Do you know which language you would like to learn? If not, you're not alone. Believe it or not, many people who consider learning a new language are often unsure which language to learn or must decide between several different options.
That's where we can help.
Today, we'll look at some of these different criteria to help determine which language is best for you. We'll provide you with a helpful, easy-to-use guide for choosing your next language based on several questions.
Let's start with one of the most important questions:
Why do you want to learn a new language?Your personal motivation is crucial for your language learning success. Staying motivated is the number one reason why many have language learning success, and is also the number one reason why some fail. There is no understating the importance of motivation at every step of the learning process, whether you're considering learning a new language or becoming proficient in one you already know.
That's why it's highly recommended to study a language that you are motivated to learn, whether it be for personal or professional reasons.
Here are some recommendations based on the five most common reasons to learn a new language:
1. CommunicationIf you would like to be able to communicate with friends or local immigrants, then consider learning one of the world's most spoken languages. These include:
- Mandarin Chinese
2. TravelIf you would like to learn a language that will help you to travel the world, then consider learning one of the most practical languages for traveling. They include some of the most commonly spoken languages by populated continent:
- North America, Central America and the Caribbean: English, Spanish and French
- South America: Spanish and Portuguese
- Europe: German, English, Italian, French, Spanish and Polish
- Africa: Arabic, French, Hausa, Yoruba, Swahili and Ahmaric
- Asia: Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Javanese and English
- Oceania: English, Malay and Tagalog
3. BusinessIf you're looking for a leg-up in the business world and help your future career, then consider learning one of the most practical business languages. They include:
- Mandarin Chinese
4. Most used languages on the netIf you hope to watch shows and programs in your foreign language without needing to rely on subtitles, then learning one of the top 10 most used languages on the internet should be your goal. These languages include:
5. LiteratureFinally, if your goal is to read literature that hasn't been translated into English or to be able to read religious texts in their original language, then perhaps learning a dead language is the choice for you. Some of the most practical dead languages to learn are:
- Old and Middle English
- Ancient Greek
- Biblical Hebrew
Are you up for a challenge?Let's face it: learning any new language isn't easy. From vocabulary to pronunciation and all those tricky verbs, language learning is a time-consuming, difficult, and often frustrating process. Luckily for language learners, however, not all languages are equally difficult to learn.
As a general rule of thumb, a language is easier to learn when it's more linguistically similar to your native language, and more difficult when it's very different. So what does this mean for native English speakers?
Some languages are naturally easier--or more difficult--for English speakers to learn than others. As we saw in a previous post, there are five basic language categories based on language's degree of similarity to English. Their characteristics determine the minimum length of training it takes reach general professional proficiency and, essentially, how easy or difficult they are to learn.
Group I: Languages closely related to English
- Afrikaans, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish
- Minimum length of training for proficiency: 23-24 Weeks (575-600 Hours)
Group II: Languages similar to English
- Minimum length of training for proficiency: 30 weeks (750 hours)
Group III: Languages with linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
- Indonesian, Malaysian, Swahili
- Minimum length of training for proficiency: 36 Weeks (900 Hours)
Group IV: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English
- Amharic, Bengali, Burmese, Croation, Czech, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik), Pilipino, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Thai, Tamil, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese
- Minimum length of training for proficiency: 44 Weeks (1,100 Hours)
Group V: Exceptionally difficult languages for native English speakers
- Arabic, Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean
- Minimum length of training for proficiency: 88 Weeks (2,200 Hours)
If you're looking for a challenge and willing to learn a completely new alphabet and sounds, then consider learning a Category IV or V language. If, however, you'd prefer to stick to the Latin alphabet and sounds, then I'd recommend sticking with a Category I or II language.
Would you like your chosen language to be a good base for learning others?Due to a mixture of geography, history, politics, and time, some languages evolved so that their alphabet, vocabulary and grammar are very similar.
When your friend tells you that Portuguese is easy because some words are "just like Spanish," she's not lying; there are some very similar words thanks to Latin's influence on both languages. Learning one of these languages can make understanding and learning the other much easier in the future. Some languages are even mutually intelligible, which means if you learn one, you can understand most of the other.
Here are some of the world's most spoken mutually intelligible languages:
- Romance (Latin-based) languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, Galician
- Germanic languages: German, Dutch, Afrikaans, West Frisian, Yiddish (spoken)
- North Germanic languages: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish
- Finno-Ugrian languages: Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Karelian
- Uguz languages: Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Crimean Tatar, Gaguaz, Urum
- East Slavic languages: Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, spoken Polish
- Southern Slavic languages: Bulgarian, Slovenian, Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Serbo-Croatian, Montenegrin, Macedonian
- Western Iranian languages: Persian, Farsi, spoken Dari, spoken Tajik
- Hindustani languages: Hindi, Urdu
Is there anything else I should keep in mind when choosing a language?There are two final, important aspects to keep in mind when deciding which language you would like to learn.
First of all, it's important to choose a language that you know can improve your life. The more a language can help to improve your life, the more motivated you will be to learn it. The more motivated you are to learn it, the easier, more fun, and faster it will be to learn the language. Choose a language that will bring you personal fulfillment.
Finally, know which resources are available to you. Some languages are easier to study than others simply because of the resources available to you in your neighborhood, city, country, or online. Studying a language with easily accessible resources can save you time and money and help you to make your studies more varied, interactive and practical. Keep this in mind when choosing your language.
While learning a language can sometimes be a challenge, choosing which language to learn shouldn't be.
Just use these practical, easy-to-follow criteria as your personal language selection guide, and you'll be on the right track to language learning success.
What about you? How did you decide which language to learn?
By Andrea Reisenauer, guest blogger. Andrea Reisenauer is a language lover, ESL teacher Rocket Languages fan with a Master's degree in Translation. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, and Italian and is currently studying French.