A Guide to Choosing the Right Foreign Language for You
- Friday, March 16, 2012
Also consider the culture where the language is common. Presumably, once you learn the language, you will want to communicate with other speakers of that language. So consider this: If you were able to go to any country on the planet and learn more about their culture, where would you want to go? This simple question may help you choose a foreign language to study.
Interests and Future Goals. Sometimes students and parents are so focused on ease of learning or cost of curriculum that they fail to consider one of the most important aspects of choosing a foreign language: the impact it will have on future careers or life goals. Though learning any foreign language will benefit you in terms of college admission and cultural expansion, certain languages are more valuable for specific goals. As we discuss some of the most commonly studied languages, be sure to note the interest category to see if that language would be a good fit for your future plans.
Spanish is easily the most popular foreign language choice for Americans, accounting for more than 52% of foreign language students, according to the Modern Language Association.1 For many, this is a very practical choice. More than 35 million residents of the United States speak Spanish,2 and it is now the second most commonly spoken language in the world.3 Over 34% of those who speak Spanish reside in the United States.4 For this reason, there is an increasing demand for employees who can speak Spanish as a second language. However, though fluency in Spanish may increase your chances of getting hired, it does not necessarily mean a notable increase in pay. According to report byForbes magazine, the average premium paid for bilingual Spanish-speakers is only 1.7%.5
Difficulty Level:Relatively easy (roughly 600 hours)6
Interests:Spanish or Hispanic culture; ministry opportunities; careers in customer service, medicine, or social work; education; working as a translator.
Although Latin ranks only eighth on the list of commonly studied languages in the U.S.,7 it ranks second among homeschoolers.8 Latin, though considered a “dead language” because it is no longer the native tongue of any culture, has exerted great influence on many modern languages today. Five “living languages” (known as Romance Languages) descend from Latin: French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. Knowledge of Latin can aid in learning these linguistic branches of the Latin family tree. Though not a Latin descendant, English owes more than 60% of its vocabulary to Latin. Long considered the language of scholarly pursuits, Latin forms the basis for many terms used in science, medicine, and legal matters.
Difficulty Level: Relatively easy
Interests:Scientific, medical, or legal careers; ancient history: classical literature; general improvement of vocabulary and test scores.
French, the language of romance and culture, is thought by many to be one of the most beautiful spoken languages. During much of English history, the knowledge of French was considered a requirement for genteel society; therefore, French phrases are scattered throughout many English works. French is second only to English as the most commonly studied language in the entire world and is considered one of the few truly global languages. As the language of diplomacy, it is required for the majority of international jobs. Along with English, French is the official working language of the United Nations, NATO, and the International Olympic Committee.9 Keep in mind that it is generally easier to learn to read French than to understand it, since the words tend to run together when spoken. However, the effort can pay off in the workplace: Speakers of French tend to earn a 2.7% wage premium.10
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