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The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)

jason-oxenham-ceo February 11, 2016, 2:14 am
Before starting to learn a new language, one of the first questions on everyone's mind is which language is the best to learn. No, they're not talking about whether or not the language sounds sexy or used to be spoken by samurai. By "best" language, they're usually referring to the most practical language, and by "most practical" language, they're talking about a language they'll actually use. After all, why waste your time learning a language that you'll never actually speak, hear, read, or write? (Sorry, Klingon speakers).

While the very idea of referring to a language as the "best" or "most practical" is subjective and a matter of your personal situation and opinion, there are a few important things to keep in mind when deciding which language is best for you. For Americans, there are a several aspects that can help to determine which languages are the most practical for you to learn:

1. The Number of Speakers

This is the go-to reason that many articles use to determine whether or not you should learn a language. After all, if almost a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, then we're more likely to use it, right? If we base our language choice on number of speakers, then Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Russian should be at the top of our lists.

So we should all just learn Chinese, right?

Not necessarily.

The number of speakers isn't the best way to determine how practical a language is to learn. Just because there are more native Mandarin Chinese speakers than native speakers of any other language in the world doesn't mean that it's the best language to learn. Just considering the number of speakers doesn't take into account where those speakers are located and whether or not you'll be able to interact with them at work or in your personal time. If you don't have the opportunity to interact with Mandarin Chinese speakers on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis, then this may not be the best language for you to learn.  

2.  Location, Location, Location

If you grew up in a small Midwestern town like me, odds are you didn't have a lot of exposure to foreign languages. Even though I started studying Spanish in high school, my first experience interacting with a native speaker took place in Mexico. While the number of Spanish speakers in the United States is rapidly increasing, I knew that I had to leave my small town if I really wanted to put my language to use.

Thanks to geography and location, there are more Spanish speakers in the United States than ever. It's even estimated that the United States is now the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world.

So what does this mean for you?

Where you live and work plays a big role in which language you should learn. If you're in the United States (especially in the South or a larger city), it's likely that Spanish will be useful for you. Likewise, if you live near Eastern Canadian border, French is another good choice. Not only are you more likely to need these languages in your daily life, you're also more likely to have opportunities to practice them and improve your language abilities.

3. Your Job, Industry, and Career Plans

What you do also plays a big role in which language you should learn. Perhaps you travel to Montreal frequently for work or your company sells in both Canada and the United States. In this case, learning French may benefit you in your job. Maybe your company just opened a branch in Beijing and you would like to get a promotion and be able to travel to your new branch. Learning Mandarin Chinese might be your answer. Maybe your coworkers come from Mexico and you would love to be able to speak with them during lunch breaks. It might be time to start learning Spanish. Perhaps you would like to work as a translator and want to study a language that could land you a government job. If so, Arabic or Russian may be good choices.

Choosing the best language for you often depends on your job and industry. With just a little bit of research, you can determine which language is best for you, your résumé, and your career.

4. The Difficulty of the Language

One final thing to keep in mind is the difficulty of the language you want to learn. There are some languages that are naturally easier for English speakers to learn. These languages may have a similar alphabet, similar roots, or even similar grammar. In general, these languages are the easiest languages for English speakers to learn and take less time to learn.

If you're trying to approach language learning in a practical, time efficient manner, learning one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn can help you to learn the language faster. On the other hand, if you want a challenge and are prepared to put in some extra time, a difficult language might be best for you. If ease and fast learning is your goal, however, Spanish, French and Portuguese are the best languages to learn because they share the same alphabet and many similar roots as the English language. English speakers can learn these languages faster and more easily.

The Three Best Languages for Americans to learn

Keeping all of these aspects in mind, it's time I address the ranking and list lovers out there. If we take into account the number of speakers, location, career possibilities and ease of learning, the overall three best languages for Americans to learn are (drum roll, please):

Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese

First of all, there's no denying that Spanish is one of the best languages for Americans to learn. Not only is it widely spoken throughout the world, it's also widely spoken in the United States. More and more jobs require Spanish, and it's alphabet and grammar make it an easier language for English speakers to learn.

French is also a great choice for Americans because of the proximity of the French speaking province of Canada and French speaking Caribbean islands. French is also one of the official languages of many organizations (like the UN), and there are over 75 million French speakers throughout the world. Practically speaking, learning French is easier for English speakers because of its similar alphabet and because many English words have French roots.

Finally, Mandarin Chinese may not be the easiest language to learn, but there's no denying that there are a lot of Mandarin Chinese speakers both in China and throughout the world. As the most spoken Chinese language, Mandarin is also the second most popular online language and China is currently competing with the United States for the world's largest GDP. A recent British Council report cited Chinese as one of the top 10 most important languages of the future.

While there's no denying how useful these three language are to learn, it's always important to remember that the best language for you to learn depends on you and your personal situation. In general, if you keep these four aspects in mind when choosing a language and pick a language that you can and will use in your life, you're choosing to learn the best language.

