This post sets out to answer the question, what is the best language to learn? It will answer it clearly and objectively and I hope to open your mind when it comes to language learning.
Polish is the best language in the world to learn. I write this seriously as a professional linguist.
CW and the best language to learn
English is both a European language and a universal language.
Conventional wisdom programs most American to think you should learn Spanish for example. In Europe the mantra might be to study the German or French language.
Wrong. The best language to learn is not German or French or Spanish etc. Ignore conventional wisdom and the herd mentality.
Best language to learn
The best language to learn is not the answer you might think. Lets say you are a native English speaker, therefore, lets rule out English. If you are not a native speaker of English, of course the answer is English, do not waste your time learning French for example. Great language mind you but not the best language to learn. To learn German or French it is only useful if you are really into those cultures.
The best language to learn if you live in Europe:
- The Polish language – You can not even compare languages for both usefulness and uniqueness.
- Chinese (no explanation necessary, but in 100 years or so everyone will look like future people from south park.)
The best language to learn if you live in the USA:
- Your ethnic roots, Polish or Italian or Greek, for example.
This goes against conventional wisdom but is very important to understand my rational.
Why is Polish the best language to learn
Why do I recommend Polish as the most useful language? The whole world speaks English. This is the universal language for business. I have traveled the world to pretty remote place and never had a problem with English. Thank you MTV and Hollywood.
Therefore, why learn another universal European language like French or German or even Spanish, if it does not get you anywhere that English can not already do.
People that speak English as a native language and Polish as a second earn 38% more in the UK than those in IT and finance than those who know English alone. This is according to a EU based think tank. The reason are obvious, with the millions of Poles working in the UK there is a great demand on all level for this language.
Further, KPMG has asserted that Poland is one of the best places to develop and invest a business.
John Markman and Jim Jubak from MSN money, two top US investment managers as well as Templeton”s Mark Mobius recommends to explore emerging markets as this is where the real opportunities are in the future.
Go to Egypt or Greece for vacation, everyone is learning Polish or Russian as a foreign language, not Spanish for example. Go to the Austrian Alps skiing and signs are in Polish in the hotels. Forget Croatia in the summer it is a Polish tourist colony.
For there being so few Polish people they have had such a huge impact on history from the beginning in 966 to bringing down communism to disproportional number of Nobel prize winners. There is not way this nation is not the future. It is a great language to learn if you can get past the crazy grammar.
You say well I will double the number of people I can speak to if I learn Spanish. In my mind it serves no point unless you are passionate about this language. Why? I have traveled through South America and the Caribbeans and never had a problem with English. I am also from the US where large parts of the population is Spanish.
But I have never used Spanish. I study Spanish now because I like it, but not because it is useful. In fact, I have a Spanish website and really love this language, but it is not my first choice or the best choice if you were going to learn one more language. But to compare it is one of the easiest languages to learn.
Do not learn Spanish because you think it is some golden ticket, it is not.
Here is my rational, Polish is the top language because with Polish you will be an amazingly different. No other language can compare.
Polish is a unique language. It also the hardest language to learn. However, it will make you unique as is Ukrainian, Norwegian or even Romanian. It is also very useful as Polish people are everywhere, especially the UK, Brazil (1 million) Australia, US Poles are pretty much everywhere.
Polish people love to explore the world, not only for work, but like Wojciech Cejrowski, they are passionate all things cultural. I have been in the most remote places and met Polish speaking people, from South American jungles to Mississippi (now that is really remote).
Many businesses are outsourcing to Poland. Investment opportunities are in the new and emerging markets. Poland will be a net recipient of globalization for at least the next 15 years.
Poles are progressive. Do you think you can study French for a few years and be accepted by the French? No way. But Poland is a very progressive country and if you learn Polish, Poles will be more open then the French.
The best combination of languages to learn is – one universal language and one unique language
How do I know this and can go against conventional wisdom with confidence? I am an American and have been teaching languages in Europe for many years. My friends that have studied English and French or English and German get yawns from people on their CV when looking for a job or new opportunity. This combination of languages is nothing special. It is a generalist. However, my friends that know English and Polish or English and Norwegian, have doors open to them. They are experts and specialists.
One universal language like English and one unique language like Polish makes you stand out and shine if you are an English native speaker.
Language learning and relationships
Lets be honest and cut through the BS, countries like Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Romania and Iceland have the most beautiful women. If you were to learn one of these languages things might happen in terms of relationships.
If you are back in the USA checking your match.com account when you get home from the office hoping something will happen, guess again. If you are living in some exotic European country and speak their language, you might be surprised.
Best language to learn if you are a guy -A lot of my friends have made this comment: ‘there is no way I would marry a French or German or American woman’ . However, Polish women are the most beautiful women in the world. Hmm, I am living in Poland and I do not know if I want the rest of the world finding out about Polish women and then moving here, but it is true.
Disclaimer, I am also Polish in ancestry of course so perhaps I am partial.
Best language to learn if you are a girl – If you are a women, many women like Italian or Spanish guys, so these languages you might find more exciting.
