Learning a Language Part 1/3: How to Pick A Language

Welcome to the first installment of a new summer series: Learning a New Language from our guest author, David Anthony.  David is a senior at North Carolina Central University, a novice computer programmer, rock-climber, and huge language nerd.  This series will explore the how-tos of learning a new language on your own, no college courses required.  The first of three articles will focus on choosing the right language for you.  Look out for new installments on the last Sunday of every month. Enjoy!


Want to know what you can do right now that will make you richer, smarter, and sexier? Fluently speaking a foreign language! I know a lot of millennials and travelers dream of being able to order in a Mexican restaurant in perfect Spanish, or debate Descartes in flawless French. While I can’t promise those results, this guide should help you get started on the path to fluency much faster than traditional methods. Nothing I’m mentioning is voodoo or snake oil, but it’s not obvious to most people when they’re trying to learn a foreign language. It sure wasn’t to me when I first started learning.

My name’s David, and I’ve been studying foreign languages for close to 9 years now. I’ve taken language classes in high school, as well as studying on my own using various methods. As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m also on my way to India with the Critical Language Scholarship. In terms of languages I know in descending order: English is my native language; I’m pretty comfortable in Swedish and Norwegian, conversational in German, and I used to be conversational in Russian and Serbian, although those have atrophied quite a bit. I’ve also casually studied at least a dozen others, including Urdu, Japanese, and Egyptian Arabic. Perhaps not an impressive list from a polyglot standpoint, but enough that I feel qualified to write up this 101 style how to guide.

So, I think the first question that needs to be answered is “Which language should I learn?” The answer: whichever one you are passionate about. Don’t get swept up in whatever “sounds beautiful” or will be most useful. The most useful language is the one you know well. Say you want to learn a language so you can be more competitive for a job in business. Chinese, Hindi, and German are all obvious ones that come to mind. But what if none of those interest you? What if you’re really interested in learning about Cambodian culture, and would rather study Khmer instead? That’s totally okay. If you’re truly passionate about it, you’ll make quick strides and will develop fluency much more quickly. Fluent Khmer is better than phrasebook Chinese on your resume. The same rule applies if you’re just learning for personal reasons. When you learn a language, you’re really learning a culture. Languages don’t exist in a vacuum. Find a specific, concrete reason to learn a language. Don’t be discouraged if it’s a smaller language. Using the Khmer example from earlier (and I’m betting you probably didn’t even know Khmer was a language), Khmer has 16 million native speakers. Even though it’s a “small” language, there’s absolutely no way you’ll ever run out of people to talk to. If you’re willing to work hard enough, any language is an attainable goal.

Next post, I’ll dig deeper into some resources you can use to get started. In the future, I’ll also start talking about some tactics for learning quickly. Hope you enjoyed the post!

Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What made you decide to learn another language? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!