With a new year comes new resolutions. For those motivated to learn a new language in 2019, it’s important to stay inspired.
The inspiring statement by the English writer, Geoffrey Willans conveys the idea that learning to speak a foreign language inescapably conveys deeper understanding of one’s native language.
“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.”
When it comes to learning new languages, the first is always the most difficult. This is because the new learner must not only learn the new language, but also the process of learning itself. Even if subsequent languages are technically more difficult to learn, the experienced learner has already acquired the tools necessary to approach the task.
In part 2 of this blog post, I am listing my selection of the top languages to learn in 2019. The listing is based on many sources including industry leading publications, forums and academia. We will also discuss in brief a detailed research undertaken by The United States Foreign Service Institute to ascertain which languages are easiest for English speakers to learn & which ones are the most difficult.
So, which are the top languages to learn in 2019?
The official language of China, Mandarin is already the most widely spoken language in the world. Per Wikipedia, 955 million people, 14.4% of the world’s population, claim it as their native tongue.
The demand for Mandarin speakers will only grow in the years to come, as China nudges the United States out of the top spot as the nation with the world’s largest GDP. According to Bloomberg, China’s GDP will overtake the U.S. level by 2029.
Mandarin is also the second most popular language online. And according to Statista, the leading statistics portal, while the US will probably remain the largest economy overall for a few years yet, by the end of 2018 China will be the largest digital economy in the world.
The British Council ranked Mandarin as one of the most important languages for the future of the UK.
If you’re learning a new language this year and you’re up for a challenge, Mandarin is definitely one of the top languages to learn.
German has between 89 to 110 million native speakers. That may seem like small change compared to most of the other languages on this list, but Germany is the largest economy in the European Union. As the British Council notes, it’s an incredibly important language for UK businesses. In fact, 45% of UK companies surveyed by the British Council rated German as “useful.”
Also, the German language is expected to benefit from Brexit alongside French. And Kiplinger notes that in 2014 there were 52,841 job postings for German speakers in Anglophone countries. Even better, these jobs tended to be well-paying.
If you’re still in school, the Goethe Institute notes that “Germany offers more scholarships for international students than any other country —and there are opportunities to study in English or German at both the bachelor’s and master’s level.”
So, learning German could boost your university career, especially if you’re interested in studying abroad.
French is spoken by about 74 million people in France and former French territories around the world. While it’s not as prevalent globally as it once was, there’s no question that France is and will remain an important trade partner globally & the French language skills are both necessary and important for businesses and it remains one of the top languages to learn.
In fact, according to the British Council, 49 percent of UK businesses are looking for employees who can speak French.
Post-Brexit, we can expect the European Union to begin using French more often, even if English remains an official EU language.
And the French-speaking world also includes Africa, which is growing rapidly and rich in natural resources. The top 5 fastest-growing African economies include Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Cote D’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. French is an official language in 3 of them.
Per the Government of Canada language requirements for skilled immigrants in the “Express Entry” category, you can now also earn up to 30 additional points for strong French language skills (even if French is your second language).
And, according to Forbes.com, there will be 750 million French speakers in the world by 2050. It might even overtake English and Mandarin!
Japanese boasts 125 million speakers located primarily in Japan, which happens to be the third largest economy in the world. The British Council calls Japan “a significant contributor to UK prosperity – both as an export market and as a major investor” and notes that Japan provides a wealth of opportunities, especially in terms science and technology.
According to Wikipedia, “Japan employs over a quarter of a million industrial robot workers. In the next 15 years, Japan estimates that number to jump to over one million and they expect revenue for robotics to be near $70 billion by 2025.” Robotics or anything else, revenue of that size might be something to consider being a part of.
Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world, and it’s an official language for many of the dynamic, growing economies in the Middle East and Africa. As TheRichest.com puts it “Because of the fast-growing market of eager consumers in the Middle East, businesses should consider making their products easily available to Arabic speakers, and enterprising businesspeople should consider taking a few lessons”
Arabic also made the British Council’s list of important languages for British language learners due to the potential economic and diplomatic benefits. Plus, according to the World Economic Forum, it’s the 5th most powerful language in the world.
Whether your desired career path is public sector or private sector, the Arabic-speaking world’s growing economic clout and complicated relationship with the west ensures bright job prospects for those who can speak this challenging language.
Why would Russian be one of the top languages to learn in 2019? First off, with 155 million native speakers it’s the eighth most common language in the world. Plus, its already formidable economy is on track to beat Germany’s by 2030.
As TheRichest.com puts it “Russia is full of very wealthy people hungry for new arenas in which to do business. There are some great opportunities available for companies looking to expand to this affluent part of the world, but many Russian businesspeople do not speak good English. Because they don’t know much English, most may only do business with others who are Russian-speaking.”
The British Council notes that Russia contains extensive potential opportunities for British organisations in areas like trade, diplomacy, and education, but called the business climate there “difficult.” Being able to speak the language is a tremendous advantage!
With 405 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language after Mandarin. Learning Spanish opens doors in Spain, Latin America and even the United States. According to the British Council, 34% of UK businesses said that Spanish was “useful to their organisation.” Spanish is a language of high growth markets like Argentina, Chile, Colombia and other developing countries in Central and South America. And it’s now the 3rd most common language on the Internet.
And because Spanish is so popular as a second language, it’s a great language to learn if you want to be able to speak to as many people as possible around the world.
Portuguese is spoken by around 215 million people in Portugal (naturally), Brazil and some parts of Africa. For businesses, Brazil is the main attraction.
But is Portuguese still one of the top languages to learn? Despite a deep recession, Brazil is still a big country and a big market. For now, at least, it’s the largest economy in Latin America, and there are some indications that recovery has begun.
The British Council listed it as the 8th most important languages for the UK’s future, citing potential opportunities in trade, science, education, and diplomacy. Although it declined in importance when the report was updated for 2017, it’s still in the top ten.
Most Brazilians speak English poorly or not at all, so if you want to do business there, you’ll need to speak the language or have an excellent Portuguese translation team.
Now, as promised, let’s take a look at contenders for the easiest language to master… and the hardest!
The easiest languages to learn
The ability to rapidly learn a foreign language depends on a range of factors. The individual’s starting point is important, as is how similar the language being learned is to that individual’s native language (and any other languages that he/she might speak). Also relevant is the complexity of the language itself, from its grammar to its linguistic concepts.
The United States Foreign Service Institute has undertaken detailed research in order to ascertain which languages are easiest for English speakers to learn. Their findings rank foreign languages by the number of classroom hours that it takes English speaking students to become proficient in them.
The findings were grouped into five categories. The languages ranked in the easiest to learn category were rated as requiring 600-750 hours of study for learners to achieve sufficient competence to be posted overseas. Those ‘easy’ languages included Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. A learner would need to engage in 24-30 weeks of fulltime classroom study in order to become proficient.
And… the hardest languages to learn
The same methodology was applied to a wide range of other languages, with the result that the hardest to learn (from a starting point of being an English speaker), were found to require some 2,200 hours of study to achieve a comparable level of proficiency. That equates to 88 weeks of full-time classroom learning.
According to the research, the hardest group of languages to learn included Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. That means that the average learner would take four times as long to learn Mandarin as they would to learn Spanish.
So now you have it! What languages would you like to pick up in 2019? Leave us a comment… we at BlueSky would love to hear from you.