I met an American girl in South America. She said she was 35 not married, a lawyer living in NYC. She said scr_w it and moved to South America, learned Spanish and got married. I do not know if she is still with this Latin musician but at least she had guts and dared to be different.
Should with languages is boring
My point is do not study a language that is common or you think you should. Have you ever noticed the word should sounds like the word S_ _ t. Never base your life on shoulds, especially other people’s conceptions. That is, do not listen to conventional wisdom as to what language you should speak.
Learn the language you have a connection to (ancestral), that is interesting for you. I think the less spoken languages will make you more unique and more interesting as a person, as a human. This is why I recommend you ignore conventional wisdom about the best language to learn in the world and consider what am conveying.
Best language to learn – I need your feedback
What languages have you studied and how has it affected your life? That is, what experience has this language brought you. Do you agree with my thesis that Polish (or some linguistically equivalent language) is the best language in the world to learn?
104 thoughts on “Best language to learn”
Great article. Greatings from Poland! 😉
Świetny artykuł. Pozdrowienia z Polski 😉
Thanks, When it comes to languages and people have to really think and just not repeat what other people say or think. If you really think about it one universal and one unique language is the best strategy for learning a language. Polish is the best language to learn because this is where all the actively is happening, its the new Europe.
The best language in the world (;
I find the idea that the best combination is one universal and one unique extremely compelling.
But why Polish? I have another idea: learn Norwegian.
As you said, Norwegian works wonders, and it is really easy to learn (source: pagef30.com/2008/08/why-norwegian-is-easiest-language-for.html or I made an introductory course here: ikindalikelanguages.com/courses/IntroductionToNorwegian/). That’s a lot more easy and looks good on your CV. While Polish is not the hardest language in the world (I don’t believe it is very hard at all), it is certainly harder than the Scandinavian languages.
Also, if you do lean towards those Slavic languages, why not learn Russian? Russian is a lot more exotic, used just as widely and it is similar in difficulty to Polish (except the alphabet but there are just 30 something letters). Also it could serve you in the whole Asia. And Russian girls are just as good as Polish.
Chinese and Hindu count too. Swahili is also catching on. I guess you would have to look at the cultures of those languages first as well.
Anyway, the main suggestions I have put up in this post: Norwegian, Russian.
You have a nice will language site but Polish is the best language to learn. Poland has the critical mass of people, 38 million in Poland and 12 million aboard. Which makes it unique but enough people to be important. Further, if you know Polish you can understand Czech, Slovak and a few more languages as the Slavic languages are the most closely related of all the European languages.
Poland is like the new frontier, a lot of action, business and cultural energy developing. Poland was always a great culture, just communism and the war, held it back economically. Now it is taking off again.
Polish people have a lot of mental energy.
Many people say the Chinese are smart, maybe it is just there are so many Chinese and you notice the smart once. But also because there are 1 billion 300 million of them.
Poland has always been a major player in Europe, even though there are not many Poles. Can you imagine if there were 1.3 billion Poles in the world? All that mental energy the Poles have.
It would be a very interesting and crazy place. Poland has such an interesting history and culture for so few people.
I think the future of Europe is in the center and east not the west. Poland is where the action is. Those are some more reason Poland is the best language to learn.
I know many people do not see this but in 2008 and 2009 and now it looks maybe for 2010 Poland is the fastest growing (really the only growing economy) in North America and Europe. It was the only country which had positive growth. This is the way the world works. What was good the center of action 10 years ago is not the center today. The people who are in the know are ahead of the trend not lagging behind. This is another reason I would choose Polish and my unique language to learn.
Latin was the best language to learn 1500 years ago, but is it today? French was the best language to learn 300 years ago but is it today? What is the best language to learn depends on when.
Funny! But a really interesting point of view! Pozdrawiam!
It is funny, but do you want to know the strangest thing about it, it is true. The best language to learn to compliment English is a unique language. The best unique language in the world is Polish, because there are so many Poles around the world working and traveling and back home in Poland things are changing so fast that most Poles do not see how in five years Poland is a new hub for investment. That is why I nominate Polish as the best language to learn. And even if I am wrong, which I am not, Polish literature is beautiful.
Very interesting 🙂 i think if You found some other polish speaking person somewhere there he/she will appreciate that You know his language and really enjoy to speak with You, and of course help You if You need it.
Święta prawda człowieku – The whole world speaks intermediate English. When I meet someone that speaks English it does not do anything for me. I am an American and I have meet intermediate English speakers and Spanish speakers my whole life. Yawn (ziewać).
However, if I meet someone who speaks Polish or something unusual, then that is interesting. Even if I am Boston interviewing people for a job in my department, it gets my attention.
That’s precisely why I’m making a website for learners of Polish 😀 Nice article, thanks!
I think you’re just being ethnocentric. I would still go for Spanish and German…In Asia, Polish is alien.
