With the world being so interconnected now, it is much easier to start learning a new language. There are so many languages in the world, it can be hard to decide. This article is for anyone who has ever asked themselves what foreign language should I learn?
How do I know which language to learn?
The most spoken languages in the world don’t mean anything
I have been asking myself for many years what foreign language should I learn? A few years ago I decided I wanted to learn Chinese. One of the major reasons was because it is the most widely spoken language in the world. I thought that learning Chinese would be cool because it would allow me to speak to a lot of people.
The reality is I will never need to speak to more than 1 billion people. Even if I did I would probably have a hard time communicating to them all anyway. There are so many dialects and languages spoken throughout the different regions of China. Mandarin is the standard, but there are approximately 300 other languages spoken. Most of those languages are mutually unintelligible.
The same goes for other languages like Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese. Three of the most widely spoken languages in the world. While Arabic is natively spoken by about 290 million people, Spanish is spoken natively by about 430 million people and Portuguese by about 218 million natively. All three of these languages differ from one region to another. Moroccan Arabic is very different from that spoken in every other Arabic speaking country. The same goes for Spanish and Portuguese. While speakers from Spain and Central and South America and Portugal and Brazil can understand each other, the Spanish and Portuguese spoken differs slightly from country to country. Even within Spain, there are regional varieties, including Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranese.
Learning a widely spoken language isn’t the entire story. You shouldn’t learn a language Just because it is widely spoken. Even native speakers of Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and many other languages have trouble understanding each other.
What do you plan to use the language for?
The most important question to ask yourself before deciding is what do I plan to use the language for? Do you want to move to another country and live there? Are you wanting to read foreign books? Are you dating someone who speaks the language? Whatever the reason, knowing why you want to learn a language is super important.
Learning a language just because it is widely spoken isn’t a real reason. For me, it was probably ego-driven, I wanted to impress others. Nowadays the reasons I want to learn new languages are very different. Being able to communicate with and make connections and friendships with people is important to me. I enjoy watching foreign movies and tv shows and want to watch and understand them without reading English subtitles. I also love history and learning about, connecting with and immersing myself in different cultures and traditions.
What are your interests and passions?
Are you a massive Japanese Anime fan? Are you into Italian cooking? Do you enjoy travelling to Mexico’s beaches? Your interests and hobbies should have some sort of influence on the language you decide to learn. If you have no interest or hobby in the culture then that language is probably not one you should learn.
If you love Japanese anime and Japanese pop culture you will probably enjoy learning Japanese more than learning a language you have no connection with. The same goes for Italian cooking or travelling to Mexico’s beaches. If your favourite thing to do is make pasta from scratch then you would probably enjoy learning Italian over another language. Mexican Spanish might be for you if you enjoy travelling to Mexico more than any other destination.
What foreign language should I learn?
I have an interest in many languages and want to learn several. One of my goals for the next few years is to learn those languages so I can use them in everyday life. Most importantly, I want to learn them because I have a passion and genuine interest in the language and culture. These are important factors when choosing a language and should be a priority when picking, not how many people speak the language.