My Dearest Mad-Readers,
I have read this type of article many, many times. This is why I would like to offer you some perspective. I have studied quite a few languages myself and, even though I would not have the pretension to call myself an expert, I may help some of you make a life-changing choice. Indeed, a language-learning journey is a life-changing adventure.
As a quick disclaimer, I meant to say I am not rating languages here. I see all of them as a promise of amazing things to happen.
I’m mostly into European languages, but also American ones. I especially have experience with Latin-rooted languages, but also with German and Japanese. I studied latin in middle school, for 3 years; German for 5 years, in middle and high school; I speak French and English; I am currently learning Italian. Si, imparo l’italiano!
European & American Languages
Whether you learn the English, Irish, Scottish, Kiwi, Australian or even the American way (with that I mean one of the countless accents and regionalisms in the U.S and the whole world), English will always be your best bet. Of course, if you are reading this article, you may already know, but it is sometimes useful to repeat the obvious. English has become the world’s lingua franca, so ignoring it entirely would not be so wise.
Furthermore, English will open a lot of doors for you : You might translate your work and let thousands, or even millions of new people access it; When you search things, it is also extremely helpful since there is so much information online that has not yet been translated or which will never be! Who doesn’t write and/or speak in English these days, in order to reach a broader audience ?
I have almost forgotten! What about all the countries where pretty much everyone speaks fluent English ? Take Germany for instance. If you fly to a big city, you will manage perfectly with only English and a few words of German (because, you know, you need to make a little effort). Let us not forget about Sweden, where they all speak English better than you and me…
I could say a lot more about English, but my job is not to convince you. I love English for its beauty as a language and for all the knowledge and personal growth it has given to me. Yet I would not look to persuade you. There are tons of great languages to learn. You only need reach out to them !
Spoken in South America, in some parts of the USA (especially the South West), but also in Europe (In Spain, I swear!) this language is your second best ally if you wish to travel, right after English. Once again, this rich language is full of regionalisms and accents may greatly vary depending on which country or region you visit. Some people say it is more difficult to learn than Italian. To me, it is not a good enough reason to learn Italian instead. Spanish may be complicated, but so are all living languages.
There will always be exceptions, articles which don’t make sense, grammar tenses that aren’t logically constructed (in your humble opinion, right?), and so on… All that doesn’t matter really. It will only make it a more rewarding experience when you get more comfortable in your target language.
Time for me to advertise my mother tongue. Vous voulez parler français ? Mais quelle bonne idée ! French is the language of love, culture, and freedom. It is one of the most painful languages to learn out there, but the pain feels great when you are a linguist (or is it just me?)!
French has pretty much the same downsides as Spanish. It has conjugations and you need to inflect nouns and adjectives depending on number and genders. No kidding. As if life was not enough of a burden in itself, some guy randomly decided centuries ago (sorry Francis I) that French would verbs would change shape for every person and, to top it all off, there would be several types of past tenses. Nice! Ahem… If it takes off a bit of the weight on your shoulders, let me tell you that past participles are always the same. Except when… Nah, you know what? I’ll let you find that out for yourself!
Regarding regionalisms, we have many, yet much fewer than other countries (nowadays). Everyone speaks French in France, not some random dialect from 2 centuries ago. For that, at least, life is easier where I come from. You may find some variations when it comes to slang, but we generally all speak the same language. Except in Marseilles, where they all speak funny. But that’s a story for another day…
Si! If you like art & culture (in all the shapes it can take) Dante’s language was made for you. If you are not afraid of exceptions too. Italians love exceptions. A bit too much. So much actually that exceptions almost rule the entire language.
I do believe it is easier to learn Italian for a French person than the other way around however. There are no accents on letters (like é or è) and conjugations are relatively similar all the time. Plus, you can be more concise in Italian. Most of the time, you don’t need to add a personal pronoun before the verb. Example : vado. It means I go. You could write Io vado, but it isn’t necessary. Except if you won’t to emphasize the fact that you are going (and not someone else).
Some people may tell you it is not worth learning, because there are not enough speakers. Screw them! There are about 85 million speakers in total (counting both natives and non-natives). Plus, you don’t have to learn a language just because it is widely spoken. What about curiosity ? What about the fact that thousands of people learn Esperanto each year, whilst it is merely a fabricated language with only 4 million native speakers ? Who cares ? You learn a language to familiarize yourself with its culture and meet the people who speak it. Whether they are ten or one billion does not matter. It only matters if you want it to matter.
