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Choosing Which Language to Learn Online

Sep 5, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Many people in the US only speak English. Which in many cases is all you need—if you only travel to places where other people speak English well, and if you don’t work in an area where knowing a second language could be useful. However, speaking more than one language means that the world is a bigger place for you—you can travel to more places and get to know more people than you would with only a knowledge of English. And knowing a second language opens up valuable career opportunities. If you’re considering learning a new language, here are a few of the most useful.


Spanish is the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world—with 400 million speakers worldwide. It’s the second most common language in the US, with approximately 28 million speakers. For this reason alone, it’s an extremely useful language to know. Spanish will not only help you navigate in Central and South America; it will help you communicate with your neighbors. In addition, being fluent in Spanish gives you special insight into Romance languages such as Italian and
Portuguese—broadening the area of the world where you’ll be
able to make yourself understood.

See Also: Online Foreign Language Degrees

Veni, Vedi, Vici

Learning a language opens up new cultures and even continents to you—and can lead to valuable career opportunities.




Mandarin or Cantonese

If you’re reading about which languages will be useful in the future, a lot of sources will point you toward “Chinese.” Which is a fallacy, because there are many different Chinese languages. Two of the most important are Mandarin and Cantonese. If you wish to tackle a Chinese language, one of these two will probably be the most useful.

Which one, of course, depends on where you’ll be in China and what you’ll want to do. Approximately 1 billion people worldwide speak Mandarin—easily surpassing English as one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. And it’s probably the most useful if you’re traveling in mainland China. If you’re doing business in Hong Kong or traveling anywhere in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, Hainan Island, Macau, Singapore, or Malaysia, however, Cantonese might be more practical.

However, it’s generally recognized to be easier to learn Mandarin. There are fewer learning materials and programs out there that teach Cantonese. And Mandarin is rapidly becoming the language of choice in China, with Cantonese speakers frequently learning it to find work in the Mainland area. While Cantonese may be a better choice for some, Mandarin is probably the more practical language for most.


There are few Westerners who speak fluent Arabic—including only 1% of the 12,000 FBI agents in the United States who have any basic knowledge of the language at all. This is a problem, because the Middle East is a highly important region in international affairs. In the West, there is a huge need for people who understand Arabic language and culture—and Westerners who speak it fluently will find opportunities in a wide variety of fields, including education, journalism, business, finance, translation, consulting, foreign service, and others.


French is spoken by approximately 68 million people worldwide—and it’s the official language of 27 different countries. Speakers of French can navigate not just in France, but in French Canada, French Guyana, the Ivory Coast, Haiti, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, just to name a few. In addition, the French language has a rich literary tradition—and reading French authors such as Moliere, Flaubert, Sartre, Balzac, Camus, Proust, Voltaire, and Baudelaire in the original language is something few Americans have the chance to do. Speaking French isn’t just useful—it makes you look sophisticated.


With over 120 million speakers, German is one of the most widely-spoken languages in Europe—and it’s one of the major languages for doing business in the region. Germany has the third largest financial system in the world, second only to the United States and China—and is probably the strongest country in the European Union in terms of financial stability. Knowing German may be a good move from a business standpoint, especially if you are in finance and your company does business with German firms.


Japanese has approximately 125 million speakers—and Japan is a major world economy, the second largest in the world in terms of GDP. Learning Japanese is particularly useful if you want to travel to Japan. This is because while many Japanese learn English in school, it’s not widely used in the country afterward—so you will have a much easier time getting around if you know at least a little Japanese.

Learning a language opens up new cultures and even continents to you—and can lead to valuable career opportunities. Which language is right for you depends on where you may be working and what types of opportunities you’re looking for. Spanish is extremely useful, particularly in the US and in Central and South American countries, as well as in Europe. There’s a huge demand for Arabic-speakers in the West, and German, Japanese, Mandarin, and French all bring their own utility and opportunities. No matter what language you learn, chances are it will make the world a bigger and more interesting place for you.



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