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Want to Learn a Foreign Language? How to Choose the Right Language for You

Updated on March 25, 2016
Sparrowlet profile image

Katharine speaks four foreign languages and holds a degree in foreign language education. She has studied linguistics at Harvard University.

The globe is shrinking
The globe is shrinking | Source

Why Learn A Foreign Language?

With the increasing reach of the internet, people are able to easily communicate across national borders more readily than at any time in history. Let's face it, the world is becoming a smaller place! The majority of international communications are still in English, but English ranks only third, behind Mandarin and Spanish, in number of native speakers. However, English is still the most spoken language in the world, with roughly 750 million native speakers and a further 750 million who speak it as an acquired language. And more people are learning English every day. At the same time, we still live in a multi-lingual planet, with a total of over 2,796 separate languages spoken today and a further 7,000 to 8,000 if you count distinct dialects within those languages.

Some Learn a Language for Travel

Take a plane to a foreign land
Take a plane to a foreign land | Source

Why decide to learn a foreign tongue? Well, if you are a native English speaker you do have a leg up on those born to other native languages, but there are still many reasons to take up an acquired language. For many, it represents a wise career move, with more and more companies offering higher pay and benefits to those who can speak a language that may be vital to that business. For example, those in tech development would do well to be able to communicate in Japanese.

Others may wish to acquire another language because it dove-tails with their field of study. A student of medicine or physics may decide to learn Latin, for example, or someone fighting for international women's rights would be wise to study Arabic. A student in religious studies may choose Hebrew or an art history major might be interested in Greek or one of the Romance languages.

Still others decide to learn a language to enhance their travel experience, or for the pure joy of exposure to another culture and way of life that they may not be able to observe otherwise. Whatever the reason, it is wise to choose carefully among the many languages that are available to study.

The Importance and Benefits of Language Learning

More Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language

Aside from these reasons, there are others you may not be aware of. Did you know that learning a language can help to keep your mental agility intact when you age? Or that the working efficiency of the human brain is driven by language? Knowing a second language can actually increase the number of connections in the brain and even increase the amount of gray matter, the functional portion of the human brain. Language learning also boosts test scores in other, totally unrelated subjects. It's just good for your brain!

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How to Narrow Down Your Options

Obviously, if you're looking to increase your career marketability you must know which language would most benefit your field of work. If you are a hospital emergency room nurse, you may want to focus on Spanish due to the increase in immigrants from Mexico and South America who utilize hospital ERs for their primary care. If you're in the field of micro-finance, then Hindi might be helpful, where if you are in the oil business then Arabic might make more sense. Know which language is most sought after in your profession (or field of study if you're a student) and head in that direction.

For those who wish to learn a language more for their personal pleasure or enrichment, there will be other factors to consider. What areas of the world are you most interested in traveling to, and/or which areas will you be likely to have the opportunity to visit in the future? If you have your heart set on visiting Asia one day, then you might not want to select Danish as a language to learn.

Have You Decided Which Language to Learn?

What Have You Decided?

See results

Another reason for choosing one language over another could be your particular ethnicity. It might be most interesting to you to acquire the language of your ancestors! If you are African American then you may wish to learn Swahili, Zulu or Afrikaans. If your family has a Scandinavian background, head toward Swedish or Norwegian, and if your family originated in the British Isles, you might want to learn Irish or Scottish Gaelic or Welsh. If you decide to learn a language based on your own ethnicity, it might be fun to make it a family project, involving the children.

Perhaps you are not much interested in travel or your family roots. Many people choose a language because they either admire aspects of that language's culture, or they simply like the sound of the spoken language itself! These are perfectly valid reasons for choosing a language too. After all, you are much more likely to keep up with your studies if you enjoy its sounds and the cultural aspects surrounding it.

Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Internet Language Courses

there are tons of language courses available on the internet
there are tons of language courses available on the internet | Source

Check Before You Decide

By now you should have a good idea of which language you may want to pursue based on your goals and inclinations. Before making that decision final there are a few more things to consider. You will want to be sure there are plenty of learning opportunities available to you in that language. While the number of languages available for study has mushroomed on the internet, there are still many with only enough readily accessible materials to study through the beginner or intermediate level.

First check online by doing a general search for that language and see what comes up. Chances are you will come across an ad for Rosetta Stone in your search. This language learning tool is somewhat expensive, but is an excellent program which includes interactive listening and speaking as well as online contact opportunities with native speakers. If you can afford it and your chosen language is on their list, there is one option.

Review Online Language Programs

There are many wonderful language learning programs that are less pricey, however. In fact, you will probably find several websites that offer free lessons. However, many sites offering free language instruction only go as far as beginner levels or require payment after a certain number of lessons, etc. Check to see that you are able to either purchase a program or use an online resource through at least the intermediate level. If you can choose a language with advanced levels, all the better. One excellent place to start is duolingo. Their list of languages is expanding and they offer lessons up to advanced levels. Duolingo is totally free!

You don't need to settle on just one online program either. Depending on how much time you will have to devote to your studies, you may wish to use several different online resources and create your own course of study. It is recommended to have physical study tools as well as online venues, however. Make sure you have at least a few books associated with your language, either on your electronic device or in book form, that you can keep with you for quick study sessions on the bus or in the doctor's waiting room. These can include phrase books, easy readers, verb books, dictionaries and flash cards.

Listen to the Sounds of the Languages!

Deciding Which Language to Learn

Before you make your final decision and begin studying your new language, there is one more important step that is highly recommended. Listen to the sound of the language and make sure it is something that pleases you and that you can envision yourself speaking. Television or radio (you can often find foreign language stations for online streaming) are a good place to start. Another place to find examples of your spoken language is youtube. You can find tutorials in almost every language you can think of, and these can also be part of the language learning program that you assemble for yourself.

flags of many nations and languages
flags of many nations and languages | Source

Language Learning Takes Effort!

Whichever foreign tongue you choose to study, understand that acquiring a second language takes time, dedication and patience. Don't give up if it seems hard at first! Take your learning in small bites and go over and over that section before moving on to make sure you've got it. Repetition rules when learning to speak another language! If you have been careful to choose the right foreign language for you, it will hold your interest and inspire you to keep going until you have mastered it.

*please don't forget to answer the poll above!

© 2016 Katharine L Sparrow

Comments Appreciated!

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    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 20 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi Deb, That is odd. Birdsong is musical and good language learners often have a musical aptitude as well! Oh well!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 20 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      For some reason, I always had problems with this aspect of higher learning. However, when it comes to recognizing bird voices, I excel at that. Figure that one out. Great article, and especially good for the kind of language to pick out.