What is the best second language to learn? This is a great question. My personal approach would be to look for a language that fits into most of the following categories:
- A language that is easy to learn
- A language I would use
- A language I am motivated to learn
- A language that is popular and used by many
- A language with great learning resources available
While these are only a few of the criteria that might affect the language you choose, let’s take a moment to explore each of them in turn.
A Language Easy to Learn
In many cases, what language to learn first will be dependent on what language is easiest to learn. This will be different from person to person. I would suggest a language closely related to your language of origin. That is, look for a language that is categorized in the same language family as your native tongue or a closely related family. Take a look at this article previously posted on this site regarding language families.
A Language I Would Use
Again, your personal circumstances will help determine the best answer to this question.
- Does your neighbor or close friend speak another language?
- Are you planning a trip abroad?
- Do you wish to live abroad?
- Do you have a job opportunity that would take you to a different culture and location from time to time?
Your answer to these questions will help in making this determination.
For me personally, the second language I have chosen is Spanish because my husband and I have decided to move abroad in our retirement. We have selected a quiet, Mexican neighborhood with a mountain view in one direction and a lake view in the other. Our neighbors will be primarily Mexicans, although there are many ex-pats that have retired in the area. I am looking forward to what my future has in store in our new home. So, learning to speak Spanish has become a first priority for me because it is a language I will definitely use.
A Language I Am Motivated to Learn
The best recipe for success is to pick to learn a language that you will be motivated to learn. Without motivation, not a lot gets done in life. This is especially true for the “extra” things that take our time and often times money.
Again, my motivation to learn a second language is that we are soon moving to a Spanish speaking country, and I want to be prepared. Being ready to communicate with my new friends and neighbors is my motivation.
However, each of us have different motivations. I have heard that we get smarter by learning a second (or third, or multiple) language. I understand there are scientific explanations for this benefit. So perhaps your motivation is to get smarter. Or if you are motivated by money, maybe you have found that having learned how to speak Japanese, for example, has opened up the job market and thereby widened your horizons of employability.
A Language That is Popular
Maybe you want to be popular, have many friends, and be accepted by others. The best second language to learn for you may be one that everybody else is learning or maybe one that will help you be accepted into a new community. Most of the top 10 lists I’ve seen lately rank Mandarin as the #1 language to learn.
You might wonder why is that? Well, it is the official language of China and thought to be the most widely spoken language in the world. That would be pretty popular, I’d say. The demand for Mandarin speakers will only grow in the years to come as China is becoming a real world contender in commerce.
A short list of the most “popular” languages today would also include Arabic, Spanish and German, to name just three.
A Language with Great Learning Resources Available
In our day we are blessed with a great variety of language resources available. Of course, the quality is mixed, and different approaches may work better depending on your own learning style. We have reviewed many of them on this site and would be happy to help you find resources to meet your needs. To begin, I suggest you check out our reviews of some of the best of the best courses available!
Determining what is the best second language to learn will look different for everyone. The criteria I have discussed are only a few that might help you answer the question. My hope is that they will stimulate your thinking. The important thing is, don’t be stagnant, choose a language to learn and get started!
If you have comments or questions, please add them below, and we’ll be happy to respond.