Languages can help you get jobs, meet friends, move countries and even fall in love! But how do you choose which one to learn? There are almost as many reasons to learn as there are languages in the world, and no reason is bad. If you’re unsure, ask yourself the following questions to help you decide.
1. Do you have personal ties to the language?
Do you have Italian parents, Polish cousins, or a new German love interest? Maybe you met some Brazilian friends last summer and you want to be able to write to them in Portuguese.
Deciding on a new language to learn can be easy if you already have personal ties to it. This is a great way to set realistic goals, like having a basic conversation with a family member, and you have the added benefit of people to practice with!
2. What are your future plans?
A holiday to Barcelona is a good excuse to join a basic Spanish class and learn how to ask directions. If you have plans to travel around a specific region, check out the most common language so you can communicate regardless of border. You might be surprised at what you find; French is an official language of many African countries.
If you plan to study abroad, check your options with your college or university then read our our Eight Reasons to Study Abroad.
3. What is your chosen career?
Considering the career benefits of a language can be a big influence on your choice. While being bilingual improves employability in most sectors, specific languages might suit specific jobs. Almost 1 billion Mandarin speakers mean there’s hardly an industry not looking for Mandarin skills. Interested in international politics? Learning Farsi or Arabic will improve your employability. Environmental careers benefit from Spanish, while German speakers generally secure the highest paid jobs in Europe.
Do your own research on the language you might need and don’t forget to look into markets; a company could be based in Germany but be seeking Japanese skills to communicate with their trading partners.
4. What interests you?
You might want to choose a language based on your personal interests or a desire to learn more about the world. Interested in Italian art? Latin American sport? Malaysian food? Maybe you love the Greek people or have always wanted to visit the Himalayas. Maybe you just like how a language sounds, and that’s enough! Language learning should follow the heart, not just the head.
5. Who do you want to communicate with?
If you want to learn a language so you can communicate with the most people, over 1 billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, while Spanish has a wider geographical spread and hundreds of millions of speakers.
However, if your aim is to interview people from a small rural community in Africa, or become an expert in a specific country, appealing to the masses isn’t so important, especially if you’re trying to keep an endangered language alive!
6. Do you have a base to build on?
Most of us have picked up a few words or phrases of another language along the way. Build on this and don’t underestimate your familiarity with a language, you might be surprised at what you can understand!
Just because you don’t know basic words doesn’t mean you don’t have a base. English has similar grammar and sentence structures to Spanish and French, and learning a few basic rules of pronunciation and spelling in Dutch will give you a vocabulary of a few hundred words.
7. What are your options/accessibility?
Before you commit to learning Swahili, check that lessons are available in your local area. If classes are hard to get to, you’re less likely to go. Online lessons are great but nothing beats human interaction. Other things to consider are the availability of online resources, apps, and access to native speakers. If you can’t practice a language it makes it much harder to learn!
By now you’ll have realised that there are lots of reasons to learn just about every language. Choosing a language is a personal choice and don’t feel that you need a reason to start learning. It’s also important to see languages as a doorway to new things, rather than a tool to reach a dream job or a good grade.
If you’re still unsure, take a look at the British Council YouTube channel which introduces languages like Arabic, Mandarin, German, French and Spanish.
Find out more about international experiences both home and abroad on our GlobeScotters page.