What language should you learn?

foreign language books

There are so many benefits to being bilingual or multi-lingual, from increased job opportunities; to discovering an amazing book/movie/TV show you might not otherwise have known about; to chances for connection with people around the world.  And the very act of learning a language is also amazingly beneficial: It’s a workout for your brain, and exercise is a way to keep your mental processes in shape.

Learning a language will always involve challenges. But lots of people (including yours truly) will tell you that one way to make it a lot easier is to study a language you’re truly interested in – even, at best, downright in love with.

If a language has yet to capture your heart, this list might help.  Look through it for the characteristic that most sweeps you off your feet.  It could lead to a beautiful linguistic relationship:

  1. Necessity. I’ve written before about how many of my EFL students weren’t learning English because they particularly wanted to, but because they had to, in order to keep their jobs. If you have a language you need to learn, it could be “the one”.  If you can’t think of one off the top of your head, consider one that would be useful for your job or your travel plans.
  1. Cultural affinity. Is there a particular culture that intrigues you? That could be a great jumping-off point.  Knowing a language doesn’t just help you communicate; it also lets you gain even more insight into people and places.
  1. Mystery. Maybe you’re attracted by the unknown or unfamiliar. In this case, a popular language may not be the one for you.  How about taking up something a little off the beaten linguistic path?  Maybe a “dead” language like Latin (which still has a pretty impressive number of speakers – and a strong social media presence), or an endangered one like Welsh?
  1. Logic. Maybe the often unpredictable nature of languages puts you off. What’s this nonsense with irregular verbs, non-phonetic spellings, and idiomatic expressions, after all?  Check out a man-made language like Esperanto, which was specifically created to be logical and easy to learn.  It’s also got more than 1 million speakers worldwide, which isn’t too shabby for a language that was only invented a little more than a century ago.
  1. Unconventionality. If traditional language learning leaves you cold, why not try a language that takes a completely different approach to communication, like sign language?
  1. Silence. Maybe you don’t have the time or the energy to focus on the myriad aspects of most languages. Or maybe you’re trying to sneakily use your free time at work to do something productive, and can’t go around repeating sentences aloud.  How about a print-only language, like Sumerian or braille?
  1. Activism. There are lots of languages out there whose number of speakers has dwindled over the decades. Help preserve them, and the cultures they speak for, by learning one yourself. Check out the list I linked to in #3 for inspiration.
  1. Fun. If you’re a low-key, whimsical soul who finds it hard to concentrate on real-life languages, why not learn a made-up one for fun? You could choose a fictional language from a TV or book series, or even master emoji well enough to participate in Fred Benenson’s next crowdfunded translation of a classic book.

Hopefully, this list has helped you find the language you want to learn. And now, to study it! We can help you with that, too!

by Alysa Salzberg

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