There’s no doubt that learning a second (or third!) language is beneficial. In addition to helping you connect with people from around the world, it’s also a great resource to have while traveling, studying, or to put on your resume. But how do you choose which one to study?
When picking a language, it’s important to look at your interests as well as travel, education, and career goals. If you’re still stuck, however, we’ve got a few ideas as to which are the best languages to learn in 2021.
1. Learn Spanish
Spanish almost always ranks high on these types of lists, and for very good reasons. Counting 400 million native speakers, it is the official language of over 20 countries and the unofficial second language of the United States where about 13% of the population speaks Spanish at home.
There are also troves of supplemental Spanish materials online, so you shouldn’t find it too hard to practice, even if you’re not taking in-person classes. Reggaetón has made its way into popular culture by way of JBalvin and Bad Bunny, and you can choose one of the hundreds of Spanish-language shows on Netflix—like the popular Money Heist—to help you practice your comprehension.
Inspiring Programs to Learn Spanish Abroad:
2. Learn Chinese
Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world—spoken in some form by 1.2 billion people—so it only makes sense to include it on this list. Though Chinese consists of various dialects, they use the same writing system, so learning one will still help you communicate with speakers of other dialects via the written word.
Chinese is often considered one of the most difficult languages to learn, so that’s why it’s important to choose a great program that allows lots of room for practice. With the increasing importance of knowing Chinese in the business world and a huge Chinese diaspora worldwide, it will definitely be worth the effort.
Mandarin, a dialect of Chinese and the official state language of China, is the most common option for those looking to study Chinese. By learning Mandarin, you can speak with millions of people worldwide, including those in China’s vast and growing economy. A basic understanding of Mandarin opens up an incredible amount of business and travel opportunities. While challenging, learning its thousands of unique characters is sure to stimulate any mind!
Inspiring Programs to Learn Chinese Abroad:
3. Learn French
French is the second-most widely learned foreign language in the world after English, and it’s easy to see why. Including France and Canada, French is the official language of 29 countries—meaning whether you visit Tunisia, Senegal, or Switzerland, you’ll feel right at ease.
French is a Romance language, meaning it’s related to Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian, so if becoming a polyglot is a goal of yours, learning French could also help make learning the others a little easier (or could be easy to learn if you already speak one of those languages!).
Inspiring Programs to Learn French Abroad:
4. Learn Arabic
Arabic is a beautiful language that is generally considered quite difficult for English-speakers to learn. Part of that is because it varies widely depending on where it’s spoken—an Arabic speaker from Lebanon may not understand a speaker from Algeria and vice versa.
However, most programs will teach you Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA. This is a standardized version of the language taught in schools all over the Arab world and will help you communicate with Arabic speakers from almost any country. MSA is also used in many governments, businesses, and journalistic practices.
If you have a particular Arabic-speaking country in mind, however, you could learn the dialect as well to help you with day-to-day life while traveling and making friends. Popular dialects include Egyptian, Levantine, and North African.
The United States has deemed Arabic a language of strategic importance, and because of its frequency in international affairs, knowledge of Arabic opens up lucrative positions in many popular job industries.
Inspiring Programs to Learn Arabic Abroad:
5. Learn Russian
Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and the US government has identified Russian as a priority language. If working for a government agency is something you’re interested in, learning it could give your application a leg up.
But even if that’s not on your radar, there are still plenty of reasons to learn Russian—it is one of the most widely spoken languages both in and outside of Europe, including many former Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Tajikistan. It is also the most commonly used language on the Internet besides English (when counting websites, not users), so there are plenty of online resources at your fingertips.
Russia also boasts one of the richest literary histories in the world, so knowledge of the language will give you even deeper insight into the famous works of Tolstoy and Pushkin.
Inspiring Programs to Learn Russian Abroad:
6. Learn German
Though it’s certainly not easy, English-speakers might find that German seems a little more familiar than other languages—that’s because they are part of the same language family. It is spoken not only in Germany but also in Austria and Switzerland. For those of you who enjoy rigid grammar rules, German is a great choice.
German was once considered “the language of science” before English replaced it after World War I. Nevertheless, German still has a rich history of scientific and academic literature, so it’s a great language to learn if those subjects are among your interests.
German is the most widely spoken first language in the entire European Union, which opens up infinite travel possibilities throughout the continent! German is also a useful language for business, as Germany boasts the 4th largest economy in the world and is its third-largest exporter. Some of the greatest artists and thinkers of all time hailed from Germany, and it remains today a leading language in science, art, philosophy, and literature.
Inspiring Programs to Learn German Abroad:
7. Learn Portuguese
With a whopping 250 million native speakers, Portuguese is the sixth most natively spoken language in the world. Its reach goes beyond Brazil and Portugal—Portuguese is also spoken in a few African countries, like Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde.
But beyond the numbers, learning Portuguese is a great option for those who appreciate the arts. Numerous musical genres—such as bossa nova, samba, and funk carioca—find their origins in Brazil, and Portuguese is also the mother tongue of writers like Paolo Coelho and José Saramago.
Inspiring Programs to Learn Portuguese Abroad:
8. Learn Japanese
Though Japanese is mainly spoken in just one country—Japan—there are still plenty of reasons to learn. For one, there is the sheer challenge of it: with three writing systems, complex grammar, and virtually no linguistically related languages, Japanese is one of the hardest languages to learn.
It’s easy to see why it’s worth the effort, however. Japan is a popular travel destination because of its rich and unique history, and it’s not hard to motivate yourself to learn when you can watch your favorite anime as practice.
Japan is the third-largest economy in the world (in GDP) and one of the most innovative nations as well. Japanese is also the third most spoken language on the Internet, allowing for vital business communication right from your home, wherever in the world that may be!
Popular places to learn Japanese include: Japan
Inspiring Programs to Learn Japanese Abroad:
9. Learn Turkish
You wouldn’t normally find Turkish on a list like this. Despite being deemed a critical language by the US State Department and having 75 million native speakers—slightly more than Italian and slightly less than Korean—it has generally flown under the radar as a foreign language to learn, even though over 15 million people speak it as a second language.
Turkey has played an increasingly prominent role in international politics in recent years. It is also growing quickly in other avenues—Turkey is the world’s fastest-growing exporter of television series. Turkish dramas are popular all over the world!
Popular places to learn Turkish include: Turkey
Inspiring Programs to Learn Turkish Abroad:
10. Learn English
English is the most popular second language in the world, with 1.4 billion native and non-native speakers combined. One in five people globally speaks at least some English, so even if you travel to a country where you don’t speak the native language, you’ll likely be able to get by with just English.
With countless books, games, movies, and TV shows to help you practice, it’s easy to see why English is the most popular language to learn around the world.
Inspiring Programs to Learn Spanish Abroad:
Learn a New Language in 2021
At the end of the day, the best language to learn is the language that you are most interested in—that will keep you motivated to study and practice no matter what challenges you face along the way. So whether your dream is to close business deals in Mandarin or make friends with the locals in Egypt, know that your hard work will open up a world of opportunities for you. So why not learn a new language in 2021?