But in Asia English is spoken. Therefore, German or Spanish does not get you anywhere. But if you spoke Polish you would be a specialist. And on my blog everyday I get people from Asia interested in the Polish language for one reason or another. See it is not just the number of people or how widely spoken a language is that makes it the best language to learn. GM is one of the most widely traded stock or was, but is it good? While many small companies have real value. So it is with languages.
Thank you for this nice post:) I am glad to read it (I am Polish). Yes, my fellow countrymen are everywhere (this is partly a result of our tragic history).
As for Polish women, I think Napoleon would agree with you 😉 :
Polish women are the best.
This is true.
And I agree unique languages are valued.
Thanks for a most interesting blog. I am in agreement with you about the benefits of being bilingual. Those who are bilingual are in a more advanced space intellectually, in that they are able to relate two cultures and languages to one another, and view culture and human interactions from more than one perspective. Bilinguals are also by far more interesting, original, and creative people. They are able to combine elements from two cultures and develop a unique personal interpretation and outlook on life that is not limited to just one point of reference.
As for the best language to learn, I would say it is a personal question, but agree with your statement that it is better to learn a less-frequently spoken language. Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, etc. are all good choices. Learning a minor language gives you great repport with those who speak that language natively. It is an immediate to uniqueness of perspective. Further, if you are a native English speaker, then you can almost guarantee that can find immediate job opportunities in that country (should you need them) since bilingual speakers of that minor language and English will be in demand.
Pozdrowienia z Polski 😉
How many languages are enought to learn?
I’m thai. I’m studying English and I think I’m going to study French. Is it good? or Is it too much to study?
If you’re Thai, better to learn Mandarin (rising China) or Malay (Malaysia to the south). If want an international European language consider German over French (German economy doing better.)
On English-speakers learning Polish, well maybe for some. If have interest in Asia generally, better to do Mandarin or Japanese or Malay / Indonesian. The latter is the easiest. If only have an interest in Europe, really depends which part of Europe or cities in Europe you are interested in, and then the language follows.
I’m Asian. . .and im taking Spanish course now. Honestly Im interest in learning many foreign languages, and I think I start love Polish too. But how do I find Polish course? I mean there’s no Polish course in my country. . .
I will come out with Polish courses. One will be flashcards, another will be an mp3 program another a mobile phone course and another software. But until then I have a free Polish course online at polishgrammar.com
The Polish language is great but definitely not the hardest language to learn. The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages. For native speakers of English it takes approximately 1100 hours to learn Polish (as much as for Icelandic, Russian, Finnish, Georgian or Hindi). For Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean it takes 2200 hours. For closely related languages like Dutch, German, French and Italian a English speaker needs about 500-600 hours.
Good for them. I am glad you brought that up (it has been brought up here many times). I have seen this report and the person writing it has never learned these languages. They are just some bureaucrat using recycled information on a theoretical level. Not someone in the trenches learning a languages everyday. I do.
Further, when you say lean a language they are talking about learning the complete writing system, which is another story. Language was only verbal for 50,000 years and only in the last 100 years has it become written. So what is their definition of learning a languages. I think 99.9% of a language is spoken. How often do you talk each day compared to write? Did people 100 years about not know a language because it was the time before mass education? I have gone into an African market and people can speak four languages no problem, but if they do not know the writing grammatical system the bureaucrat would say aha. Try a stream of Polish pronunciation compared to an Asian language written written in western characters.
I am learning Chinese as is my daughter and wife and I can tell you it is a lot easier than Polish, which I had to learn.
I totally agree with you.
Years ago, when working in US Corporation in Poland, I had a US born co-worker who spoke decent Polish. We, native Poles were very excited to be able to easily understand his Polish and we were impressed with his grammar. Imagine our shock when the gay eventually told us he was trained in Monterey, California at what’s today called “Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLI-FLC)”. He studied Polish language for 3 years night and days (we can just imagine, what the US government was trying to achieve), Anyway, his language was very good, but nowhere closes to native. So I really predict that stated 1,100 hours of studying Polish would give you basic, not very correct or sophisticated knowledge of Polish.
What is your opinion on learning Swedish then? There is no way I’m learning Polish so I have been thinking about learning Swedish, or Norwegian. Are there other languages like of a different language family that are still nearly as valuable?
I think learn the language you are really into. If you are into it you will learn it. I am horrible with languages but I learned Polish as I was into it. So choose a language where the culture and people and even the girls are most interesting for you. 🙂
Hi Mark, I was wondering which language should i choose. At this point I speak polish, english and danish. I’m considering french, dutch, russian or arabic. Could you help me in choosing one of them? I don’t know yet, what I wanna do in the future, but as my mom used to say ‘languages are the key to everything’. What do you recommend? regards, K.
Wow you speak a lot of languages. It depends on what culture you are interested in the most. Dutch is close to English and Danish and Russian close to Polish so maybe you want to try something different. French is always cool and romantic as a girl, however, I would do something like Chinese. It is so different and so useful and interesting. It is a non European language so it would open your life up. I am giving my daughter some Chinese lessons. The spoken language is not ly the written. But Arabic is cool also.
