Keystone logo

Three Ways to Determine if a Language is Right for You

Whether you’re thinking of joining the 61 percent of people studying English or taking up German, French, Spanish or another language, asking (and answering) these questions first can help you make a smart selection.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
Three Ways to Determine if a Language is Right for You

If you’re looking to advance your professional prospects, experience more immersive travel, or boost your brain’s cognitive power, the value of language studies cannot be overstated. Indeed, there’s no arguing that learning a second (or third) language is good for you. However, deciding to learn a new language is only one part of the equation. An equally important consideration? Deciding which language to learn.

Whether you’re thinking of joining the 61 percent of people studying English or taking up German, French, Spanish or another language, asking (and answering) these questions first can help you make a smart selection.

1. How difficult is the language?

Many factors go into determining the difficulty of a language. And while a multitude of “listicles” set out to identify variations on the theme of “most difficult languages to learn” there’s also an innate challenge in doing so.

Says Languages of the World in response to questions about language complexity and learning difficulty, “Neither question has a simple, straightforward answer, for the same reason: we do not have an objective measure of linguistic complexity. In turn, this means that different areas of complexity are not commensurate. What language is more complex? One that has very exotic sounds? Agglutinative morphology? Polysynthetic syntax? Vocabulary that not cognate to other languages? How can we compare these different areas of complexity?”

Furthermore, the difficulty level of a particular language is also largely personal. For native English speakers, for example, languages like Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian are among those considered most closely related to English and therefore easier to learn. Conversely, languages like Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Korean are quite different from English, and therefore harder to learn.

2. Do the resources available suit your learning style?

Not only is your ability to learn a language influenced by your native tongue, but also by your unique learning style.

For example, if you thrive in a classroom environment but your school doesn’t offer a course in the language you plan to learn, your efforts may be hampered. However, if you have scheduling constraints that will make regularly attending a class difficult, a media-based program may be a better fit. Others still may find that working one on one with a tutor offers the best outcomes. Taking time to consider your own unique wants and needs can help you hone in on a language for which the resources will best satisfy your learning style.

Also, the more you use a language, the better you’ll get at it. In addition to making sure you’ve got access to the right learning tools, it can also be helpful to choose a language where you’ll have plenty of chances to speak, hear, and read it. Having a family member, friend or coworker to practice with can be a major boon to the language learning process.

3. Do you want to put it to use?

Some people learn a language primarily to fulfill an education requirement. If passing a class is your primary agenda, choosing an “easy” language may make sense.

However, if your goal is to make yourself a prime candidate with potential employers, choosing the right language can be a strategic endeavor. Kiplinger recently cited Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, French, Arabic, Hindi, and Russian as the 10 “best foreign languages to get ahead in your career.”

Even if you don’t end up in a global career, learning the right language can vastly enrich your travel adventures. If you love a particular region of the world, learning the language spoken there can open doors to new and exciting experiences.

But even choosing a language not known for its “usefulness” can have its advantages. If you’re looking to make a big impression in any setting, the ability to speak a lesser-known language can be a terrific icebreaker or a memorable way to stand out from the crowd.

One last thing to keep in mind about language learning? While there’s no hard and fast formula for determining which language you should pick, your own motivation level should also be factored in. Because even if a language proves to be especially difficult, the process will be much easier (and more fun, too) if you’re inspired by both the challenge and its eventual rewards.

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.