What language should you learn?
Some food for thought on choosing a language
Deciding which language you should learn requires a bit of thought. The thought process for choosing a language will vary somewhat depending on the person, goals, and linguistic background. There are currently between 6,000-7,400 languages in the world, which is down significantly from pre-colonial numbers. Experts believe that over the next 50-100 years many more languages will become extinct. I once read an article that said many of the world’s languages have less than 100 native speakers. Those numbers are dwindling fast.
The diversity of languages around the world is quite substantial. An island like Papua New Guinea is home to over 800 languages alone. Nigeria boasts several hundred languages within its borders. Mexico, a land most people think to be predominately Spanish, has over 50 languages spoken by indigenous groups that still exist in the land. Communication is vital. If you need some inspiration on why you should learn a language, please read my article here.
In this article, I am going to take a holistic approach to answering the question: which language should you learn? I will give you a step by step approach to making a decision of what language you should learn.
Step 1: Brainstorming phase. What are your goals? You have to figure out what you are looking to achieve from learning a language. People learn a language for a variety of reasons. I have met people who learn a language for business. I have met people who learn a language to read ancient religious texts. What is your reason? If you are interested in learning a language for the sake of learning a language, then you still need to think about it.
- Part of learning a language is accessibility. Can you practice the language with others? Do you have people to help you? Can you live in a place that speaks the language?
- Another aspect of language learning is practicability. Will this language help met your goals? If you wish to learn an endangered language, by all means, please keep it alive. However, if you wish to use a language in everyday life, then ask yourself, which language will be most practical to spend time learning.
- Your linguistic background. What is your native tongue? Which other languages are you familiar with? For example, if your native language was Spanish, it wouldn’t be a huge investment of time to learn Portuguese. In addition, if your native language was Korean, then it would probably be easier for you to learn Japanese or Mandarin then English.
- Applicability. Can you use the language? Learning Spanish might be wonderful if you live in the west, but if you are living in New Zealand perhaps an Asian or Polynesian language would be more beneficial to you. Russian might be one of the most spoken languages in the world, but it won’t help much in Chile (Unless, you are in international trade with Russia of course). The most spoken languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian, French, Hindi, Portuguese, and a few close runner-ups. Spanish and French are spoken on 4 continents. Portuguese on 5. Mandarin and Hindi are only widely spoken on 1, but there is a larger percentage of native speakers. They are just concentrated geographically. Which would help you better?
- Rarity and critical aspect. If you have any intention of working for the government or specifying into a particular field then rarity of a language might work to your advantage. For example, the United States Department of State lists critical world languages. Basically, the list consists of languages that are rarely spoken by non-native speakers. If you can learn one of these, then you may have a skill set that few possess. This may be another angle to look at the language learning process.
- Demand. Another consideration that encompasses some of the above tips is how much a language is in demand. Higher demand equals higher usability.
Step 2: Materials and connections. After you have taken in the above considerations and done some brainstorming, it is now time for you to think about taking action. Consider purchasing the appropriate grammar and vocabulary books. Consider software that you may think would be helpful. Consider approaching native speakers to ask for their help. Look for local events in the language that you want to learn. Use Half.com for cheap books. Programs like Livemocha.com might help also. Check out some language learning links here.
Step 3: Action phase. It is now time for you to begin learning your new language. I recommend using every available resource. Watch the news in the language. Listen to music in the language. Eat in the language. Dive into the culture. That is the best way to learn.
Some closing thoughts
Which language should I learn?
I ALWAYS recommend learning an additional language. Just because a language isn’t popular or widely spoken, that shouldn’t stop you from learning it. If you want to learn a rare language, then you absolutely should. That is what will make those languages survive. I wrote this article to give you some ideas and thoughts for whether or not a language may be worth it to you in your particular career.
What are your thoughts?
Which language are you going to learn? Which language should I learn?
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