Did you learn a language at school? If you’re like many people, you probably did it up to GCSE, then did nothing with it since and have forgotten most of it. And, now? You probably regret it. Those holidays to Spain, for example, would be so much better if you could speak the lingo, especially when chatting up the local girls!
Learning languages is also one of the best things you can do for career development or to broaden your horizons on a more personal level. But which language to choose to learn can be the biggest challenge of all. Here’s what we consider as the best languages to learn. Buena Suerte!
Although Spanish is more widely spoken around the world, German is the most widely spoken language of Europe (although Russian has more native speakers). Around 100 million people speak German natively with around 500 million more being able to converse or read and write it at some level. As well as being a key language for business on a worldwide level, German is widely regarded as being critical in terms of politics and arts, particularly throughout Europe. It’s an official language of Germany (of course), Austria, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Belgium and it is widely used in many other countries, as well. An estimated 32% of the population of Europe claim to be able to speak some German.
Learning German is considered pretty easy, because the Germanic alphabet is similar to the English, but with four extra letters – three are vowels with umlauts, and one is the doppeless (literally, double s). German is considered a ‘harsh’ language and, as such, it is spoken slowly and succinctly, which helps users to learn. It also has fairly distinct rules, so mastering pronunciation is easier than with other languages that have many different ways of learning.
People who can read and write and understand German are attractive to employers, who increasingly need those who understand the language – especially in today’s global society.
French is considered to be the ‘language of love’, which stems from its routes as a romance language (originating from Latin) and also because of the poetic beauty of its sound. There is nothing more romantic than je t’aime, so learn French and seduce your love interest.
French is the most commonly learned second language by English speakers in the UK. It is taught in almost all schools and attracts some 200 million speakers, making it the 9th most spoken language in the world. Although it isn’t the most widely spoken language, it is considered one of the most important and influential, as it’s one of the official languages of the UN, the EU, NATO, UNESCO and even airports and airlines still use French around the world. On the subject of travel, France is the most visited country in the world.
French is also a good basis for learning other romance languages, such as Spanish or Italian.
Spanish is considered to be the best language to learn for people that wish to travel, as most of its 200 million native speakers are in South America, where it is widely spoken. As such, many books, films and songs are written in Spanish.
There is a big need for English natives with Spanish language skills to work as translators or interpreters, and also in teaching English or Spanish in schools and colleges, or in language learning centres. Want to work your way around the world? Spanish will get you a long way!
Mandarin Chinese is one of the fastest growing languages that ever was. It is a surprisingly easy language to learn, as it has a linear style so once you have learned the numbers, you can easily learn things like the days of the week, which work out to be day one, day two, and so on, and the months: month one, month two, etc. The difficulty is mastering the sounds, as they are unfamiliar to English speakers.
A drawback to learning Mandarin is that is it not based on the same alphabet as English and it is very difficult and time consuming to learn to write it or even to read it. However, it is easier to learn a romanized version, known as the PinYin, which many Chinese people are also able to read, so effective communication can be gleaned. But the benefits in speaking and comprehending the spoken form of Mandarin are great culturally, socially and in terms of employability.
Arabic is widely used throughout Africa and the Middle East and has around 300 million native speakers. Due to capitalism and booming trade in recent years, Arabic is fast rising as a leading language in business and, therefore, learning it has its merits. There are many different dialects but, fortunately, they are all easily understood by speakers of others. It can be a difficult language to learn, but if you’re looking for a language to further your career, it can be worth it.
Italian is another of the romance languages, so is considered fairly easy to master. Add that to the fact that Italy is one of the top 5 visited countries in the world, and it’s easy to see why one would want to learn at least enough to walk into a bar and ask for due birre (two beers – and if you’re not travelling with a companion, drink them both yourself, why not?). Some more reasons to learn Italian are to visit the Colosseum, Venice or go shopping in Milan, or to eat the finest ice cream, pasta, and pizza in the world.
Welsh is one of the official languages of the UK, and especially Wales, where some 90% of the population not only know it, but speak it everywhere. It is a legal requirement that all businesses must incorporate Welsh into their bureaucracies, and therefore, every sign in the supermarket, or on the road, or any letter or document is in both English and Welsh.
It’s impossible to live in Wales, or even visit there, without learning at least a little of the language in its written form (spoken is more difficult to get to grips with, due to the guttural pronunciation of some words), such as diolch yn fawr (thank you) or araf (slow), as it is written everywhere you go, including on the roads as you drive up to a roundabout or junction. Welsh girls are beautiful, so learning the language will go down very well with them.
Portuguese is another of the romance languages, and is the official language of both Portugal and Brazil. It is often overlooked as a language to learn with many people opting for Spanish instead, but Portuguese itself is a strong language with a lot of native speakers and it is, in fact, the sixth most spoken language in the world, so the language is worth learning for its own sake. That said, it is similar in many ways to Spanish, so if you already know some Spanish, it might be easier to pick up Portuguese.
Japanese remains one of the most hi-tech countries in the world and its language is the same. If you’re into gadgets or just have a love affair with the Japanese culture and a yearning to visit one day, then why not give that one a bash. Be warned, it’s not the easiest to learn, but if horror is your bag, there are some good Japanese cult horror flicks out there to aid in your learning or at least to entertain you along the way.
Happy language learning!