A Guide to Choosing the Right Foreign Language for You
- Friday, March 16, 2012
Difficulty Level:Relatively easy (600 hours)11
Interests:Art, dance, or culinary arts; international business, politics, or diplomacy; English literature; films; music; acting as a translator.
German is the third most commonly studied language in the entire world, largely because Germany has the third strongest economy in the world and is the world’s #1 exporter. German is also the most widely spoken language in Europe.12 Many of the world’s greatest theologians and most influential thinkers came from Germany, so knowledge of the language can aid in studies of religion and philosophy. Because of Germany’s continuing contributions to science and technology, it is the second most commonly used language in those fields.13 In addition, German follows only English and Chinese in terms of books published in that language. In fact, 10 percent of the world’s books are published in German.14 English is a Germanic language, so German is fairly easy for Americans to pick up; however, its more complex grammatical structure means that it is a little harder to become adept at German than it is to master the Romance languages. On the other hand, German requires clear enunciation, so it is generally easier to understand spoken German than spoken French.15 As an added bonus, knowledge of German can boost your income 4% as opposed to the 1.7% premium that Spanish speakers earn.16
Difficulty Level:Moderately easy (750 hours17)
Interests: International business and banking; theology; psychology and philosophy; music history; publishing; world literature; science, engineering, and technology; working as a translator.
The fourth language most favored by American foreign language scholars is Italian. Italian is a beautiful language long associated with art and culture. Italian sounds lyrical when spoken, which may account for its wide use in operas and other forms of classical music. Italian, the most direct descendant of Latin, is one of the easiest languages to learn and speak; in addition, mastery of Italian makes it easier to learn other Romance languages. Though it is in less demand than Spanish, Italian language skills still generally earn a 4% premium in the workplace.18
Difficulty Level:Relatively easy (600 hours19)
Interests:Music; art, design, and architecture; fashion; missions; world literature; Italian food and culture; working as a translator.
American Sign Language
Many people overlook sign language when it comes to second language studies. In the past, American Sign Language (ASL) was not considered acceptable for fulfilling a foreign language requirement, in part because its very nature precludes it from having a body of literature. However, that perception is changing and now, many states and colleges accept work in ASL for academic credit.20 If the academic credit is important to you, be sure to check with your state or the colleges where you plan to apply to make sure that American Sign Language fulfills their requirements.
From a practical standpoint, knowledge of American Sign Language allows you to communicate with between 500,000 and 2,000,000 people in the U.S. alone who consider ASL their first language. In fact, ASL is the third most commonly used language in the U.S.21 ASL is also a three-dimensional language requiring body movements that translate into a graceful form of communication that can be used when silence is required. This physical aspect appeals to more active students. The rudiments of ASL are easy to pick up, but the language is far more complicated than it appears. True fluency requires extended study and practice. However, study of this language expands your opportunities to help others and to find employment in fields that require regular contact with the Deaf community.
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