Whether you are thinking about taking a gap year to travel the world or simply want to expand your professional horizons, learning a new language is a fantastic way to better yourself – and your opportunities.
But you might be wondering – “what language should I learn?”
Truthfully, there is no single best answer to that question for anyone. You really can’t go wrong learning the second language of any kind – knowing how to speak and communicate in more than one language is essential in today’s increasingly global world.
All languages are different, though. Some are significantly more challenging to learn than others, while other certain languages may open the door to more career prospects. Either way, finding the right language to learn really depends on what your goals for usage are. Let’s dive in deeper so you can find out which language is the right pick for you!
5 Easiest Languages to Learn
If simplicity is what you have in mind, consider learning one of these five easy languages.
One of the most widely spoken languages in the world (note we didn’t say the most popular language – just the most widely distributed, with English speakers found just about everywhere), English is easy to learn simply because it’s easy to find someone to practice with.
French has over a million native speakers and belongs to the Romance language family, so for English speakers, it’s a simple one to learn. The vocabulary and sentence structure will look quite similar. In fact, it’s estimated that up to a third of all words in the English language were influenced by French.
Swahili is a Bantu language that is heavily influenced by Bantu, so if you already know this language, you’re in luck! However, it also has connections to German, Portuguese, French, and English, which can help you out if you speak one of those languages, too.
Swahili also has the added benefit of no verb conjugations, instead using roots and affixes to express verb tense and subjects. It is the language of choice in multiple African countries, including Kenya and Tanzania.
Italian is spoken in Italy (of course) along with Malta, Switzerland, Argentina, and more than two dozen other countries, with about 125 million people speaking the language around the world. If you already speak French, Spanish, or English, this will be an easy language for you to learn – and if you don’t, you’ll find that it’s easy regardless.
Heavily influenced by Arabic and Latin, Spanish is spoken just as it is written and doesn’t have as many irregularities as other romance languages. Plus, it’s almost as common as English in the United States at least, meaning it’s relatively easy to find someone to practice on!
The Most Useful Languages to Learn: What to Consider
If you’re taking a utilitarian approach in deciding what language to learn, you might want to take these considerations into account.
Number of Speakers
It’s important to know how many speakers of a given language there are before you decide to learn it. It might be fun to learn a rare language, but is that really going to be useful to you in your personal life or your career? Plus, if not that many people speak the language you’ve set out to learn, you may find it difficult to get the hang of since you’re never able to practice it with a native speaker.
This is an aspect of the decision-making process where your personal interest and goals are going to come into play. Do you plan on doing a lot of travel in Asia? If so, learning Mandarin might be a smart choice – but if your travels will take you to Central America, that language choice might not make quite as much sense.
You’ll also want to consider the versatility of a given language. Is it a language that will benefit you both personally and professionally? Can it be used domestically and abroad? Both in business and in social settings?
Finally, consider the career opportunities that you might discover with learning any language. If you work in the United States, learning Spanish is a smart choice. If you plan on conducting lots of international business, other good choices might include Italian, Japanese, Chinese, or German.
Which Foreign Language is In Demand?
Although you’ll want to take the above advice into consideration when deciding which language to learn, these languages are some of the most important ones you can learn for the future – they are all incredibly in-demand, as populations of native speakers are growing rapidly.
There are more than a billion Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world – so of course, learning Chinese makes the top of our list when you’re considering the most in-demand languages. Although most speakers are located within China, this country is emerging as a global powerhouse, so it’s especially important for you to learn this language if you plan to work in business or government.
Spanish is another language that makes the top of the list. With a large number of native speakers and an unusually high number of Spanish-speaking countries, this language will benefit you both professionally and personally, particularly if you enjoy traveling to South and Central America.
The most widely spoken language throughout Europe, Germany also has a dominant economy, so it’s a good language to learn if you plan on doing a lot of traveling in Europe or plan on working in business. It’s also a fun language to learn – and surprisingly easy to boot.
Ah, French, the language of love! However, you don’t need to be the next Casanova in order to consider learning this language. Because France is a popular travel destination (as are many other French-speaking countries and territories, like Quebec in Canada) and an economic powerhouse, it’s one of the most important languages to learn for the future.
Arabic can be a tough language to learn – there are individual accents and dialects to master, so it began as a nomadic language that was spoken between tribes. Today, however, it is the official language of the Arab League, a group that contains 22 countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Egypt.
Russian is another popular language to learn. The most influential language in many Eastern European and Asian countries, Russian is also commonly found on the Internet – it is second only, on the world wide web, to English.
Portugues isn’t just spoken in Portugal – it also is prevalent in a variety of other countries in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe. If you plan on doing a lot of traveling, this is the language to learn.
Japanese isn’t spoken often outside of Japan, but it’s still a good language to know, especially if you plan on working in business. If you already know Chinese or Korean, learning Japanese might be slightly easier, too, since there are some shared characters.
You might be surprised to see Hindi on this list, but Hindi actually has the highest number of speakers in the world. Because of this, it’s a smart language to learn.
Italian doesn’t have the largest number of speakers on this list but it is still incredibly important to learn – even if you never plan on traveling to Italy. Italian is the language in which many historical texts are written and it’s similar to other romance languages, like Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese – learning just one of these languages may make it easier to learn the others.
Of course, if you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you already know how to speak English! However, it’s one of the most important languages to learn if you plan on working in diplomacy, business, or travel. Many of the world’s top global economies are English-speaking ones, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and of course, the United States.
Last but not least is Korean. This is an interesting language to learn and it’s also widely spoken.
Which Language is Most Difficult to Learn?
