Which language should I study?


One of the questions linguists are often asked is which language should a student study for "job prospects."

My answer is that you pick the language you like, and it will more than likely be a good choice, especially at the high school level.

Truthfully your choice of languages, especially in high school, are often limited to major world languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic. Any of these languages are widely spoken and have a key global market or industrial manufacturing base. There's money to be made from any of these languages.

Even 'exotic languages' like Swahili, Cantonese, Indonesian, Hindi and others which can be found in university courses typically represent powerful regional powers with important markets. Some one has to cover these regions...wouldn't be nice if they actually knew something of what the local people were saying?

So really...pick the one you like or the one from a region you are especially interested in. Part of learning a language, especially for business purposes, is learning the culture. The more attracted you are to a culture/language to begin with, the better your chances for mastery (ah the power of motivation!) And besides, do you want to travel somewhere you don't like just because you learned the language? Or do you want to go somewhere you've always wanted to see? The choice is yours.

What about lesser-known languages?

Maybe someday you will have a chance to learn a language that has always interested you, but wasn't "practical". Maybe an ancient language, a language from your ancestry or a really exotic language spoken by only 10,000 people.

I say you should go for these languages too, even if there are no "direct" economic benefits. First, learning anything about another language/culture expands your horizons. Maybe you learn to be more comfortable reading another script or be better able to hear certain sounds. Maybe you'll just be more comfortable eating properly with your hands...who knows.

Plus, you could get a reputation for being "well-traveled" and that can be handy (although a tool that should always be used with caution).

What I'm trying to say is that picking a language to learn shouldn't just be a matter of mind, but also of the "heart". Sometimes a language is forced upon you (e.g. Spanish for a job or the Peace Corps), but more often than not, you have a choice.

So if you are selecting a language to study - I think the best choice is to look beyond the cold economics and think about your own desires.