HI, I speak English, Arabic and French and I am seeking to learn a fourth language, preferably a Europian language. I wanted to ask if it is best to learn an eastern language (Russian,Polish,..) than a western one ( Italien, Portegese,..)?
Polish unique? It is so tied with the rest of those Northern European languages so what is so unique aboutit?
Unique for me means anything that is almost always not considered and yet it’s there. People just don’t know about it that’s why it’s unique.
So there’s only one language that meets the crietria of not being considered. . . not in a million years and yet it’s a beautiful language with a flavor that is both crude and elegant and precise but full of innuendos you can shake a wink at:
IT IS TAGALOG!!!
Hi there! I’m Spanish and I can speak good English and French. So now I would like to learn a different language, just for hobby. I got interested in Polish just because I read some poems of Wislawa Szymborska (Polish Nobel Prize of literature in 1994) and I loved them.
Well… I don’t know exactly where to start, so please could you give me some advice?
¡Muchas gracias a todos por su atención!
Well… excuse me for the little mistake I made. Wislawa Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996, not in 1994.
English, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, but not Polish ( excuse me 🙁 ). Your arguments are not enough to begin to study Polish.
Thanks for your advice Natalie. The point is that I started studying French because I liked French literature, and now, some years later, I’m reading “Les miserables” sans problème.
Of course, French is a romanic language, and it’s easier than slavic laguages, but I don’t consider it as a great trouble (excuse me if I’m wrong…)
So thanks again 🙂
i think everyone should learn irish. simply the best. nóinín i measc na neantóg.
Now THATS unique.:)
So as of lately I have been researching what would be the best/most useful language to learn for travel and for bettering my chances for graduate school and although your article sounds pretty convincing I havnt found much else on the web pointing me towards polish. So i was wondering if you could site any other references that would better convince me to do so.
When you are talking math or physics you can look for data. However, when you are in the realm of subjective humanities, logical arguments are the best. languages are in the latter.
I think the best language to learn is like I wrote. If you know a major language or two learn a minor one that is less spoken but were this is a lot of energy and growth of interest. The best languages to lean do not have to be the ones I listed but the same idea.
Sorry but your thesis is biased and irrelevant!
There is no such thing as “a most difficult language to learn” It depends on your mother tongue (and motivation!)
Someone from Korea will find Japanese easy but Spanish very difficult etc
If you want to learn a slavic language Russian is a better choice (once you know Russian you can understand and learn any slavic language)
Polish will mostly open doors if you want to work… in Poland. And as you mentioned it everybody speaks English now so you can even work in Poland if you’re a native English speaker.
If you already speak English French will be a LOT more usefull since it is widely spoken (and required) in Europe but also in Africa, Canada, Louisiana, Asia etc.
As for the culture, history and litterature it is far richer that Polish!
And the girls are very pretty too maybe that’s why I married one 🙂
I find their accent friendshipy. I can’t resist when they speak French and I’m not the only one since many people consider it as the most beautiful language/the language of love. On the contrary I don’t find it friendshipy when a girl speak Polish.
I am an American and I’ve studied Japanese and Swedish. I think they are 2 of the best languages to learn because the cultures are so different and fascinating. I think that they both give me a unique outlook and I could picture myself living comfortably in either country as the standard of living is similar to that of the US. Also, I know people who speak Japanese & English or Swedish & English, but find that the combination of all 3 is a bit rare.
I can see why Polish would be a good language to learn because it IS unique… but there are other unique languages. However, it is true that Poland is an emerging market, so while I never would have come up with Polish as being the best language to learn, I see your point. I actually am Polish – but born abroad and raised practically all my life in states, so I consider English my native language and Polish my almost native language. I guess I’m set by your standards! My dad always told me China would be the next super power and I never wanted to believe him (who wants to learn all those characters?) but I guess I better start learning Chinese now.
I was in Poland about years ago, and not just for a vacation, and I must say I really saw A LOT of growth and a LOT of potential, business wise. it makes sense – there really wasn’t anything there before, so now Poland’s almost an empty slate to start a business! I agree that the future looks promising.
Poland is great. I am from the USA but live in Krakow. Basically in Krakow, I get a higher culture, better food it is interesting to live in the center of Europe and all for 1/2 the price of the USA.
I belive that polish is not the best language to learn, because you not even have 1 in a million chances to use it or practice. But I do belive chinese and arabe are the most complicated.
I too like Poland and its language, but the academic research shows German is the most useful language for British people to learn and high on the list for Americans. That’s counting the twenty or so most important factors. The ‘figures’ are only based on native speakers, which doesn’t show how useful that language is for you, or even most people. Putongua/Mandarin is first, but it’s base is ‘specific’ not general, despite these huge numbers. Same with Spanish. English is the most general language, used for second language and business by millions who aren’t counted in that figure. French and German too, rise up sharply in the usefulness stakes when you go beyond just native speakers, while Chinese etc. go down.
German is especially high. also in US. for ‘How will it help my career”.
