Want to Learn a Language? Here Are the Top 5 Choices

For quite some time, native speakers of widely-spoken languages, such as English, could expect to get by during their travels without knowing a word of the language spoken at their destination. These days, not only is it considered to be polite to be at least conversationally familiar with the languages spoken in countries you visit or do business in, in many cases, not knowing a language other than your native tongue is nothing short of a major disadvantage.

Nobody should expect to be able to learn all of the languages spoken throughout the world, nor even a small fraction of them. Sometimes having fluency in one foreign language is enough to prove to people how serious you are about effectively communicating. Below, we’ve compiled a brief list of languages that we feel could benefit you the most in today’s global world.

1. French
Despite the relative popularity of the French language among those who appreciate its romantic “flavor,” the language’s practical importance on the world stage still remains quite strong. In fact, French is the official language in over 29 countries throughout the world and is the official spoken language of the United Nations.

For people with an interest in traveling to locations such as the European Union (where 26% of the population speak French) or even Northern Africa, knowing French is a key way to get the most enjoyment out of your travels. From a career perspective, individuals who wish to work in diplomatic services, for example, may be required to be fluent in French before even applying.

Today, learning French doesn’t require the effort it did over the last few decades. With the prevalence of free online lessons and courses, such as this one offered by the BBC, anyone with the motivation and willingness to learn the language can do so at their leisure. Moreover, should you already be a native speaker of English or a Romance language, such as Spanish or Italian, learning French will be much easier than you think!

2. Mandarin Chinese

At the beginning of the 20th century, studying the Chinese language was often considered to be a rather impractical and esoteric pursuit, particularly if you happened to live anywhere in Europe or the United States. These days, the practical importance of learning the language, which is spoken and understood (in several dialects) by over one billion people, can’t be overstated.

Unlike Chinese written script, the Mandarin Chinese dialect, from a conversational perspective, is a good deal easier to learn. Mandarin Chinese grammar and sentence structure is somewhat less complicated when compared to Korean and Japanese. However, the major difficulties first time Mandarin speakers tend to encounter are the tones used to differentiate words with the same pronunciation (of which there are literally hundreds, if not thousands).

If you want a quick introduction to what learning Chinese might entail, just take a look at what its like to learn Chinese characters. While it is certainly possible to learn conversational Mandarin without knowing any characters at all, taking some time to familiarize yourself with Chinese script should ultimately help your fluency it out; it will also really enhance your understanding of the cultural background of native Mandarin speakers.

3. Korean

Physically located between two of East Asia’s most powerful nations, China and Japan, Korea has been influenced both culturally and linguistically by the two throughout history. Today, South Korea has grown to become a cultural and economic powerhouse in the region. Even the tremendous popularity of the recent “Gangnam Style” dance craze is enough to prove the country’s growing relevance on the world stage today.

To the untrained ear, the Korean language can sound quite similar to Japanese. However, what few realize is that up to 60% of the Korean vocabulary is based on Chinese (or Sino-Korean) words, due to the cultural influence China wielded over Korea for over a millenium. Native Korean words, which are still used today, can be quite difficult to memorize and pronounce, particularly when compared to their Chinese-based counterparts.

Learning Korean can be quite difficult from the perspective of grammar and the proper pronunciation of certain words that, like Chinese, rely on subtle shifts in intonation to distinguish meaning. Unlike Chinese, Korean uses a phonetic script, known as “hangeul” (developed by the ruler of 15th Century Korea, King Sejong), that is widely considered to be one of the most innovative and easy-to-learn alphabets in the world. The Korean Wiki Project hosts a great resource for learning hangeul, as well as several other useful resources to help you dive into learning the Korean language.

4. Arabic

As the world’s attention continues to focus on developments in the Middle East since the turn of the 21st century, more people are choosing to learn Arabic as a second language than ever before. Not only does acquiring a working knowledge of Arabic help to provide a deeper cultural awareness of the region, but it is also a rare skill that could mean great things for the learner’s future career prospects.

While many might tend to shy away from learning Arabic due to its seemingly complex linguistic and cultural nature, keep in mind that many European languages have borrowed from Arabic throughout history. For example, several English words, such as “coffee” and “algebra” are derived from Arabic. Moreover, the numeral system recognized by most, if not all, of the world is based almost entirely on the Arabic system.

To find out if learning Arabic might be a good language choice for you, take some time to go through a few lessons provided by Madinah Arabic. If it looks like something you might want to continue pursuing, the site also hosts paid services that you can take advantage of to deepen your skills.

5. Spanish

These days, more and more people are opting to learn Spanish, simply because it helps them to communicate more fluently with their friends, neighbors and colleagues. The United States is the home to a significant percentage of the world’s Spanish speakers, and every American could benefit from picking up a thing or two about the language. Moreover, opting to learn Spanish could help chip away at the xenophobia that continues to be directed towards Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.

Because Spanish is one the most popular languages to learn in the United States, finding free resources online or elsewhere for learning the language can be quite easy. LearnSpanish.com is an excellent resource for beginning, intermediate, or even advanced students of Spanish to learn the language online for free.

We hope you were able to pull out some valuable information from this brief list of five of the top languages to learn in today’s world. This list is by no means comprehensive, and if your goals and talents are better suited towards a language not mentioned on this list, then by all means, study the language that makes the best sense for you. The intellectual, cultural and social benefits of learning a foreign language cannot be stressed enough—and whether you choose to learn one of the languages mentioned above or something completely different, chances are you won’t regret your decision to pick up a new language.