Which Second Language is the Best to Learn?

Joanna asks: I’m itching to learn a second question but have no idea where to start. I always thought it’d be great to hold a conversation in another language. But where to start? 

Good on you for deciding to learn a second language. With over 6,500 languages spoken in the world today, why limit yourself to the one you were raised speaking?

It can be incredibly difficult to choose just one of the 6,500 languages spoken. However in actuality about 2,000 of those languages have less than 1,000 speakers. So you’re really choosing between 4,500 languages.

I’m going to make your selection just a smidgen more complicated: there is no “best” second language to learn. There’s no study published saying Portuguese is the best second language to learn no questions asked.

The best second language to learn is a matter of personal preference. However there are some concrete ways to know which second language is best for you.

If you want an easy language to learn…

Afrikaans! Like English, Afrikaans is in the West Germanic language family. This means English and Afrikaans are sort of like cousins – if you know one, you don’t have to work so hard to know the other.

Unlike English, Afrikaans structure won’t make your head spin. The Telegraph says its logical and non-inflective structure. Unlike English, there is no verb conjugation -no swim, swam swum.

If you have tried learning French before, you have quite likely been frustrated by words having genders. With Afrikaans you won’t have this problem.

Perfect for: those people with no time who get easily frustrated and bored.

If you want to become more employable…

Mandarin! While a spread of languages can make you more employable in this globalised world, few people have time to learn more than one language.

So if you only have time to learn one, Mandarin Chinese is perfect. Other than English, Mandarin is the top language worldwide for businesses.

This is due to the number of speakers, number of countries where the language is official, along with those nations’ populations, financial power, educational and literacy rates, and related measures.

However be warned, as a second language for native English speakers, this language certainly isn’t easy. In almost every respects this language differs. So make sure you have plenty of time and motivation up your sleeve!

Perfect for: Those with business acumen and a high tolerance for headaches.

If you want to be challenged…

Korean! Alongside Korean, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese require on average take 2,200 hours to achieve reading and speaking proficiency. That’s right, even after all that time you won’t be fluent. That’s four times longer than learning the easiest languages.

The Business Insider claims Arabic’s lack of vowels makes reading difficult for an English-speaking native, while Japanese and Chinese require the memorization of over a thousand unique characters. Korean is difficult thanks to differing sentence and syntax structures.

Perfect for: anyone with a lot of tolerance who loves to impress people

If you want to be unique…

Elvish! For any Middle-Earth fans there are online tutorials to speak Elvish. But for those wanting a unique language spoken outside of film, try Javanese, Tamil or Western Punjabi.

Although these languages are unfamiliar to many native English speakers, they are surprisingly common. Between 63 million and 84 million people speak these languages.

Perfect for: Anyone looking for interesting dinner table conversations or icebreakers.

If you want to travel…

Then learn whatever language from the destination you are going to! Be aware though that many travel destinations (especially capitol cities) are English friendly. So it’s probably not a do or die situation.

However something that is a do or die situation is travel insurance. Check out this article for a headache-free guide to buying travel insurance.