There’s no doubt that learning a second (or third!) language is beneficial. Bilingualism causes the brain to grow grey matter, improving memory, decision-making, and self-control. Beyond the physical benefits, bilingual travelers immerse themselves easier in countries where they speak the language. The benefits are undeniable, but how do you choose which language to study?
When picking a language, it’s important to look at your interests, travel, education, and career goals. However, if you’re still stuck, we’ve got a few ideas about the best languages to learn in 2024.
Read on to learn more about the best languages to learn in 2024!
Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world—spoken in some form by 1.3 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 challenging languages to learn, making it vital to choose a great program that allows lots of room for practice. The increasing importance of knowing Chinese in the business world makes learning the language well worth the effort.
Mandarin, a dialect of Chinese and the official state language of China, is the most common option for those studying Chinese. You can speak with millions worldwide by learning Mandarin, including those in China’s vast and growing economy. A basic understanding of Mandarin opens up many business and travel opportunities. While challenging, learning its thousands of unique characters will surely stimulate any mind!
Spanish almost always ranks high on these lists, and for excellent reasons. Counting 477 million native speakers and over 550 million speakers total, 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 troves of supplemental Spanish materials online, so finding practice material shouldn't be tricky, even if you’re not taking in-person classes. There are hundreds of Spanish-language shows on Netflix—like the fan-favorite show Money Heist—to help you practice your comprehension. Start with English subtitles and as your proficiency grows, try to watch without them.
Read more: The 7 Best Places to Learn Spanish Abroad
🕐 Approximate time to learn: 88 weeks (2200 class hours)
🗣️ Number of speakers: 80.7 million total speakers
📍 Popular places to learn Korean include: South Korea
Korean is the 18th most popular language globally, with over 75 million people speaking the language. As Korea continues to have a heavy political and cultural influence globally, the language will only grow in importance.
Korean is also much easier and more logical to learn than Chinese. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, only has 24 letters, each intentionally written to reflect how you would pronounce them. The logical approach to written Korean makes the language one of the easiest to learn to write.
Beyond the cultural importance of K-pop and other Korean entertainment, some of the largest companies in the world are based in South Korea. A basic understanding of the language will undoubtedly come in handy for those looking to improve their value in the workplace or potentially find a job overseas.
French is the world's second-most widely learned foreign language 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 likely be able to communicate well with locals.
With over 300 million French speakers globally, the language is taught in every country. French is also considered one of the more accessible languages to learn, and the massive presence of French content provides nearly unlimited access to practice material.
French is a Romance language, meaning it’s related to Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. If becoming a polyglot is your goal, learning French could also help make learning the others easier (or it could be easy to learn if you already speak one of those languages!).
Though it’s certainly not easy, English-speakers might find that German seems a little more familiar than other languages. This is because they are part of the same language family. It is spoken not only in Germany but also in Austria and Switzerland. German is an excellent choice for those who enjoy rigid grammar rules.
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 European Union, opening endless travel possibilities throughout the continent! German is also a useful language for business, as Germany boasts the 4th largest economy in the world (in GDP) 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.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Learning German Abroad
🕐 Approximate time to learn: 88 weeks (2200 class hours)
🗣️ Number of speakers: 125 million native speakers
📍 Popular places to learn Japanese include: Japan
Though Japanese is mainly spoken in just Japan, there are still plenty of reasons to learn the language. 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 most complex 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 (by GDP) and hosts some of the most innovative companies on the planet. Japanese is also the third most spoken language on the Internet, allowing for vital business communication right from home, wherever in the world that may be! With the recent move towards a more virtual business environment, learning one of the main languages of the Internet will set you apart in the near future.
Italian will feel most familiar for English speakers looking to expand their language skills. Sharing much of the same Latin origin, there is a lot of overlap between English and Italian words and sounds. Italian is also the fastest-growing language in high school and college enrollment in the US, surpassing Spanish and German. While enrollment in Italian courses is up, US households speaking the language have steadily fallen since 2000.
As one of the leading economies globally and home to the most cultural heritage sites in the world, Italy is a travel destination filled with both professional opportunities and culturally immersive experiences. Exposure to Italian will make for a more impactful and authentic experience while spending time in Italy.
With a whopping 200 million native speakers and nearly 270 million total speakers, Portuguese is the fifth most natively spoken language in the world. Its reach goes beyond Brazil and Portugal—Portuguese is spoken in a few African countries, like Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde. It is the official language of 10 countries spanning South America, Africa, and Europe.
But beyond the numbers, learning Portuguese is an excellent option for those who appreciate the arts. Numerous musical genres—bossa nova, samba, and funk carioca—find their origins in Brazil. Portuguese is the mother tongue of writers like Paolo Coelho and José Saramago.
Read more: The 6 Best Places to Learn Portuguese Abroad
Did you know Hindi is the third most spoken language in the world? If you're looking to work in international business or any industry really, learning Hindi can be beneficial for building your career and connecting with Hindi-speaking communities worldwide.
If you're already a fluent English speaker, learning Hindi could be easier than you think. Words such as "bungalow," "jungle," and "shampoo" are all borrowed from Hindi.
Arabic is a beautiful language that is generally 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 used in many governments, businesses, and journalistic practices globally.
If you have a particular Arabic-speaking country in mind, however, you could also learn the dialect 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. Due to its frequency in international affairs, knowledge of Arabic opens up lucrative positions in and outside government.
Read more: Where in the World to Learn Arabic Abroad
Learn a new language in 2024
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 2024?