Language learning

How to choose what language to learn

So. You’ve decided you’d like to reap all the benefits of learning a second language. Now there’s just the question of which language you want to learn. For some, this is an easy decision. For others, it can take some time to figure out. Maybe you’re deliberating between two or three languages. If you’re having trouble deciding, hopefully answering these questions will help you.

What resources are available to you?

Say you’d like to learn Korean. That’s all well and good, until you realise that nobody offers Korean classes in your area. Some people do manage to learn quite a lot from textbooks by themselves, although if I had the choice I’d take a real life teacher in a classroom any day.

Do you have someone to practice with?

Image courtesy of zinjixmaggir on Flickr

Image courtesy of zinjixmaggir on Flickr

If you are able to find a class nearby, chances are it’s only an hour or two each week. Going by that rate it would take years and years to get to any level of proficiency. The best thing you can do to improve your language skills is use them! I was always jealous of my friend in high school whose step-dad spoke Spanish – she had someone there every day to practice with. Check if there’s a club at your school or in your city – people love to speak with you in their mother tongue. Maybe wait til you’re not an absolute beginner if they’re not people you already know – speaking to people who know very little of your language can get annoying quickly. Doing this isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it will help you improve.

Are you particularly interested in another country?

Maybe you’ve always dreamt of visiting the Greek Islands. Or you’ve always wanted to move to Sweden for a year. Why not make it easier for yourself and learn the language? Even if you’re just visiting a place, people are so much more receptive when you at least try to speak the language. You’ll make a few mistakes, they’ll laugh at you, and the ice is broken. More practical benefits are reading signs, being able to understand announcements at the station, or being able to ask for directions.

Would a certain language help your career?

Let’s say your degree is in European Studies. A European language would probably help you out the most. Let’s say your company has an office in Tokyo or often deals with people in Rome. Learning Japanese or Italian could help you get ahead. If you’re applying for jobs, make sure your second language is on your resume. Knowing another language shows you’re willing to put in the time and dedication to make a long term goal come to fruition.

What is your heart telling you?

Maybe it would be beneficial to your career to learn German and you can take German classes at your university and you have a German friend you can practice with. But. You have no interest in learning German! You really love French! You know what? Go for it. Nothing will help your language learning experience more than motivation.

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what language might be right for you. But here’s one more bonus tip: just pick one. If you don’t like it, you can always pick another. You’re not choosing your life partner here. If you absolutely hate it, that’s fine! Choose something else and start again. Language learning is a long process so it’s important to have the right fit.

Although, even a little bit of language knowledge can be helpful in ways you wouldn’t imagine beforehand. I’m a big fan of the schools where you do a semester each of four different languages and the next year you choose which one to continue with. As in everything, knowledge is power!

What about you – how did you go about choosing a language to learn?


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