We are often advised to learn a second language by our teachers, families, and peers. If you’ve never learned a language before, the usual recommendation is to focus on learning one first, just until you’re familiar with the language learning process. But if there are several that have caught your attention, how do you decide which one to choose? Compare the languages you’re interested in with the guide below to identify the one that may be better for you to focus on for now.
How Much Time Do You Have to Study?
If you don’t have much free time to dedicate to studying, then choose a language that is similar to your native tongue. It will take less time for you to become comfortable using a new language if it has linguistic features or vocabulary with which you’re already familiar. An excellent choice is something in the same language family or one that is closely related. Languages that are massively different to your native one will require more time and dedication from you to reach basic functionality, and it will take even longer to become fluent. For example, it would take native English speakers longer to learn Mandarin than French.
What Employment Opportunities Are There?
Some languages are more in demand than others, depending on your career goals. If there’s a specific industry you want to work in, you may find that the major employers based in a different country to your own. In this case, it would be beneficial for you to find out what languages these companies do most of their business activities in and which locations you would likely be working from if you joined them. Travel, hospitality, and international relations are some of the major industry sectors that seek to recruit multilingual individuals. For some roles, they offer it may even be a requirement to speak more than one language fluently, rather than just a bonus or advantage.
What Languages Are Used Where You Live?
Languages spoken in your local area are good ones to learn, especially if you don’t currently have any plans to travel the world at some point. It will be easier for you to find people to practice with and you’ll get more use out of the language in your day-to-day life.
Availability of Suitable Learning Resources
You need to be able to get hold of learning materials that can teach the language to you, such as pronunciation guides, video lectures, and phrase books. For popular languages, there will be lots of books and courses to choose from, but there might not be much choice for regional or smaller languages. If you’re learning a language for the first time, it is usually better to choose a language that has a large selection of learning resources. That way you can experiment with different learning materials to discover which ones you learn from best.
Access to Native Speakers and Materials
Thanks to the internet it is much easier nowadays to get hold of materials written in a language you are trying to learn, even if you don’t live near a dedicated bookstore or in a country that uses your target language. The general idea is that you want to seek out content initially written in the language you are learning so that you expose yourself to it as much as possible. Ideally, you should try to practice your speaking skills regularly with native speakers too, which is easier to arrange if you have friends or relatives that can help you with this. But again, the internet is an excellent resource for finding native speakers if you don’t know any.
If you have a compelling reason to use your target language, then you are more likely to stay engaged in the language learning process and not give up when you hit a difficult patch. For example, you might want to be able to read an author’s novels in their original language or understand your favorite television shows without subtitles. Another common reason people decide to learn a specific language is that they are planning to travel through a region where the people speak it.
Ultimately which language you learn first is up to you, even if it doesn’t meet all the criteria above. If it’s the one you find most inspiring, then go for it!
Author: N. Lewis
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