Yes German is a good language, but it is in the same linguistic group as English and therefore, Germans speak it pretty well in my experience. So although the raw numbers show many German speakers, when your talking usefulness, I think a less spoken language is better to learn. Besides Germany is a mature economy and I think better is to learn a language from a growing or developing nation. However, it is a nice language.
I don’t like the Polish language. When a person speaks in polish, its all ‘ch’… I find English,Spanish and French more beautiful. I think that Hungarian is the most unique language.
Dale, you like brand name languages like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. The ones every one in a cliché tone of voice says is ‘so beautiful of a language’. This is cliché. But is you study and truly listen to a the rhythm and tone of languages you might change your mind.
I think Polish is a curious language with unique sounds that imitate nature. Polish is is unique.
Of course Spanish and French and English are nice but you are an English speaker and these are close to your language so your brain registers them in as something close to home. However, Polish with all the poetry and subtle sounds is very pleasing to the ear if you take the time listen more deeply.
I’m an American who lives/works in D.C. for the Fed. Outside of a couple years of Spanish, I don’t know a second language. I really want to though. But am not sure which. Here’s how I understand it.
1)Since I currently live in the US, I should learn Spanish as a second language because of the rising population of native spanish speakers. I can attest to this because even my co-workers who are Spanish get in their groups and only speak Spanish. While they also speak English, I think it would be nice to connect to people via their foreign language. And since there’s so many Spanish speakers in the US, wouldn’t it be easier to connect to a different culture outside of the English language just by speaking Spanish? And not to mention the usefullness of it even when speaking to employees at places like Wal-Mart, who tend to not speak English.
2. I one day would love to work/live in the EU. But it seems that the official language EU wants you to know is French and then maybe German. So if I already speak English, then why does the EU also make French a requirement? It seems that purely for job prospects for working for the EU…French is the way to go?
3. I am of Italian heritage (even though I’m an American who’s lived in the US my whole life) and am currently in the process of obtaining my Dual Italian Citizenship (mom was Italian citizen when she had me) so I can be employed as an EU citizen. But to connect more with my family in Italy, I thought that Italian would be a great, sentimental language to learn. And based on your main thesis Mark, Italian would be a good language to learn because it is a bit more of a unique language to complement English.
But then again, for someone who wants to live and work in the EU…preferably Brussels or Frankfurt, it still seems like French or German would serve me better.
So based on what you now know of my American perspective of learning a second language…would you still recommend a language like Italian over Spanish, French, or German?
Thanks for your help!
The best language to learn is really the one you are interested in. English is an official EU language. I achieved EU citizenship and it had nothing to do with language. If you want to work in the EU capital for an official department, maybe French is important, but I know a few people who worked for the EU and did not know French, well one.
Italian is an amazing language to learn. I would learn this. Italians do not speak English that great and if you are getting a citizenship from there, learn it. It is an amazing country and would open all kind of doors.
I think the bottom line is if you speak English you are all set. The second or third languages should be things from your heart. If you work in the capital or Germany of course French or German or Dutch would be helpful, but if your Italian why not work in Italy. It is a great country.
Also, just to question your thesis that “since you know English, you’re better off learning a unigue language because most people already speak a basic for of English” then why do a lot of jobs in the US specifically require people to be proficient in English as well as Spanish?
For example, I have a good friend who just moved to a section of Ney York city where he’s having a lot of trouble finding a job within a 50 mile radius because he doesn’t speak Spanish. That’s because the population in the 50 mile radius speak only Spanish.
And a similar question from my first post…why would jobs with the EU specically require people to be proficient in French as well as English? Again, before decididng on learning a second language, these are issues that I think are extremely important from a career opportunities viewpoint.
If you want an official EU post French is recommended, but if not, rather you just want to work, English is the language of EU business. I worked in NYC and Boston, do not know Spanish and had no relevance to my employment. The same is for Europe. I worked in Krakow, I spoke English. The language of business is English. It might be Chinese in the future but today it is English. This is why, I think if you learn something close to your heart that you really love and it is unique you will be better off.
Two last observations from personal experience.
1) My roommate is Brazilian and his family came to the US to visit for Christmas. While they spoke a little English, they were much more comfortable with Portuguese and even Spanish. As a result, I couldn’t fully communicate with them like I wish I could have. If I spoke Spanish (not unique, but definitely useful in that situation) I could have been transported to a whole new world by just being able to better communicate with my roommates family.
2) Two years ago I lived in a group house with 4 students from Europe, and one other from the US. When the European students got together, they spoke mostly French or German because that was what they were most comfortable with. While we were able to have basic communication in English, again, I would have been able to have a much better conversation with them if I fluently spoke either French or German.
So, while Spanish, German, and French are more popular languages…aren;t they more popular for a reason? I mean, yes, chances are you can have limited communication with a lot of people in the world if you just speak English…but don’t you more fully open those communication worlds if you can couple English with one of those other “McDonald” main-stream languages?