Forget about all the misconceptions about German. It does not sound harsh, not any more than Spanish really. German is a beautiful language which deserves more attention from people. If you do not believe me, go to Germany and listen for yourself. Or just open up a YouTube tab and watch. Whatever is the easiest for you.
Obviously, it can sound harsh at times, but no more than Spanish (they speak from their throats over there, and then they dare criticize). If you want a soft language, learn French and/or Italian (depending on your motivation).
German’s grammar is not difficult, but declinations are. Inflecting a word depending on its place in a sentence (is it subject, object…) is not really what I’d call pleasure. Tenses are relatively the same as in English and there are many common words (since they are both Germanic).
There are lots of common words from one language to another within Europe, because our cultures are so similar. These days, we are closer than ever to having a European culture. Ahem. Give me a second to preach peace please : We are all one and the same, stop alienating other people please.
I do not have much experience with it, except that I wrote an assignment with a Portuguese man during my CELTA course. I learned that its grammar is quite similar to English. It has the same present perfect, for instance, which French doesn’t have. I wish it did, but our president won’t listen to someone like me, right ?
Anywho, I do not know enough, so I will say no more...
Depending on where you wish to travel the most, English might become your second best best. If you intend to only ever fly to one country, you probably should focus all your efforts in the local language.
This is a little like diplomas. You should get a diploma which you will be able to use where you are and which will get you the job of your dreams. Getting a diploma just to get a diploma, well… if it makes you happy, it’s not pointless, but it’s not helpful in the long-run. Do you really want to waste your efforts ?
Japanese sounds as melodious as it is difficult to learn from a European viewpoint. The alphabet is… well, apart from being entirely different, their system is not the same too. They have characters, not letters. It doesn’t make Japanese less attractive as a language but it is a challenge of a higher level, in my opinion. Knowing a another foreign language is quite the achievement already, but I feel like knowing one which is SO alien from yours is even more impressive. Would you agree ? Tell me what you think in the comments.
For a lot of us (I speak for French people, at least), Japanese was introduced to us with anime. I will not say it is a wrong way to learn. I would not say there is such a thing as a wrong way, but I recommend you do much more. Anime do not accurately reflect Japanese language, so one should explore other medium : newspapers, TV-shows, blog posts, short (and longer) videos/movies, podcasts…
When you learn a language that is so far from your own, you soon realize how much of a commitment learning a language is. You need to change your way of thinking, become more flexible, adapt to a new culture and love it for (or despite) its history. It is not easy. Never. Yet it is one of the most enriching thing you can do on our dear planet Earth.
For most of the languages from here and down to the bottom of this article, I cannot say much, since I have not studied them. Except for Esperanto. Anyway, Chinese is widely spoken around the world, since the China counts about 1 billion and 500 million inhabitants. That’s more than 1 seventh of our planet’s total population, so… I cannot stress this enough : learning a language such as Chinese is a smart move. A tough, but smart move.
I have been told that Korean is very close to Japanese in terms of structure and vocabulary. So, if you already know Japanese, I encourage you to check it out (if you have not already).
The only argument I can offer you to learn it is the number of people who speak it. India’s population is almost as huge as China’s. So if numbers motivate you, you know what to do… I also have something to say against Hindi, however : A lot of speakers of this language speak English as their second language (because of the empire on which the sun never sets, if you take my meaning).
Depending on your destination of choice, Russian may be well adapted for you. It has an entirely different alphabet than English, so it will be a challenge straight from the beginning. Like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and some others… I have not mentioned Arabic, I realize, but it would belong with the languages I have just listed. Its alphabet is challenging too, and so is its pronunciation. Plus, you may as well struggle writing it !
If you are looking for something easy to start with, I recommend you check out fabricated languages such as Esperanto and Toki Pona. It shouldn’t take you more than a few months to learn one or both of them.
Learn whichever language you want, as long as it makes you happy. It’s the only conclusion any and every articles on the topic should draw. The choice is yours, and only yours.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope it was helpful to you! If you liked it, feel free to let me know via email, by subscribing, liking, and/or commenting. You may also check out some more of my work. I have a Patreon page too, if you wish to support me there.
I wish you all the best,