In the public school system where I grew up, we were required to learn a foreign language starting in the 7th grade. I remember looking forward to middle school for this very reason because I’ve always found linguistics fascinating! Perhaps it was also my nerdy nature and fascination with travel and trying to understand how people communicate abroad.
While my friends were complaining about having to learn a foreign language and trying to pick the easiest “A,” I was secretly wishing I could sign up for all of them! Now let’s explore the best foreign languages to learn for an untemplate lifestyle.
Can You Name All Of The Official Languages Of The UN?
We all know that English is widely spoken and used in many international events and corporations. But we easily forget and overlook how many millions of people don’t speak English at all or learned it as a second language.
So, can you name all of the official languages of the UN? I’ll give you a hint, there are six total. The first four are not too hard to guess: English, Spanish, French, and Chinese. The other two may surprise you: Arabic and Russian.
The Best Foreign Languages To Learn For An Untemplate Lifestyle
The number of bilingual people continues to grow. In the last US census, over 20% of people at the age of 5 or older reported speaking a language other than English at home, Spanish being the highest. Here are the best foreign languages I think you should consider learning based on the number of native speakers, career opportunities, and cultural awareness. I also took into consideration the amount of people who speak English as a second Language (ex. I excluded Hindi since many Indians speak fluent English and Hindi is only native in India).
There are approximately 405 million native Spanish speakers, roughly 6% of the world population. It’s the most common foreign language studied in the US and is growing in popularity. Reasons include the attractiveness of affordable retirement in Spanish speaking countries and the economic growth of Mexico, Chile, Columbia, and Peru.
Countries where Spanish is widely spoken: Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Cuba, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Uraguay, Spain, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Aruba, Paraguay, Andorra.
Approximately 1.6 billion people are native Chinese speakers, roughly 1 billion specifically in Mandarin. That’s about one-fifth of the world population! There are many different Chinese dialects, and if you’re going to study Chinese you’re best off learning Mandarin. China continues to develop and almost every large corporation does business with China.
Countries where Mandarin is widely spoken: China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore.
About 300 million people speak Arabic as their native tongue, ~4.5% of the world. Arabic also has many dialects and is written from right to left. The word order is also “backwards” compared to English with verbs coming at the beginning of sentences, and adjectives coming after nouns.
Countries where Arabic is widely spoken: Lebanon, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq, Comoros, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritania, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Niger, Chad, Mali, Eritrea, Palestinian National Authority.
Learning Languages Of The World Breaks Barriers
So far, I’ve studied five foreign languages: German, French, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), and Japanese. And I hope to continue learning more. While I can’t label myself as fluent in any foreign language, I’ve found it really rewarding knowing the fundamentals of multiple languages. I love being able to recognize what languages people are speaking even if I don’t understanding what they’re saying.
Currently I’m able to identify all of these foreign languages when spoken: Arabic, Cantonese Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Mongolian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, and Vietnamese. One of the main reasons I can identify so many languages is because I’ve had many international colleagues and friends over the years, plus I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to a lot of places. Being interested in foreign languages and other cultures has really enriched my life and broken a lot of barriers.
The Rewards Of Connecting With Locals When You Travel
A lot of people are scared to try and speak a foreign language when they travel because they’re scared of forgetting what to say, or pronouncing something totally wrong. Trust me, I’ve been there! But with practice and a little courage, I was able to speak some French in Paris and Belgium, German in Northern Germany, Japanese in Tokyo, and Spanish on my tour of the Yucatan in Mexico. Even just a few words like “hello” and “thank you” can go a long way, and the locals really do appreciate you trying.
You can even use foreign language skills right in your backyard. I live in San Francisco, which is a diverse city and on several occasions I’ve been able to use my knowledge of French, German, and Chinese to communicate and help people. I’ve given directions to foreign tourists when they’re lost, and even helped a Chinese woman with her English homework at a train station once.
You’re Never Too Old Or Too Far Away
I think the best time to learn a foreign language is as a young child. Our memories are super sharp, our voice box is still developing, and we’re like tiny little sponges. But we can still pick up new languages as adults. We just have to be patient and persistent. There are plenty of free apps, podcasts, word of the day emails, and learning programs that make it easy to pick up new phrases and words.
Public libraries are great resources too. I can’t even count how many times I’ve checked out foreign language CDs, videos, and books. And even if you don’t have the means to travel overseas right now, it’s easy to communicate and practice foreign languages over the internet. You can also install software that lets you type in other alphabets and characters. It’s pretty cool how technology gives us so many ways to learn and communicate.
Untemplaters, were you required to learn a foreign language in school? Which did you pick and why? Did any of you learn English as a second language? Have you used what you learned in your travels or career? What do you think are the best foreign languages to learn for an untemplate lifestyle?
Copyright 2013. Original content authorized only to appear on Untemplater.com. Thank you for reading!
101 Centavos says
English is by far and away the best language to master for foreign travel. Seems odd to say this on an English-language blog (and in English), but there you have it. Different nationalities will converse in English as the lingua franca of choice. Arabic may be widely spoken, but of not much use unless traveling in an Arabic-speaking country — not the destination of choice for most tourists. The flip side of that argument is that a few words of Arabic at a Lebanese restaurant *anywhere* will bring a smile to the proprietor’s face, and frequently, better service.
how about italian?!! haha just kidding, not much use for it anymore these days. I must say it is definitely hard to get motivated to learn a new language. Best and only way I’ve found is to immerse yourself in it!
STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) says
Great post. I can only tell you that whenever we travel I spend about 6 months studying before we go. It is so rewarding to be able to do simple things like getting directions, buying tickets, talking to cab drivers in native language. It has made all our trips even more amazing. I use a combination of book on grammar and basic words and phrases and various audio programs. Go at from many angles.
Nice Steven. Six months prep is a nice amount of time to nail down key survival phrases and learn the fundamentals of grammar.
STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) says
Yes, Sydney. The real trick is if someone had the opportunity to stay there for a month working the language. I often wonder how far along you could get if you had that type of time.
Andy Hough says
I had four years of Spanish in high school, but it was almost all completely forgotten after a couple of years.
When I spent three months living in Guatemala I learned the language better than I had before and without any formal studying. And it has mostly stuck in my brain. I still don’t know Spanish as well as I’d like.
I didn’t know you lived in Guatemala for 3 months Andy, that’s fantastic. I hope to visit Guatemala and Belize someday! Before I cut back on my tv addiction, I used to watch Spanish soap operas for language practice and also comic relief. I’ve picked up a lot of words by watching foreign language programs and listening to music.
Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin says
If only there were 36 hours in a day! I have been trying to learn a new langauge for years. Unfortunately it keeps getting pushed back year after year. I feel like I’d have more motivation if I knew someone who spoke it and could hold me accountable.
I hear the best way to learn a language is to just move to a country that predominantly speaks it and you’ll pick up enough over time. Similar to the “Sink or swim” method.
What languages do you speak and how long did it take for you to become fluent?
Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin says
Sorry, I meant to ask how long did it take you to recognize and be able to speak each language?
Speaking has always been much harder for me than listening and recognizing words, which I think applies to a lot of people. Some languages have a lot of unique sounds that make them easier to recognize. I don’t know how long it took me to identify a language, maybe a month or two so for a language like Korean? Others are much harder like Dutch vs German. There are a lot of similar sounds, so you have to understand the basics of one to recognize the differences between them.
Living abroad for 2 or more months can make huge difference in picking up a language. It’s tough to find the time to do that as adults, which is why I encourage students to participate in study abroad programs during college.
I’ve found that just trying to speak the native tongue helps when I’m in a foreign country. I’m sure I’m slaughtering the language….but it seems to open up people’s willingness to help me. The first words I try to learn are “I don’t speak XXXXXX. Do you speak English?” Having just those two sentences down makes me feel more comfortable as I’m learning more of the language! So far, I’ve taken Russian, French and Spanish. I started with Latin, which was helpful.
I agree. I also make sure to learn “thank you” and “hello.” I’d love to learn basic Russian someday. So far I only know how to say spasiba and dosvedanya.
Edward Antrobus says
We had to take a marking period of Spanish in 8th grade and it was a horrible experience. That woman had no business being a teacher in a rural school district. That experience has limited my motivation to study it even though knowing the language would be an occupational advantage for me. It was so scarring, I studied dead languages in high school (Latin) and college (ancient Greek). Although I have to say, they helped a lot with my spelling.
Oh wow Latin and ancient Greek! Two languages that I know very little about and my spelling is horrible (thank goodness for spell check). What a bummer your Spanish teacher was terrible and that she ruined your interest in learning. Teachers really make a big impact on our motivation and how we learn.
I remember a school trip to the UN where I sat in the Security Council seats and playing with the dial changing languages. Funny, I remember every single school trip because it made an impact on me.
I studied Spanish in college (grad requirement). I also took conversational Spanish through the school district and still have trouble with it. I am one of those people who needs to practice until I become comfortable. I probably should go to Mexico for a month and force myself to speak Spanish.
That’s really cool you took a school trip to the UN. Field trips were the best. I remember the ones I took quite vividly too. Mexico is so beautiful. I’d consider going there myself to learn Spanish better someday.
Jules@Fat Guy,Skinny Wallet says
I remember begging my dad to let me take German in high school. He basically said that would be a waste and pushed me to take Spanish. So..I did and I have to say I’m glad I did that:)It has come in handy a few times!
Yeah, I think if I had taken Spanish in a school setting I would have been able to use it way more than what I learned in German. I enjoyed learning German though, so I don’t regret picking it. I thought it would look good on my college applications that I had taken a difficult language. German is super tough grammatically!
Financial Samurai says
I had no idea there were 6 “official” UN languages. Very interesting!
I was always horrible at mastering languages even though I grew up for 14 years overseas. That said, I think I’ve mastered my second language, English pretty well, or so I think. I’ve dreamed in three languages before and it’s always so interesting to see how customs are invariably embedded in the dreams.
If We Americans can all learn a second language fluently, I think the world would be a much better place. Furthermore, folks would stop calling us stupid Americans who are loud and eat too much 🙂
I hope more schools start integrating foreign language classes at an earlier age. It’s so much easier to learn and kids tend to be more open to learning than a lot of teens. That’s really cool you’ve dreamed in 3 languages! I’ve had dreams where I’ve been speaking sentences in various languages, and I always woke up wondering if what I was saying in my dream actually made any sense or not!
Kimberly K says
I definately see the value of using a foreign language. I have studied German and Korean and am motivated to start studying them again.
Sehr gut! German is hard but I think it’s a fun language to learn. I think Korean is a beautiful language too. I’ve listened to it a lot as a one of my friends growing up was Korean and she spoke with her family in Korean 95% of the time. I like the writing style too with all of the ovals. I always though it looked cool.