Meaning, yes, you can “get by” with native French/German/Spanish speakers via English…but wont your cultural experience be so much richer with a greater number of people if you can also fluently speak French, German, or Spanish?
It just seems that you’re opening fewer “cultural” doors by choosing a “unique” language over something more widely spoken like Spanish, French, or German.
What are your thoughts on that?
I learned Polish and I get a wow from 50 million Polish people around the world and their respect. If an American speaks Spanish, OK its nice but no wow, instant in to their culture. But if you speak, lets say Ukrainian or Polish or Italian as a foreigner you get respect and a bridge to their culture.
To master a language it takes years so if you study German make sure you will do it to a level better than they speak English or what is the point? They usually start at age 7 by the way.
Nice post Mark.. I have not read the entire article, but will. I just googled “Best Language to Learn” on google and, lo and behold, you pop up at #2 on the list. Good work, once again.
I agree with what you are saying with the wow factor. When I was in Africa and started to learn bits and pieces of their tribal languages the people were at awe that a white person can be speaking this language. Many of these people never have seen a white person (or foreigner) be able to speak anything of their language. When you start even going to the next level, speaking some slang, they just go fanatical.
I agree with your observation. Spanish is nothing special, it is practically the 2nd language of the USA. However, many Mexican people still appreciate the gringo who can speak Spanish with them. They are still so use to talking it amongst themselves. But, yeah, its not amazing to speak Spanish.
I have considered trying to escape American, American culture and try to live a new life and be with a new society. My ancestors spoke Yiddish and Russian for years. My grandmother still speaks both languages, but is almost gone from this Earth at almost 90 with full-blown Alzheimer’s.
I want to be multi-lingual. I am studying some Hebrew, which is my native/ethnic language, but I want to meet a European language. I am debating which language. Consider, I have some Polish Jewish ancestors, Polish may be nice, but I hear it is very challenging. Also, there is no Polish teachers around here. It would be quite a commitment. Another thing is, I cannot imagine myself spending my life in Poland. Maybe it’s the bad history or the cold weather. It is a place I want to visit and spend time in, but I cannot imagine living the next 30-50 years there; assuming I live that long.
Well, I know Italians are very particular about their language. They are one of those people who refuse to learn English and are proud of their language and heritage. A lot of people get frustrated in Italy because they find it hard to communicate and make friends in the country, not knowing the language. However, when a foreigner is fluent in the language I hear the country is an entirely different experience.
Do many people in Poland and Ukraine speak Russian? I was thinking of maybe learning Russian ,as their still are many Jews who are Russian speakers and I want to communicate with them. Also, I was thinking if I learn RUssia maybe I could get by in places like Poland , Ukraine, Belarus and Russia without having to learn each different language.
Suomea (=finnish, see already the difference) is also a great language to learn. And about what the mantra in Europe might be, I think you overestimate a bit the actractiveness of German… From a Belgian
Oh and, by the way, now that i’ve read the other comments : French is a great challenge if you want to perfectly speak it because, beside all the annoying grammatical , catching the accent in every single situation is nearly impossible for a stranger. We understand but you look always a little ridiculous, cause it’s really easy to remark a person whose French is not the native language. And sorry for those who believe that it is a romantic language, cause I can tell you the familiar French isn’t so beautiful. A new Zealand friend of mine came in Belgium to learn it, and she was disappointed of how disgraceful it sounds, so not-alike in songs. I see you coming with “but in “Belgian French”, you articulate less the words…”. My answer : the French from France is often a bit (a lot) ridiculous too, so much the pride transpires in their voices(and also don’t consider the pure Belgian accent from Bruxelles and Liège, please, which one I do not speak too). If you’d have to choose : the one from Paris.
I think your comment is a bit silly. In every language it is nearly impossible to sound like a native speaker.
And I don’t think that it sound ridiculous when you can’t speak like a native. This says more about your attitude than about the foreigner tackeling your language. But that may be something that is common among French speakers. Unless you speak perfect French you are often met with disdain.
So glad I came across this article- but I wish I had back in high school! I took French, and barely passed because my teacher focused so much on the written aspect(which I ed at). Then I had a teacher that was French and he loved me, because my accent was nearly spot on(I even won a few state championships). So, it’s good to see that clearly what counts is working on your speech more than anything.
Secondly- I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and I want to begin a language program. My first thought was Mandarin. I taught public school and worked with many Chinese children and they taught me some of the basics, which was helpful. My main reason though is that it appears to be a practical language to learn these days with the world wide economy centering around China, and I don’t see this changing any time soon. Yesterday I went over some basics with her(hello, thank you, you’re welcome, jump) and she loved it. Is my reasoning right for choosing Mandarin, and which language should we move on to next? Thanks!
My Daughter who is 2 1/2 is learning Mandarin. She loves it. I think it is a very useful language or at least interesting, if she was a native speaker in Chinese it would change her life. But choose a language you and her will have fun with in the future. I do think Mandarin for a child is fun as there are so many videos and resources that she could have access to as he linguistic skills develop.
