Considering Learning a Foreign Language? Here's How to Pick the Best One for You

I’ve been in this exact same spot multiple times. I grew up speaking both English and Mandarin but have wanted to add another European language to my arsenal for a while now. I dabbled in Spanish and French (and just a bit of Latin) and seriously considered Italian. I fell in love with Poland last summer while in Krakow and Warsaw and actually thought about majoring in Eastern European Languages here at UW. But I’m also fascinated with Russian history and culture and have always wanted to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg. Who knows, I might eventually get to learning all of the above, but if you’re finding yourself in the same boat and wondering where in the world to start, I’ve got some advice for you. 


Consider a language that brings you back to your roots

Perhaps your parents are Vietnamese, and you have always wanted to visit Southeast Asia. Or maybe you are fascinated by your grandmother’s Romanian heritage and feel that learning the language will allow you to get to know her even more. Whatever the case may be, learning a language that connects you to your past and family history can be very fulfilling, not to mention open doors to a whole new culture and whole new part about yourself. 


Or a language that will allow you to dive deeper into your interests 

Love K-pop but don’t understand a word of your favorite song? Learn Korean. Enjoy watching anime and Studio Ghibli films or have always dreamed of a city break in Tokyo? Japanese could be a good choice. Love Italian opera, Bellinis, and can’t wait to study abroad in Rome? Learn some basic Italian while planning your dream itinerary. Of course, these languages and cultures have so much more to offer than what I just mentioned, but if you find that your interests align with a particular language, it makes sense to pursue it since the interest and motivation is already there! 


Don’t rule out “dead” languages 

Latin, Biblical Hebrew, and Sanskrit (to name a few) might be considered “dead”, but studying them would make you feel anything but! These languages not only have so much historical significance and influence but also have so much to offer, even to this day. I mean, half of the words in English have Latin roots or components, after all. Latin could be especially useful if you plan to go into law or science, since it provides the root words in modern science and comprises a number of different terminologies in the field of law. On top of that, it provides a good foundation for any other Romance languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Portugese. Learning Biblical Hebrew or Sanskrit can aid tremendously in religious, historical, and linguistic studies, because you will be able to read texts in their original form instead of translations! 


Interested in something different, but just as meaningful? Try out ASL

Did you know that ASL is the fourth most-used language in the United States?

An understanding ASL will allow you to further understand the deaf community and their families. Aside from being very rewarding, ASL may prove to be useful in your future career. Sign language interpreters, special needs teachers, and EMTs, and speech-language pathologists are just a few of the many professionals that can benefit from being fluent in ASL. Last but not least, some fun reasons to learn would be the ability to communicate in silence and the ability to communicate underwater. 


Some languages could be more fitting for your future career 

If you dream of joining the Peace Corps after college and working in Latin America, speaking some Spanish wouldn’t hurt. If you love fashion and dream of being the next Coco Chanel, French is always a good bet. Aside from France, French is also spoken in other European countries, many parts of Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, and French Polynesia. Another good reason to learn French? It just seems to make you that much more cultured. Want to work in the government and fulfill your childhood dreams as a secret agent? Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Persian are all in demand, according to the State Department. 


But you can’t really go wrong with any choice

The bottom line is, you can’t really go wrong with any foregin language. Whether you are already bilingual (or trilingual or even quadrilingual) or just now ready to take the plunge into becoming a polyglot, learning a foreign language will surely open some incredible doors. If you are interested in picking up another language, there are an abundance of resources online to get you started. Duolingo, Babbel, Coursera, and Rosetta Stone are just a few of the many popular online learning platforms just pick a language and go for it. Happy learning!