This is a guest post by Andrea Reisenauer. If you found this article interesting please share it!
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Erika-K7 February 11, 2016, 2:32 am
Unless you actually like the language you're trying to learn, you will never learn it properly. I had to take Spanish and American Sign Language in high school. I hated both, so I failed both classes. I always wanted to learn Japanese, or relearn my native Hungarian, instead.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
jason-oxenham-ceo February 11, 2016, 2:33 am
Hi Erika - Great point!
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Andrea-R31 February 11, 2016, 2:52 am
Definitely a great point, Erika. Motivation is SO IMPORTANT! I think you should go for Japanese or Hungarian...both sound like a wonderful challenge!
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Dan-H24 February 11, 2016, 1:27 pm
That is a good point. Learning a language is really hard work, and a person has to be very self-motivated to stay with it. As for me, I wanted to learn another language for a very long time. I was always (and still am for that matter) envious of bi/multilingual people. Spanish was a practical choice for me, since I visit Cuba often and want to be able to communicate in the native language. 

Now that I have attained some proficiency in the language, I have come to love the elegance of Spanish and I am very glad that I chose to learn it.

I also think you should pursue relearning your native language. Imagine being able to go there someday and talk with people, maybe even some relatives, in Hungarian.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Diana-dep1 February 14, 2016, 1:52 pm
Living in Texas, I felt there was no choice but Spanish.  It just makes sense.  Spanish language in many forms is all around us here.  Besides the number of Spanish speaking people we encounter every day, there are Spanish advertisements on television and on billboards, newspapers, magazines, and news programs that are either done in Spanish or have some Spanish inserted.  It is the no-brainer choice here.  If I were to learn another language after Spanish, I would choose Chinese based on the reasons cited above. And, there are opportunities in my metro area to practice it, albeit small but, it might come in handy in the future.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Robert-C7 February 14, 2016, 10:37 pm
Here in Orange County, California, Spanish is also the obvious choice due the huge number of Spanish speaking people.  Plus, half the cities and street names are in Spanish.  There are lots of other languages spoken around here as well, particularly Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Vietnamese, Korean and Farsi.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Dan-H24 February 16, 2016, 1:01 pm
Timing has never been my strong suit. I used to live in a city in Michigan with a large hispanic population and would have had no trouble finding people to talk with in Spanish. So what did I do? Waited until I moved here to Roanoke, VA where there are not many Spanish speakers, and then decided to learn Spanish. Oh well.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
jps-phr February 20, 2016, 3:15 pm
Motivation is the number one factor and I agree with Erika that an affinity for the language is a close second.  For me, travel to Italy motivates me to learn Italian.  It is not practical for business / commercial reasons, but that is not a motivator for me to learn the language.  I love to hear it, understand it and to be able to speak to people in the little hill towns in Umbria and Tuscany, where you will not meet an English speaker at every turn. 
Unfortunately, I have very little opportunity to practice it, so I am looking for a venue to Skype with a native speaker.  Any good ideas out there?  Thanks! 
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Dan-H24 February 20, 2016, 5:31 pm
jps: I recommend a site called Conversation Exchange. There you can post your profile and search for, in your case, native Italian speakers who are learning English. Typically you speak 1/2 the time in your language, the other in theirs.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
jps-phr February 20, 2016, 10:19 pm
Dan, Grazie mille, I will give it a try.  
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Tara-B6 March 15, 2016, 6:27 pm
For myself learning a language is not about practicality. I love both the Italian culture and Korean culture and have plans to visit both places in the future. I watch Korean drama and have gleaned some from just listening.  My favorite language is actually Ojibwe and  I have learned and obtained skills in the Ojibwe culture. In Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, Ojibwe is more common but also a language in danger of becoming extinct and in that regard I believe it should be taught. My heritage is French, Russian and Irish but I have no desire to learn those languages. And as the article states I realize Chinese or Spanish would be more useful. I think as others stated it should be of interest to you. My spouse speaks German fluently and Spanish as well as his family, but I have only had some interest in learning German...Read MoreFor myself learning a language is not about practicality. I love both the Italian culture and Korean culture and have plans to visit both places in the future. I watch Korean drama and have gleaned some from just listening.  My favorite language is actually Ojibwe and  I have learned and obtained skills in the Ojibwe culture. In Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, Ojibwe is more common but also a language in danger of becoming extinct and in that regard I believe it should be taught. My heritage is French, Russian and Irish but I have no desire to learn those languages. And as the article states I realize Chinese or Spanish would be more useful. I think as others stated it should be of interest to you. My spouse speaks German fluently and Spanish as well as his family, but I have only had some interest in learning German. I wish I could learn all languages and speak fluently, but tend to stick to learning those that hold interest to me. I find all cultures fascinating in some way.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Alexander Petsch March 15, 2016, 6:49 pm
It's all up to personal preference in the end.  I chose Spanish knowing that here in America, the number of speakers is increasing.  However, I enjoy the culture enough to keep it intresting to me.
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
Schmidts1976 March 15, 2016, 8:55 pm
I'm learning German because my dad is German and my grandpa and grandma live in Germany and someday I want to meet my grandpa I've never met him and I need to know German to do that
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
E&P March 17, 2016, 3:42 pm
jps-phr,
try italki.com
On italki.com you can set up lessons and speak with a native speaker.
This can be used in addition to your Rocket Language lessons. This is similar to what I do. 
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)
caderatt May 4, 2016, 8:37 am
Great point Erika!
When I was at school, there was no way to make me studying English. While now I am using it on daily basis because I found the way to turn into fun the learning process. And I love the fact that I can find so many resources online in English that are much more valuable than the resources you can find in my native language!
 
The Best Languages for Americans to Learn (Besides English!)

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