According to an old Czech proverb, “You live a new life for every language you speak. If you know one language, you live only once.” So, which life (or lives) do you want to live? Spanish? German? Chinese? Or a far less common one like Czech?
Learning a new language is no easy feat. It takes months and sometimes years of dedication to get fluent, depending on the difficulty. Give that, how do you decide which language is “worthy” of your time and effort?
Here are 5 factors to help you decide:
1. Usefulness. If you want to learn a language that you can use in your daily life, usefulness should be your number one consideration.
French may sound beautiful, but you probably won’t use it much in El Paso, Texas. You’d be better off starting with Spanish, and learning French at a later date.
2. Difficulty. How difficult a language is will depend on: how close it is to your native language and how close it is to a language you already know.
As a native English speaker, Dutch, Norwegian, and Afrikaans should be easy to pick up.
Unfortunately, unless you plan to live or work in a country that speaks one of those languages, you may not get much use out of them. On the other hand, Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, etc.) will only be slightly more difficult.
Of course, if you want to learn a language like Japanese or Arabic, don’t let the difficulty stop you! Just be aware it will take you longer to learn it.
3. Demand. You may want to learn a new language to boost your career prospects. If that’s the case, consider learning one of the most in demand ones. According to Adzuna, a UK-based search engine for job advertisements, the top 10 languages employers want are:
French and French Creole
If any of those languages strike your fancy, talk to your boss. Some employers will even foot the bill for you to take classes!
4. Availability. Sadly, not all languages are equal when it comes to learning materials. While you’ll find plenty of books, audio courses, and local classes to help you learn Spanish in the U.S. (let alone Spanish language movies, TV shows, and other media), you may be at a loss if you want to learn Hungarian.
Before you decide on a language with a smaller number or speakers, do some digging to find out what options are out there. You may not find a Hungarian audio course in your local bookstore, but you may find a course online.
Just keep in mind that most resources will be in the world’s dominant languages.
5. Passion. Last, but definitely not least, is passion. If you’re passionate about Italian opera, and always wanted to understand it, sign up for an Italian course. Or if you went to Indonesia last winter and fell in love with the culture, consider learning the language.
Remember, even an “easy” language will take you several months to master. Passion for the language, culture, and the people who speak it will keep you motivated when you want to give up.
No matter which language you choose, keep your reasons top of mind. You may even want to write them down. Seriously! Your language learning journey will have peaks and valleys, and you’ll need to remind yourself why you’re learning on the days in the valley.
And now that you know a little more about why people choose a language, I’ll ask again: which life do you want to live?