For many, English is the hardest language to learn. It’s an odd language, for sure, and for some reason, English speakers often struggle to learn other languages.
There’s no reason to shy away from doing hard things – but if you want to pick up a language easily, you might want to consider some of the following options.
Mandarin is one of the most popular languages in the world but it is also one of the most challenging. As a tonal language – and one chock full of idioms and homophones – it can be difficult for English speakers to master.
Hungarian itself is not challenging – it is the grammar of this language that tends to give English speakers trouble. It has 26 different cases and its suffixes dictate possession and tense rather than word order. There are also a ton of cultural overtones that make it a bit hard to understand and learn, especially if you aren’t in the presence of a native speaker.
Finnish looks a lot like English – and sounds somewhat similar, too – but its complexity is more like Hungarian. There are several forms of this language, too, including old-fashioned and contemporary Finnish.
This is a somewhat uncommon language that looks nothing like most other languages. It borrows some vocabulary from the romance language and there are at least five separate dialects, making it a bit more complex than other options.
A verb-centered language, Navajo is challenging to learn because there are many English adjectives that do not have any translation into Navajo. There are some sounds that just don’t appear in the English language, either, making it hard to learn pronunciation.
Although Icelandic isn’t nearly as difficult as some of the other languages we’ve included on this list, it’s challenging because of a sheer lack of exposure alone. It’s spoken by fewer than 400,000 people, most of whom are isolated on one island. It is also quite idiosyncratic and complex.
What Courses and Materials are Available?
When you’re trying to decide which language to learn, you may also want to consider what courses and materials you will have at your disposal.
There are several kinds of language courses you can rely on when learning a new language, including traditional courses (like textbooks and accompanying cassettes, audio files, and CDs) and audio-only classes like Pimsleur.
There are also computer-aided learning courses like Teach Me! and fully online courses and language learning programs you can rely on to teach yourself a new language. There are also tons of language learning apps out there, such as Fluent Forever that can help you learn wherever, whenever. Another solid online choice worth considering is Rocket Languages. Rocket Languages has a wide variety of languages available including Chinese, French, Italian, Arabic, German, Japanese, and more! Additionally, Rocket Languages offers a free trial so you can test out the material before you buy.
Dictionaries come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, including those that are fully online, bilingual, monolingual, illustrated, and more. Bilingual dictionaries are particularly helpful for language learners at the beginner or intermediate level, while monolingual dictionaries are more helpful for advanced speakers.
Grammar Books and Phrasebooks
Grammar books are reference tools that can provide you with helpful information about a language’s grammar and its appropriate usage. Some of these also contain practice exercises to help you learn the ropes of a certain language.
Similarly, phrasebooks can be helpful especially if you are planning on traveling to a country before you have 100% mastery of a language. These will give you phrases you can use at a moment’s notice and teach you how those phrases are best used.
When it comes to learning basic grammar and vocabulary, you can’t go wrong with the classic fallback – flashcards! These are especially helpful with more complex languages and for completing tasks like learning Chinese characters.
Listening to audiobooks in the language you are learning is another helpful way to improve your skills and language acquisition. These are particularly useful when it comes to improving your vocabulary and listening skills.
Which Languages Do Employers Like Best?
On the hunt for a job? Believe it or not, there are some best languages to learn for business. Below are the languages that employers like to see on your resume.
Again, Spanish is one of the top languages to learn if you want to have a leg up on the competition as you’re searching for a job. The largest minority language in the United States, it’s also an easy language to learn and one that is prized by many employers.
Obviously, China has a major influence on the global economy – and that influence is increasing by the year. Because of this, learning how to speak Mandarin is a smart choice if you want to stay competitive in an ever-changing business world.
The United States and other countries that speak English still take the lead in world trade – so knowing how to speak English is vital if you want to stay competitive in the global workforce.
A solid understanding of Arabic can also open doors for you, especially if you work for a company that is interested in doing business in the Middle East. The official language of many of the world’s emerging economies, it’s also a good language to know if you plan on working in industries like construction and transportation.
French has fallen out of popularity in recent years, but it was once the uniting language of aristocracy and many countries all over the world. However, it’s still spoken by more than 75 million people, making it a good language to learn if you want to get a job.
Last but not least on the list of languages employers like to see is Japanese. A must if you’re planning on working in big tech or business, Japanese is a complicated language but incredibly in-demand. After all, Japan leads the rest of the world in science and robotics.
Other Reasons to Learn a New Language
Still not convinced you should learn a new language? There are several reasons why this is a smart decision to make.
If you know a second language, you’ll dramatically increase your career opportunities – and by consequence of that, your earnings. Adding a second language can earn a salary increase of up to 4%, some studies have proven!
The world is becoming more globalized on a daily basis – you don’t have to be an economist or international diplomat to see that. Knowing multiple languages will help you improve your career opportunities as you can work with global companies and foreign business partners with ease.
And of course, don’t overlook the enjoyment factor. Learning a new language can be fun! It’s a great way to spend your spare time, especially if you’re the type of person who loves learning new things and improving yourself personally and professionally.
What Language Should I Learn? Consider Your Goals
If you’re still asking yourself, after reading this article, “what language should I learn?” you’ll have to turn inward for the answer. When you have decided that you want to learn a language, it’s most helpful to consider your personal and professional goals for doing so.
Do you want to pursue a new job? Travel the world? Just explore a new hobby? Whatever the case may be, think carefully about your reasons for learning new languages before you set off down that road. From Italian to Spanish, Hindi to Mandarin Chinese, you’ll find that there are plenty of options – and while you can certainly learn more than one, it’s probably best to choose just one foreign language to start!