I watched the movie The 13 Warrior again last night. I love the way it shows the protagonist learning language over time. I've always liked the richness and "realism" languages (and writing systems) add to roleplaying. Actually, maybe it's the other way around and the game is more an excuse to explore and play around with language because I enjoy it so much. Anyway, I've used a lot of Latin and Esperanto in my games as inscriptions and trigger words for magic items. I never achieved characters having to deal with speakers of a different language, though. Probably because I didn't know how to simulate that.
I was reminded of a post I ran across at Knights & Knaves that fits right in with my mission of simplicity as well as the ideas of abstraction and games within games that have come up in my last few posts. Werral proposed a method to have players roleplay their level of ability in languages. I really like it. I especially like the possibility of hirelings that don't speak the common tongue well. I also like that there are only 6 levels of ability, and really there are only 3 word restriction rules to be remembered. This is rich enough to add flavor and, I imagine, humor to the game table but simple enough that it can be applied to the character who has 6 languages. Here are the rules in brief:
0 - Gestures only
1 - No verbs, only proper nouns
2 - No verbs
3 - One verb per sentence
4 - Fluent with an accent
5 - Native fluency
To distinguish 4 and 5 a little I might take a suggestion from that discussion thread and make level 5 fluency grant a level 3 ability with dialects within that language.
I'm monolingual, but in my time in Poland I probably got to a 2.5 in Polish. What flabbergasted me was how I could suddenly understand Czech billboards and even snippets of Russian spoken in movies. I'd thought those languages would be as different as Italian and Japanese. So, another intriguing idea is setting up language families as a DM and then allowing speakers of closely related languages to be able to communicate in them at a reduced level. I don't think it would complicate things too much to say, for example: speakers of Orcish can speak Goblin at one level lower.
I plan to incorporate this in my campaign, but it requires some decisions on my part about what languages exist in my world.
ps - Anyone know if Werral has a blog? I couldn't find one but would be interested to see more ideas like this one.