goal more achievable.
Which Elvish Language To Learn
With the many variations of the Elvish language out there, many people wonder which one they should learn. Quenya and Sindarin are the only two complete Elvin languages, so they’re the only two that Tolkien fans can truly learn.
Quenya is usually recommended to learn first because it’s simpler, and it’ll serve as a foundation that makes Sindarin a bit easier to learn.
However, Sindarin is a more commonly spoken language, while Quenya is more ceremonial. Because of this, Sindarin is often more popular for those who are learning one language or the other.
Learning Quenya and Sindarin
For either language, it would be helpful to learn the vowel sounds first and work on memorizing them. The next step would be to learn the consonants and their sounds. Once you know those, you can put different sounds together and practice stressing the syllables correctly. Then, you can learn some phrases and expand your vocabulary.
There are many apps available to help you learn Elvish and many unofficial websites that have courses dedicated to the topic. The go-to resource discussed on most forums devoted to all things Elvish is Ardalambion, a website with an abundance of resources.
You can also check out this YouTube video below on how to speak Sindarin:
Learning Elvish is hard for most people. In addition to the challenges associated with learning any second language, there are also difficulties with the resources available for Tolkien’s dialects.
Once you start learning Sindarin or Quenya, it won’t be easy to practice without other people who speak the languages. However, those who are truly dedicated to learning Elvish find that it’s rewarding and well worth the time and effort.