Whether you want to study abroad senior year or are majoring in international business, everyone can benefit from a little foreign language experience. In fact, for most undergraduate degrees, a few semesters of a foreign language are actually required. Which language you choose to learn could help your career as a young adult.
The best part is you don’t have to master the language entirely. With a base knowledge, you can use it as needed and pick it back up when you’d be surprised how much you’ll use it for years to come.
Now, the only question is: What language should you choose to learn? These eight strategies will help you narrow down your options.
1. Make a List of Places You’d Like to Visit
The first thing you should do when you choose which language to learn is to make a list to see where your interests lie. Noting the places you’d like to visit can be a great motivator for learning a foreign language. If France is on your bucket list, you’ll likely need to speak at least a little French when you’re there.
While many foreign countries are used to English-speaking tourists, you can often get a more cultural experience by venturing off to non-touristy parts of the country, where the basics of the language are invaluable.
2. Decide Your Motive
What are your goals with learning a foreign language? If you’re trying to finish a general education requirement, your choice of language might differ vastly from someone who plans to move to another country or choose a career working overseas. On the other hand, if passing a class is most important to you, choose a language with similar structures to English.
If you plan on moving abroad or even backpacking for a few weeks, find out what languages are most commonly spoke in the areas you plan to travel. You may be surprised to see which languages are spoken there. For example, French is spoken in 32 countries, many of which are in Africa.
3. Know Your Options
Before you get too excited about learning Ancient Greek, check to see if your college offers the course you’d like to take, either online or in a classroom setting. If classes aren’t easily accessible, you’re less likely to attend and therefore less likely to actually learn the language. Also note that for some students, learning a language via online resources is much more difficult than having a teacher speak it and teach it in person. Be honest about what will work best for your learning style.
4. Consider Studying Abroad
See if your college offers a study abroad program in one of the countries on your list. If so, ask for information in regards to your degree and class credit. Studying abroad can be one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of your college experience. It’s also a great way to learn a new language first-hand.
5. Check Language Difficulty
Some people are naturally good at mastering a foreign language. If you really enjoy a challenge and want to try something different, try Mandarin or Japanese—these languages that use a completely different alphabet. Languages like Spanish and French, while still challenging to learn, are likely more familiar to you.
6. Build off Your Foundation
For most of us, it’s important to choose a language that we’re somewhat familiar with. This will ease frustration as you learn it and keep you from feeling overwhelmed. If English is your first language, you might want to try learning French or Spanish because the grammar and sentence structures are similar. In addition, if you took any foreign language in middle or high school, it might be easier to choose that language, since you’ve already built the foundation for it.
7. Check Resume Building Opportunities
Some languages are significantly more popular with employers than others. If you’re interested in international industries or entrepreneurship opportunities, a second language will be extremely valuable. Currently, the most useful foreign languages in America are English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Japanese. While knowing these languages won’t guarantee you a job, it will certainly give your resume a competitive edge and, depending on the position, often a higher pay.
8. What Intrigues You?
For many people, certain languages are just plain intriguing. In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert traveled to Italy and learned Italian because she just loved the sound of their words. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut. In this case, it could be a great way to choose a language quickly and easily, especially if you don’t have plans to build an international career.
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