Every once in a while, we have students asking us what additional language they should learn. I’ve struggled with this myself when I started to become more interested in expanding my language base. The top languages I wanted to learn were Spanish, French, and Mandarin.
It wasn’t until I booked a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina, that I forced myself to learn how to speak Spanish. Throughout this quest of figuring out what language I should learn, I’ve had some time to research what the language experts have to say about this, and I want to share my two cents with you today.
While I can’t tell you which language you should learn, I’m going to share with you some criteria to consider in order to help making the decision easier for you.
Most Number Of Speakers Shouldn’t Be Your Only Criteria
Sure, you’ll probably want to pick a popular language such as Spanish, French, or Mandarin that a good portion of the world speaks, but beyond that, it should be more than just the number of speakers you can reach.
There are twice as many Mandarin speakers than Spanish speakers, but does that make Mandarin a more important language to learn? Not at all.
Looking At ‘Most Speakers’ In Terms Of Making A Decision Sometimes Comes Down To Nothing More Than Ego. You Get More ‘Points’ For The Bigger Number.
Even If You Go Live In The Country, You’ll Be Unlikely To Visit More Than A Handful Of Towns And Come Across The Same Number Of Speakers As You Would In Any Other Country.
– Benny Lewis, Fluentin3months.com
Already Speak A Similar Language?
This can be a strategic criteria to consider if your sole goal is to learn another language as fast as possible. For example, learning how to speak Spanish is a lot easier if you already know how to speak English. However, learning Mandarin can be slightly tricky because of the difference in the sentence structure, syntax, grammar, and many other components of the language.
Consider A New Language Like A New Sport.
There Are Certain Physical Prerequisites (Height Is An Advantage In Basketball), Rules (A Runner Must Touch The Bases In Baseball), And So On That Determine If You Can Become Proficient At All, And—If So—How Long It Will Take.
Languages Are No Different. What Are Your Tools, And How Do They Fit With The Rules Of Your Target?
– Tim Ferriss, Bestselling Author Of The Four-Hour Workweek
Best For Your Resume?
Knowing how to speak a foreign language is certainly an asset in the eyes of any employer. It’s become more of a prerequisite today since so many people speak a foreign language. In our opinion the context is more important.
Knowing how to speak Spanish can be a great asset if you’re living in Europe, but it may be completely useless if you’re looking to work in Asia. You may be in a job that doesn’t require knowing a second language right now (although it’s always good to be prepared).
How Will You Actually Use The Language?
So… the answer to your question: “What language should I learn?” It depends. Instead of asking “What language should I learn?”, we encourage you to ask yourself: “How will I actually use the language?” Are you planning to travel to Europe this summer? Are you looking for a new job opportunity that may require you to work with foreign people? Do you just love languages or want to explore another culture? Asking yourself this question will save you a boat load of time, energy, and money, as the last thing you want to do is change your mind later after you’ve made such investments.
Learning a new language is one of the most exciting journeys you can go on but it’s no easy task. Having a deeply-rooted purpose in learning a new language and knowing how you plan to use it will help you go miles further than learning for the sake of learning. I hope this helped clarify your thinking process when it comes to answering your own question of “what language should I learn?” You’re about to embark on an eventful journey no matter what language you decide to learn. I look forward to hearing how it goes!