“I want to learn a language. Which language is most beneficial for me to learn?” This is an often asked question on websites such as Yahoo Answers. However, there is no one right answer.
Right at this moment, large groups of people are learning Spanish, while others are learning Chinese. Whether Spanish, Chinese or any other language is most suitable for you depends on your own situation. In this article, I cover three (3) questions that can guide your decision about which language to learn.
Question # 1: Should I learn a language in the first place?
Learning a language is a long term process that requires commitment and exercise over a long period of time. Especially if you only have the time to study part-time, you will most likely need several years before you can really interact with native speakers.
Since mastering a language takes such a long time, it is better not to join a language course, just because your friends are doing it or because you read that it may help your employment prospects. To get to a stage where speaking the language makes a difference for you, you need a solid motivation.
You will not reach your goal if your motivation is only extrinsic, i.e. motivated by external factors such as higher pay or status. You need to really want to learn the language, be it because of an interest in the country, culture, people and literature, sheer curiosity or any other personal reason.
If you catch yourself asking the question “which language should I learn?”, you may not yet be motivated enough to learn a particular language and really see it through. If you were motivated, you would know which language you really wanted to learn.
Question # 2: Which language is most relevant to you?
I have seen the question “should I learn Chinese or Spanish?” asked many times on Yahoo Answers, and it often gets answered in a really macro-economic way, citing the tremendous growth of China’s economy or the growing importance of Hispanic people in the United States.
Such high level arguments are hardly ever relevant to the personal decision of which language to learn. Opportunities are everywhere. You do not need to exploit all of the world’s opportunities, as long as you can exploit one opportunity well.
To give you an example, I have learnt some Spanish, and now I can communicate with all of South America, as well as with people from Spain. But I live in Singapore, and not many people speak Spanish here.
Still, I know at least three people who are making a living in Singapore with their knowledge of the Spanish language. They are addressing the small but lasting need for Spanish lessons and translation. This just shows that whatever language you learn, there are always enough opportunities.
Question # 3: Which languages and cultures interest you?
You are going to pour a lot of time and effort into learning the language, so it is important that there is an interest in the language and the culture to start with. If you are planning to learn Japanese, it helps a great deal if you are interested to talk to Japanese people and learn more about them.
So what happens if you think a certain language is going to be really useful for you, but you are really more interested in a different language? In that case, there are basically two things you can do:
1. You can try to boost your interest for the language that would prove most useful to you. E.g. if it is clear that a lot of people around you speak Spanish, but you have no particular interest in it, you can read about the culture or try and visit a Spanish speaking country on holiday – there is a good chance that this will arouse your interest;
2. Or you can make the language you are interested in more useful to yourself. E.g., if you are really interested in learning Japanese, but see no direct use for it, you can try to meet more Japanese people in your area, or find a job in a company that is Japanese or does business in Japan.
If you came to this article wondering what language to learn, I hope I have given you some perspective. In the end, you will make the choice. Take heart though, that there no 100% right or wrong choices here; as long as you are determined to see it through, learning any language will be a great journey that opens up a new world!