Right.. I’m Polish… What other language I can learn? I mean I know English I have been living in London for past four years. I speak some Spanish (intermediate) I was in Spain last year and I didn’t have any problems with communication. I know very basic French, but I don’t know now is it worth it to learn? or should I concentrate just on Spanish?. I mean I love both of these languages but are they useful? If for example I would like to get a ‘better job’ ?
I’m so confused… 🙂
Well I’m not a fluent speaker of any language other that my native English and I’m 16 years old. I have always had a great fascination with speaking different languages so over the years I’ve kinda dipped and prodded at Spanish, Russian, Greek, and some other European ones and know a lot of basic things. One day I want a job helping people cross the language barrier in business or military work. The problem is it’s really hard to figure out a path to take, not sure about Polish though even though some one I look up to is Polish. I’m still young, what do any of y’all think I should do with what I have . Just curious?
I would choose the language you are passionate about. Study the history or the people or even what your familiy has a conection to. I like Slavic languages as this is where my grandparents came from, however, something like Arabic or Chinese is also interesting as these are major world languages that not every American speaks. Spanish might be the most useful though.
French and why because they have almost 300 million speakers and they are the 4th wealthiest country in the world in south america they speak french a lot i was surprised in africa 69% of them speak french in europe (Germany 15% speaks french as first, italy 25% , in belgium 39% ) every were english is usually french is i have done much traveling and most spanish kids learn French most french kids learn english and most german kids learn french/english and uk learns french so french is very useful for business and recreation they are some of the nicest people too.
@lumiosaa : Well, of course you are an expert in French language and all its accents ! =) So, as a French girl, I can tell you that the Parisian accent ( = le “neutral” one ) isn’t the best to hear, but rather the southern one, because it “sings” pretty much more. Then I agree, the northern accent is much less agreeable to listen to.
Then, slang is never “pretty” ! Even in English ! Surprised ?
The grammar is crappy? Well, at least it is because the language is very rich and that’s what gives it all its charm.
You can feel pride in a French-speaker’s voice? Could you please stop with your clichés?
Something else, when you say that French doesn’t deserve its “romantic” grammar, let me tell you that no one in France thinks it actually is. We agree that Italian is much more “romantic”. But we are, indeed, proud of our mother tongue, and even if only a few people actually masters it properly.
Finally, No one here looks down at somebody who tries to speak our language. At the contrary, we think it’s charming and we are pleased to help them a bit.
Well I didn’t want to sound unpleasant or offended but I have to admit that I don’t like to be criticized that easily (even if it is indirectly) Besides, I guess it’s the case for everyone.
And as far as the article is concerned, I’m not that sure with you. I think you are too partial, as you wrote it all by yourself. – Because you already liked Poland, and Polish people and language when you started studying it.
In Poland, people are bilingual from birth, because they are aware that it’s necessary (just like people from Holland, Scandinavian and slavic countries). At school, they learn German, Russian, English, Italian and French, in general. That’s why Polish isn’t that important in the world. And, by the way, it’s not the hardest language ever (how can you know that? Maybe it’s the hardest you have ever learnt, but you don’t know every language of the world, do you?) For instance, Russian is close to it, but with another alphabet and sharper grammar points.
Again, I didn’t want to sound impolite or cynical, but I wanted to react to the article and its comment.
I’m Brazilian and I speak English as a second language, I also speak a little Spanish, because it’s taught in my school, but I really don’t feel like learning it, I find it so boring. So, just wondering about learning a second foreign language, which one should I pick? I’ve been thinking of Italian rather than French, because they’re easier to learn since I live in a small city and there aren’t unusual languages to be learnt here.
How could I learn Polish, Greek or Norwegian? What about learning materials such as videos and audio lessons. That’s why I think I should learn Italian or French. What do you think? Or should I try to learn Polish for instance on my own, on the internet?
You have a good question. What to learn and how to learn it. It is a personal choice based on your world view and interests. However, like I wrote Polish or a lesser known or far-flung language is of great value if you already know English and another major language like Portuguese.
Well did you know Brazil has like a million Polish people? Many Poles dream of living in such a warm place. I think since you know one Latin language, Portuguese and English, what about something totally different. Italian is so similar like Spanish I do not know if it would excite me. Polish or Greek or Norwegian would. It would open your mind up to such a different place.
I would personally say a Slavic language. Why? Because Norwegians speak English very well, and there are only like 4 million speakers of this language so maybe it is too small.
If you have a base of English, maybe not Greece is another warm Mediterranean type country, with a lot of English speakers because of the international tourism. Not everyone of course, not many people there are multilingual.
However, a Slavic language is another world and culture that would open your eyes and brain to another experience. There are many beautiful Slavic girls too of course. You could learn Russian, Polish or Ukrainian lets say and your life would change, I am sure of it. Think how much land Slavic countries occupy on the earth. From Siberia and the pacific to central Europe and southern Europe as well as large communities around the world. Further, the Slavic languages are so closely linked that to learn one give your a passport to another language as there is a lot of shared vocabulary. This is because 1,000 years ago they were basically the same language. I think the Latin languages would have to go further back and they were always dialects. So there is more commonality between Polish and Czech than Spanish and Italian.
