Which Language Should You Learn?
Maybe you’ve never learned a language before. Or perhaps you’re already trilingual and are looking for your next challenge. Or you could be an English student going for a language option instead of another literature module.
Deciding which language to learn is linked to your individual circumstances and preferences, and there is no single reason to pick one over another. However, there are a few considerations that could make the decision easier.
Here are four factors that might help you determine which language could be right for you.
If you can’t decide which language to learn or you really don’t mind, you can simply use the number of speakers as your selection criterion. After all, language learning is all about communication. What better way to achieve this than by maximizing the number of people you can talk to?
When it comes to the total number of speakers in the world, the top 5 languages are Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic. If you’re mainly interested in European languages, you’ll be happy to know that quite a few of them are in the top 20. Portuguese is 7th on the list, immediately followed by Russian, while German places 12th and French 14th.
Although it might seem counterintuitive at first, you should also consider some of the less popular languages, such as Polish or Italian. They may boast a smaller number of speakers worldwide, but that doesn’t make them any less useful or interesting. In fact, choosing a language spoken predominantly in one country can work in your favour. You’ll stand out from the crowd and have a better chance of really learning about the culture it belongs to.
Although each language comes with its own challenges, some can be harder or easier to learn for certain people.
For example, Spanish is generally seen as one of the easiest languages to pick up for native English speakers. According to an infographic developed by the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, you’ll need as little as 600 class hours or 24 weeks to become proficient. In contrast, difficult languages such as Chinese and Arabic can take nearly four times as long to achieve proficiency in speaking and reading.
It’s also worth noting that learning a language related to one you already know might make it easier for you to develop your passive language skills (listening and reading). This can be really helpful, as the sense of progress it can give you will make the learning process more enjoyable. However, it can also lead to a lot of confusion. For example, you might find yourself mixing up the grammars or falling prey to false friends – words and phrases that sound similar or identical but mean completely different things.
Naturally, you may also want to choose a language that is readily available to you. If you prefer being taught in a classroom, this might mean limiting your options to what’s offered by your local language school. Having regular lessons can be helpful, especially if you’ve never learned the language before. Even if you don’t sit an exam at the end of your course, working with a teacher every week will help you stay motivated. In addition, you’ll have a better chance of covering all the basics and correcting mistakes early on.
However, don’t despair if the language you’d like to learn isn’t taught anywhere near you. With the rise of language learning apps and websites, you can easily learn even some of the more exotic languages using your laptop or smartphone. The Internet is also a great way to learn a language without necessarily having to pay for a course. Free services such as Memrise and Duolingo offer an ever-growing number of languages. Furthermore, they allow you to study at your own pace and don’t require a huge time commitment.
If you’re willing to pay, you can also try the Rosetta Stone. While considerably pricey, the resource is particularly interesting because it focuses on learning through immersion. However, it can be quite challenging as the software doesn’t provide translations and only uses the language you’re trying to learn.
Finally, you should also take into account your own feelings and preferences. Learning a language demands a lot of commitment and dedication, so it’s really important to pick one that you’ll actually enjoy.
If you’re fascinated by Chinese but German really bores you, you’re more likely to learn the former even though its writing system makes it more challenging. Similarly, settling for Spanish as the more popular option will only get you so far if you’d much rather be learning Portuguese.
It’s true that some languages can be seen as more useful than others due to their popularity worldwide. However, any language, even the most exotic or unpopular one, can open doors to new opportunities. What’s more, pursuing the one you like will help you stick with it and not give up when you feel like you’re not making any progress. Being genuinely passionate about the language you’re learning will also make you want to push yourself beyond what’s in the textbook and constantly look for new ways to improve your abilities
Marta is a Warwick graduate with a Masters for Research in Italian Studies. Fluent in three languages, she is passionate about people, research and intercultural communication. Find her on LinkedIn and her personal blog.
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