Despite the dominance of English in business and popular culture, we may do well to remember that only 6% of the world’s population speak it as a mother tongue. The advantages of language learning are well known. In addition to all the usual benefits of learning a new skill, such as the satisfaction of taking on a challenge and broadening your mind, there’s the ability to communicate with people in many countries and the possibility that it delays the ageing process as well many other plus points. We wrote last week about how adult learners are just as good, if not better, than children at picking up languages and we’ve published an infographic on the importance of languages in the workplace.
If we’ve managed to convince you that you should learn a language, the main question now is which one to go for. Do you go for the language with the highest number of speakers in the world? The Chinese family of languages top the bill with around one billion speakers and China is the world’s second largest economy. Spanish is third with around 500 million speakers and may take less time to learn than Chinese. The number of speakers may not be your main criterion, however; Bengali is eighth in terms of numbers, but many other languages are more popular with learners. German is only eleventh, but heads the list of sought-after languages for British employers. If employment is your main motivator, it does of course depend on your industry; Russian may be more useful if you work in energy, Italian if you’re an opera singer and Latin for a historian. A rarer language may be a better earner for a translator. You may be spurred by personal interest rather than career development, in which case any language that takes your fancy could be the one for you.
Read part 2 of this post for a consideration of some of the main languages you may wish to tackle.