We have a language requirement in my college. What is the best foreign language to study?
I will answer with an analogy, what is the best cuisine? It depends on your culinary tastes. As a philosopher, perhaps you want to study Greek, to appreciate reading texts in the original language. As a business person, you may be thinking which language will help me in my career. The former is one of personal choice and the latter reflects the state of the international economy. Companies do business all over the world, not just with the leading economic superpowers. The 26th largest economy in the world still prefers doing business in its native language, which is Thai. This language skills you acquire in college may shape your career and you have to choose now.
Whatever language you choose to study, it is unlikely you will ever regret it, but some can give you a greater advantage in life than others. The language of the moment is Chinese. Manufacturing is booming in China and knowing some of the language will be of assistance for nearly all businesses dealing with imports and exports, explains a manufacturer of precision carbide parts. The commercial aircraft industry exports over $13B annually to China, so language skills are essential.
The language itself is not easy for westerners to learn, with three times the effort needed compared to a language with a Roman script. With the sheer volume of work involved in a Chinese course, a lot of dedication is required so you may need to balance your other classes. It is unlikely you will have the luxury of time to dedicate to learning Chinese once you leave college so make use of it now. It is also unlikely that you will ever be unemployed if you can speak Chinese.
Second only to Chinese is Spanish with an estimated 500 million speakers across the globe. In the U.S. there are 37 million Spanish speakers and it is the top non-English spoken language in the country. It would be considered one of the most useful languages you can learn, not only for domestic communication but also across the Central and South American continent.
Other European languages such as French, German, Italian and Portuguese can also be worth knowing. It all depends on your future plans for careers and travel. French is still widely spoken across much of Africa and German and Italian could be useful for specific industries or companies.
Japanese was the language to learn in the 80s and 90s, these days it is not in demand as much. Like Chinese, there is a steep learning curve, especially with the script and word structure. Japan is our fourth-largest trading partner. Long-term relationships are the foundation of our U.S. Lexus dealership with its Japanese manufacturer, say stateside managers.
Russian is another language that could be of use, but would take some mastery. Business is big in Russia and knowing some of the lingo would put you ahead in the queue for any companies with business ties to The Motherland.
Learning languages will exponentially increase your opportunities to study or work abroad. You can also connect with people from other countries and cultures far easier if you share the same language. To become a true international citizen of the world, speaking just one language is not enough.
If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen… Willy Brandt.
Written by Nadeem Ghori, President of Webplex, a digital analytics agency.