At first glance you’d think I’m the worst person to write this article. Yes, I have a relative grasp on 4 languages besides English. However, two of them (Latin and Ancient Greek) are dead and the third (Lakota) is dying. Nevertheless, I LOVE learning a new language. There are nuances in cultures that can only be properly understood by grappling with the local tongue. Once you’re convinced of that, the question becomes: Which language to pick up? And why? So here’s a little guide to help, sorted roughly by the most important languages to learn (besides English). Here you go:

More than 400 million people speak Spanish today, making it the second most spoken language in the world (English is third). Thankfully, Spanish is the easiest language for English speakers to learn for a number of reasons. Most notably, it has a fairly limited vocabulary, and as a continentally-locked American, there are tons of places in almost every city where you can immerse yourself among Spanish-speakers. Spanish is a valuable asset for entry-level jobs and higher up business positions since a significant number of emerging markets are located in Spanish-speaking South America.

Over a billion people speak Mandarin. As the official language of China, Mandarin is the #1 most-spoken language in the world—the king among China’s other 300 spoken languages. But here’s the thing; Mandarin is very difficult to learn, especially if this is your first time attempting to master a foreign language. It’s tonal, meaning the same word spoken at different pitches actually means different things. That said, there’s a reason international companies are keen to find western Mandarin-speakers; China is the world’s economic powerhouse and is on track to be #1 by 2020. If you’re considering an international career in finance or business and are willing to commit to the steep learning curve, I highly recommend checking this one out.

Didn’t think this was showing up at #3 did you? Not only is Germany slowly filling the void left by America on the world stage but Germany is an economic powerhouse in its own right, in the top ten for imports/exports with both the UK and the US. Also, in an odd statistic from The Economist, people who speak German tend to receive higher annual wage bonuses compared with French and Spanish speakers. German is the official language of Austria and Switzerland and isn’t too far off the language tree from English. Plus, if you learn German, you’ll have the joy of being able to sit through all fifteen hours of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in the original language.

Ah the language of loooooove. Few languages (excepting maybe Italian) have the staying power to impress a potential lover the way that French does. With a long history of great writers such as Camus, Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas, Merton, and Proust, there’s a lot to love with French. The French language is pretty well spread out, geographically-speaking. Not only will speaking French get you through large swaths of Europe (obviously), but it’ll also carry you through Canada, some of the world’s top academic institutions, and huge swaths of Africa. It’s one of the official languages of 29 countries, not to mention NATO, the Olympics, the UN, and the Red Cross. Additionally, many French speakers prefer to do business only with other French speakers so there’s a good chance you could employ it skillfully in the workplace as well.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of understanding the Middle East in the post 9/11 world. And one of the keys there is through the Arabic language. There has always been a great demand for Arabic translators and currently there is very little supply. Arabic is a beautiful language stemming back to the Iron Age that has influenced the development of over 15 other major languages. For hundreds of years, Arabic was the main vehicle for humanity’s understanding of math, science, and philosophy, not to mention that the Muslim faith teaches that the Koran can only be truly read in its original Arabic. Arabic is also known for the richness of its dialects, one of the contributing factors that make it one of most difficult languages to learn according to the US State Department. Still, roughly 290 million people speak Arabic and it’s also the official language of 26 countries, meaning its importance will only continue to grow as the Middle East’s economy continues to rapidly expand.

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