Wouldn’t it be nice if you could turn on your universal translator (so often featured in sci-fi adventures) and be able to communicate with anyone in the world? Unfortunately, this technology is not yet available. In the real world, the only option to effective cross-cultural communication is learning to speak the language for ourselves.

Most people are aware of the advantages of foreign language study. An expanded awareness of the world around you, improved chances of attending the college of your choice, increased job opportunities and earning potential, and enlarged ministry opportunities—these are just a few of the reasons that you should study a foreign language, especially in high school.

But what foreign language is best for you? In the past, many students were limited to the choices available to them through local schools or tutors. However, with the increase in media-based language programs such as Rosetta Stone and others, the choices are far more wide-ranging. However, this advantage brings with it the dilemma of choosing among many great language options.

The decision of which foreign language to study is an important one and is often one of the first big academic decisions in which the student has some input. There are several factors you should consider when choosing a foreign language as a homeschooled student: learning options, difficulty level, personal preference, and future goals in life. We will look at each of these factors and then examine some of the most commonly studied foreign languages.

Factors to Consider

Learning options. While media-based programs offer expanded learning opportunities, you still need to consider your own learning style. Do you feel that you would learn better in a class where you would have the chance to create dialogue with live human beings? Are there classes available to you? Many communities have local tutors that cater to the needs of homeschooled students. If you study on your own, do you have foreign language speakers among your family or friends with whom you could practice your growing skills? What curriculum options are available to you for the language you wish to study? These factors may not totally determine the language you learn, but they are factors to consider.

Difficulty level. Some people seem to have a natural ear for languages. Some have more trouble with the sounds but are great at adapting to the new grammar and vocabulary. Others have difficulty with both areas. If English is your first language, certain languages will be easier to learn because they correlate more closely with our own grammar, characters, or vocabulary. If you do not pick up languages easily, you probably do not want to start with more difficult languages such as Hebrew or Mandarin Chinese, which rely on characters entirely different than our own.

The U.S. State Departmenthas come up with a way to measure the relative difficulty of an English-speaking individual learning foreign languages, based on the expected number of classroom hours they consider to be necessary to become fluent in that language. Even if you learn the language in a different way, this measure can still be used to help you judge difficulty.

Personal Preference. Generally, you will be studying a language for at least two years. To become fluent, you will have to immerse yourself in the language and begin to think in the language. You will also have to spend many hours listening to that language as it is spoken by others; therefore, it is helpful to choose a language that appeals to your ear. Linguistic preferences are as individual as are tastes in clothing, art, or music. Some prefer the smooth, lyric sound of French, whereas others prefer the more clipped, yet rich sounds of German or the trilled r’s and staccato sounds of Spanish. One way to determine your own linguistic preferences is to find sites on the Internet where you can hear these languages spoken. Language learning sites, such as Rosetta Stone, offer some sample languages, but you can also look for other Internet sources such as foreign radio clips or videos.