HOW TO CHOOSE WHAT LANGUAGE TO LEARN
Language learning is a long journey with ups and downs. It takes time and effort, there’s no way around it. It’s therefore normal to want to choose a language carefully, since we’ll be investing so much time and effort into learning it.
Maybe we have a language in mind, but we may want to dismiss it because we may feel it’s not useful, wanted by the job market or important enough. This leaves us spend so much time wondering, “What language should I learn?”
I get this question all the time. “Maria, since you’re a language expert, please let me know what language I have to learn.” As if I could somehow decide which language deserves people’s attention more than the others, no matter where one comes from, what one is interested in or what one wants to do with the language.
That would be so unfair for languages and people out there, too.
There are as many reasons to learn a language as the number of languages out there.
If you want to find what language you should learn, no expert language guru holds the answer for you.
The answer is within you. All you have to do is look it up.
If you don’t know which language to learn, what you can do is figure out exactly what you want to achieve by learning a new language. Let’s look at a few reasons:
- Expand your language collection
Would you like to add another language to your collection as fast as possible? Then you’d have to choose the easiest language to learn for speakers of your native language. A google search of “easiest language to learn for X speakers” would help you with that.
- Stand out in the job market
Would you want to learn a language to have better job prospects? Then you’d have to look for the most sought-after languages in your area of expertise and start with that one. For example, if you’re a mechanical engineer, you’d want to learn German, French or Chinese. If you’re a lawyer in the US, learning Spanish may be a good idea.
- Personal interest
Were you ever interested in learning a particular language? Is there perhaps a culture that fascinated you? A country you’d always wanted to explore? A series or movie you enjoyed that comes from a particular country? A foreign role model? Then you’d want to learn that language.
- Speak to many people
What if you just want to communicate with as many people as possible? Then you may want to look at the list of most widely spoken languages in the world and choose something from there.
Now let’s say that you have the answers to more than one of these questions. For example, you’d like to learn Japanese because you love how it sounds, but at the same time you’d like to learn Mandarin Chinese because you know it would help you find a better job. Maybe you’d also like to learn Esperanto because it’s so easy to learn and you can add one language to your collection in a matter of weeks.
These answers conflict each other. Which one should you follow? Would be possible to learn all these languages at once without becoming overwhelmed or giving up some of them? And which one would you give up?
It gets more and more complicated. Maybe you need a hierarchy there.
From my experience, I can tell you that the most powerful question of these has to do with your personal interest. What language would you love to learn? Is there a language you’ve been always fascinated with or a culture you’ve always wanted to visit? If you have an answer to this question, ignore the others and learn that language.
Genuine interest in a language is the most powerful motivator out there. If it’s a language you personally love, you’ll take that extra step to learn a bit more about it during the day than you normally would. You’d be so happy every time you learn something new in the language. You’d remind yourself how much you love it when things get tough, and that’s exactly what will make you keep going.
So, if you have an answer to this question, by all means go for it. That way you’ll most likely minimize your chances of giving up.
But what if you’re not really interested in any language but have to learn one?
Then what you can do is think of your personal interests. Again.
Let’s say you love ping pong. Ping pong has absolutely nothing to do with languages, and you don’t have to learn one to become better at it. The thing is, though, that apart from playing it, you may love watching it as well. Observing what great athletes do as they play the game and imitating their movements. Maybe you enjoy watching championships as well. Now, if you notice, most of the best ping pong players are Chinese. What if you learned that language to find out more about those athletes and how they play? That way learning a language would help you get better at your interest which is ping pong.
Let’s say you love playing Dragonball on playstation. You don’t have to learn any language to play better, the game is in your native language so you understand everything you need to play that game. Maybe you’re a bigger fan and you visit certain game-themed conventions in your country. Until you find out that the biggest Dragonball conventions take place in Japan, Dragonball’s country of origin. To go there and make the most out of these conventions, Japanese would help you.
Catch my drift? You can look into your interests and see where a language would bring you a lot further to enjoying them. Maybe you like cooking. Wouldn’t it be great to learn how to cook authentic Italian recipes from videos of Italians explaining their secrets? Or visit Italy and talk to local grannies who cook Italian food differently than you’re used to?
If you can use a language to become better at your favorite interest, then that’s a very important question to ask yourself, too. That’s question number 2 in our list of the most important questions to find out what language to learn.
Now let’s say you’ve studied a certain subject and would like to find a job in that area. Would a language help you find jobs or become better at your field of expertise? Then choose that language. For example, if you’re an Engineer, you may want to learn German or Chinese.
What if you love traveling and you want to communicate with as many people as you can? Then you can check out which languages are most widely spoken or understood in other countries – besides English- and choose one of these.
If you absolutely have to learn a language because of external factors like a mandatory class at your university, then try looking for anything that interests you and you can enjoy it in that language. Maybe you hate French, but what if you discover an amazing French series, some amazing French music, or a French page about your favorite hobby?
As a general rule, follow your heart. A language journey can be very long, so you’ll want to stick with a language that ticks all the boxes for you. If you can’t find any language that does that, the safest bet is to rely on what interests you the most. If you’re able to find a strong Why, you’ll be able to push forward and eventually become fluent in the language of your dreams.
I talk about your personal Why in more detail in my book, “Fluent For Free”. If you’re interested in becoming motivated to learn any language and become fluent free of charge, this book can be your guide. It’s packed with free methods as well as problem solving tips and motivation.
Happy language learning!