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 Department has
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.
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
In the real world,
the only option to
learning to speak the
language for ourselves.
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.
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
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 a report by
Forbes magazine, the average premium
paid for bilingual Spanish-speakers is
Difficulty Level: Relatively easy
(roughly 600 hours)
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
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
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.