The best way to start is with material at home. Learn words and not grammar. Once you achieve a certain level go though a grammar book. You do not have to be an expert on grammar just to understand the way a language works. Next expose yourself to the language, with movies and trips if possible or connect with native speakers via Internet chat or message boards have native speakers in your area that can help you. Lets be honest with the Internet, you can get a lot of resources online and via chat.
Start reading the news in websites in your target language.
I like your reasoning, but I got the feeling you didn’t take South-Asia into an account. India for example. but I didn’t think it through as well as you did with Polish language, nor I wish to spend time pondering on whether or not it is more worthwhile to learn Hindi than Polish. I am Polish girl and have no plans studying Hindi anyway, so I’d rather agree with you.
(First off, wonderful article!)
I come in search of advice and opinions. I am a native English and Spanish bilingual speaker interested in continuing my language studies, considering a career with the U.S. Government at either the CIA or State Department. Since I am Hispanic, I wish to specialize in Latin American affairs and am therefore learning Portuguese as my third language (which is going amazingly well so far!).
My thoughts are: since I am well-adapted to Romance languages, would it be in my best interest to continue to learn the rest of the major spoken languages (French, Italian, and Romanian)? Or should I venture off and learn a completely different language, as you well said, to stand out with a unique ability? If so, what distinctive language would be best suited besides English, Spanish and Portuguese in relation to Latin America?
I am aware Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic are largely pursued by the CIA/State Department, but considering how long it would take for me to learn even one of these, am I best off learning other languages instead?
Advice is greatly appreciated, thanks!
I think if you can learn a unque language that is in demand, your value is greatly increased, like Arabic or and Asian language. On second thought what about a language that is unique gives you a niche. Maybe something that complements Spanish like an indigious langugae in South America. Something that native South Americans speak, I would think this to be very interesting as well as vauable.
Your article is interesting. I am trying to learn Polish for cultural reasons as I am a native English speaker and fluent in Spanish. I am Polish Mexican and there are a lot of Polish people that live in Mexico such as my grandmother and her family who came to Mexico after being freed from the Siberian concentration camps. Well anyways, my mother did not really teach me Polish other than some few words such as dupa, which was my first Polish word. I would like to be fluent in Polish so if you have any information on where I can be able to learn the Polish language and get fluent if not more conversational I will appreciate it a lot.
Go to my website polishgrammar.com for one, I have an online grammar course for free. I think the best way for you is to start learning words anyway you can. Learn them with flashcards. Do not get bogged down in the grammar or formalities as much as just learning a few thousand words and start speaking Polish-English. Then you can learn the grammar a litte on that site. Poland is a great country and the language is beautiful.
I think if you have the chance to travel there you can learn it faster of course and if your family has Polish roots you have full right to a Polish greencard which can lead to citizenship. If you have more questions please write, I can tell you anything you want to know about Poland and the language of the Poles.
Thank you very much for the information!! I would like to one day go to Poland to visit the country although I believe the place my grandmother and her family came from ended up becoming a part of Ukraine after the second world war and most likely does not exist anymore. She was born in I believe its called Volhynian province and she was baptized in Krzemieniec. I would probably have to go to the Ukraine but anyways I do hope to one day soon get to visit Poland in the very near future.
Your life depends on energy – heat to keep warm, fuel to travel, light to work. And there’s only 1 place that has enough of it – Saudia Arabia. That’s where the power will eventually reside – not the US, China, India, or EU.
So the best language to learn for the future is Arabic.
Would you rather be fluent in several EU languages but living off fuel\food rations, or fluent in just one and living the good life?
And with the 0% income tax rate, it’s even better 🙂
Polish? Nah, I’ll learn a more useful language, like Occitan. Everybody speaks Occitan, Occitans are everywhere.
Polish is not a useful language more than Occitan.
Occitan is not spoken except by about 2 million people and in a limited region. Polish is over 50 million if you include non native speakers and it is is closely related to other langugaes like CZech which you can communicate with and it is a rising economic power being the center between East and West. Living in the USA I meet Polish speakers everyday, never meet an Occitan speaker. But if you want to learn it go for it.
I have an issue because I need to decide which language to study for next summer. I have three options: Turkish, Hindi or Korean and I’m in stress trying to figuring out which one is the best and which one will be better for me. I am a native Spanish speaker and I love Korea, India and Turkish would be interesting as well. Please, if anyone can help me out. I will appreciate it.
My two cents is they are all very interesting, I am guess which history do you find more interesting and where in your imagination do you go more often, that is to which country?
@Mark I went for Korean. I am also applying for Japanese and Italian because in those three I have real interest 🙂
Well, of course. English is the universal language and everyone must at least learn to speak fluently. For foreign language, i agree that its unique to learn the language which u are not so exposed to. But based on my opinion, I think learning a language that you (will) expose to n u really feel interested best suits you.