Learning a new language is an enriching and rewarding experience. Multilingualism is not only helpful when traveling to a foreign country, but also improves your professional skills, your mental agility, memory and problem-solving ability.
Choosing which language to learn is the most important step of all, but also the most difficult one. After all, it’s important to consider why you want to learn a new language in order to choose the best one for you.
Before learning any language, there are a number of factors that you should consider:
1) TOTAL NUMBER OF SPEAKERS
Sometimes the easiest way to decide which language you should learn, is to consider which languages have the most speakers, or the ones you are most likely to encounter as you go out into the world. It is useful to classify the most spoken languages:
- BY THE TOTAL NUMBER OF SPEAKERS: Mandarin is spoken by 1350 million, English by 1200 million and Spanish by 485 millions.
- BY THE NUMBER OF COUNTRIES IN WHICH THEY ARE RECOGNIZED AS AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: English is spoken in 67 countries, French is spoken in 36 countries and Arabic in 25 countries.
To summarize, the 6 most common languages (excluding English) are: 1) Mandarin 2) French 3) German 4) Spanish 5) Arabic 6) Russian.
#2 BEST FOR YOUR RESUME
Picking the most “spoken” languages may not be the best option for you, especially if you’re looking to build your resume. If you want to learn a language in order to improve your employment prospects, choose one that is in demand by employers. The list below gives you an idea of which languages are in demand and is based on job ads posted on recruitment sites:
MANDARIN: Useful for Finance, Business, Economics, Politics, Tourism, Technology and for travel and living in China or Taiwan.
FRENCH: Useful for anyone majoring in Business, English, Political Science, Tourism, Engineering, International Affairs, International Law, Fashion, Literature and History.
GERMAN: Useful for travel and business in the EU and Europe, Tourism, Technology and Literature. Also useful for careers in Journalism and Education or graduate work in the Arts and Sciences.
SPANISH: Useful for living and working in the United States or Central and South America, for international Business communication and boasts a rich cultural tradition in literature and the arts.
ARABIC: Useful for Economics, Business, Finance, Tourism and Trade across the Middle East and North Africa.
RUSSIAN: Useful in Banking and Business, International law, Government work, and Diplomacy. Russia is also a powerful force in Engineering, Nuclear Technology and Mathematics.
#3 CULTURAL REASONS
This is probably the best criterion for choosing which language you should learn. Which countries do you see yourself spending time in? How much do you like them? Which works of literature do you wish you could read in their original language? What about films? If you have a genuine interest and passion for a language and the culture behind it, you will more likely persevere and make it.
MANDARIN: China is one of the oldest countries in the world, and had one of the most powerful empires of all time. Mandarin is invaluable for traveling across and learning about this great nation’s history and achievement.
FRENCH: French has a reputation for elegance and glamour. It is the language of the fashion elite, timeless literature, opera and art. It is also the most widely taught second language in primary and secondary schools throughout the world.
GERMAN: German is the most common second language in Europe and is essential to European politics and business. German culture also has a history of invention and innovation, and moreover Germans love to travel, so this language would be a must for any tourism-related job, especially in Europe.
SPANISH: Spoken across the Americas, many are drawn to Spanish as a portal to the sensational history of that side of the world. Hispanic culture is increasingly popular and has infiltrated almost every area of Anglo-Western society. It is also the second most spoken language after English in the US. It is a very passionate, very romantic, and very fervent language.
ARABIC: Arabic is the language of one of the wealthiest portions of the globe: the Middle East. It is an extraordinarily romantic and poetic language, very rich in vocabulary, and Arabic speakers tend to be rather wordy compared to other languages. Furthermore, Arabic script is really beautiful.
RUSSIAN: Russian is usually considered the lingua franca of Eastern Europe, uniting many countries that used to be part of the USSR. Russia has also given the world a great number of its greatest creative minds: Griboyedov, Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Yesenin, Akhmatova, and many more. Russia is also increasingly integrating into the world economy, and so its language is of significance to anyone interested in world economics.
#4 DIFFICULTY LEVEL
To answer the question “which language should you learn?”, you might wish to take the relative difficulty of those languages into consideration.
Each language comes with a different set of challenges. Languages might have complex writing systems, irregular spelling systems, or complex phonology. Generally speaking, the more a language differs from the languages you know, the harder it is to learn.
MANDARIN: for speakers of Latin-based languages, learning a whole new script can be daunting, but it is not impossible. It will, however, take a significant period of immersion to build up any semblance of fluency. Chinese characters represent words rather than letters, which make for a lot to remember.
FRENCH: French is probably the most difficult Romance language to learn, with its heavily prescriptive grammar, and even heavier collection of irregularities, and almost unique vowel sounds.
GERMAN: German is very similar to English in some ways, making pronunciation and comprehension a little easier. It’s also very grammatically prescriptive, and therefore appeals to lovers of all things linguistic.
SPANISH: It is quite easy to learn in terms of reading and understanding, as it has very few irregularities compared with German and French. The Spanish language does vary across the Atlantic and across the Americas, but most variants are easily understood with a basic grasp on the language.
ARABIC: The difficulty with learning Arabic outside of an Arabic-speaking context is that you will learn the classical form of the language, which is rarely spoken in real-life situations. Arabic is generally spoken in various dialects from region to region and country to country, some of which are unintelligible across the border! This naturally makes learning Arabic slightly tricky.
RUSSIAN: Although it uses the Cyrillic script, the Russian alphabet only has 33 characters, so is not so different from Latin-based languages in terms of its word structure. Russian is one of the easier languages to learn, as its structure is logical with very few irregularities.
So, which language do you want to learn? Which languages do you already speak?