Which language to learn next?

It has been a long time since I studied a new language. I miss it. I miss not so much the study of grammar or of vocabulary, nor the embarrassment that comes with forcing my German tongue to pronounce words it was not made for. I miss the experience of getting to understand the concept of a new language, the satisfaction that comes with slow but steady progress, and above all the understanding of a different culture, literature, country and people that goes hand in hand with the thorough study of a language.

I have decided that I want to learn a language again.

But which language? I will list five options and I will consult my learned readers’ advice. You may find it important background information that my mother tongue is German and my English is almost equally fluent. I studied French and Italian at school but can no longer actively speak these languages, which is a big shame.

  • French
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Persian
  • Hebrew
I will also tell you something about the five languages that I provide as options (although you can of course make suggestions of your own in the comments below) because I think the motive behind a decision to learn something is quite relevant.
  • I studied French at school for 5 years and was not too bad in it. I think I would make quick progress which would be good for my motivation. It is a beautiful language. It’s practical for visiting or moving to France, some other European countries, North and West Africa, many beautiful islands around the world and Canada. The only disadvantage is that I will never be able to properly pronounce some words, especially those with an “r” in them.
  • Spanish has half a billion speakers and like the other Romanic languages, I find it beautiful. Latin and South America looks like a wonderful and interesting part of the world to travel or live. The only disadvantage: not very useful outside of the Americas, with the one exception of Spain.
  • Italian is beautiful language spoken in a beautiful country. Because I had studied it at school, I should also be able to get back into it quite quickly. It has also proven to be very useful in some delicate situations. Disadvantage: Only useful in a very limited number of countries.
  • Persian (Farsi) is my girlfriend’s first language so that die-hard romantics would expect me to learn it anyway. I am however very reluctant to learn it for exactly that reason: if I will become good in Persian, she will never learn German which I would find more useful (for her benefit, not mine, because we communicate in English anyway). Also, it is highly unlikely that I will move to Iran after my last experience there. Because Iran censors my blog, there wouldn’t even be any point in blogging in Persian. On the other hand, Persian is useful for the espionage business and it will be useful for visiting Afghanistan and Tajikistan, but that’s it. Oh, and it is bloody hard to learn. (I already tried it, to no avail at all.)
  • Learning Hebrew (Ivrit) may seem odd because it’s only spoken in one country and then in one where even children are already fluent in English. But Israel is my favourite country, I find Hebrew the sexiest language in the world (yes, much sexier than French even) and I already speak a little bit thanks to many visits to Israel and to a course I once did. Disadvantage: Not useful, except on holidays to Israel.
So here is the poll and please also leave a comment below, indicating the reasons behind your choice or trying to convince me of another language.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Education, Language, Polls, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Which language to learn next?

  1. Pingback: Romanic languages | The Happy Hermit

  2. I notice that so far everyone suggest her/his mother tongue. I will give extra points to people who speak one of the language options as their mother tongue but who vote for a different language.

    • I am also very curious to hear suggestions about HOW to learn a new language best.

      • davidmalta says:

        Have you considered Malti? Might help you to assimilate into the local culture and avoid any anonymous threatening phone-calls in future…!
        I reckon the best way to learn any language is to live in that country – so hey, perfect!

      • Goran Mladenovic says:

        Nun, hier ein Vorschlag fürs Sprachen lernen. Klingt zwar ziemlich albern, aber mit hat es geholfen. Ich war früher in Englisch sehr schlecht. Da hat mir der Englischlehrer gesagt: “Nimm dir jeden Tag einen Text, der in etwa deinem Level entspricht und schreibe ihn einfach ab! Während du abschreibst murmelst du die Silben leise vor dich hin.”
        Man schreibt, liest und hört so gleichzeitig. Ich war dann nicht mehr ganz so schlecht im Englischen und habe so auch einige andere Sprachen ziemlich gut gelernt. Klingt zwar ein wenig unglaublich, aber es bildet sich schon nach kurzer Zeit so eine Art Sprachgefühl.

    • Jan says:

      …not everyone. My vote and my mother tongue are as far as they can be :o)

  3. annie says:

    My vote goes to the espionage business. Sounds interesting.

  4. I suggest Spanish, simply because it’s the most useful of all, althought I am aware this sounds like a boring reason. As to HOW to learn a new language: Lately, when I was following a course in Arabic, this great teacher revealed to us his secret of learning a new language (he speaks all sorts of Arabic, Dutch, different sorts of Berber, etc.). His secret is this, and I am now trying it as well in my attempt to learn Spanish:

    In every language, there are ”open lists” and ”closed lists”.
    The closed lists include, prepositions (for, in, near, etc.), pronom personnel (sorry for the French influence, don’t know how to say it in English), etc. To be short: All words that have a LIMIT belong to the closed list. For example, in English there is only a limited number of pronoms personnels, being: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they. If you know these, you can stop learning them.

    Then there are the open lists. These include: Nouns (we can constantly invent new ones), verbs (”twittering”, etc.) and all other groups of words that are not LIMITED.

    So, when starting to learn a language, it is a good idea to start with learning the closed lists. Write everything that belongs here down (you will find out that it is not that much, simply because these forms and constructions don’t change) and start learning them. When reading a text in the language you want to learn, you’ll find out you know a lot of the key words (just count all the prepositions and pronoms personnels that I have used in this little text) Once you know them all, which may go quicker than you would expect, you can start swimming in the mighty sea that’s called nouns and verbs.

    I hope you can use this in any way!

    Greetings from Holland,

    • It is the first time I have heard of this concept of closed and open lists, but it is VERY GOOD ADVICE, thank you!
      I also think that Spanish and French are the most useful of the languages on my list, and I think it is a legitimate reason. Otherwise, I might as well study Latin.

      • Latin is a great language. I have been studying it for five years now in highschool and it’s fascinating. You learn so much about language in general when studying Latin. It really is very useful and will make your learning process much easier, for example when you want to learn Spanish afterwards, because you can relate almost all the grammar to the Latin, as well as a lot of vocabulary.

    • Aye, Kew. says:

      It’s personal pronouns, Fleur.

  5. Marjeta says:

    I’d choose French. It is a beautiful language, very sexy too (much sexier than Spanish). Not so very hard to learn as you already know and rather useful.

  6. bettecox says:

    Wife? What wife? I suggested Persian, just because it’s hard, not very useful to you and therefore challenging. It should provide you interesting blogs in the future.

    • … which nobody will be able to read because they will be in terribly messed-up Persian. :-)

    • lukas says:

      Persian is by far the easiest of the 5 languages listed in the humble opinion of this German NS. Once you get used to their writing system, it’ll be a breeze.

  7. I chose french, not my mother tongue but I have learnt it as an adult, so have some experience in it, if I had a second choice I would have chosen Persian for you because of the connection to your wife. It is one of my regrets that I have not learnt my husband’s first language.

  8. Aye, Kew. says:

    I’d go for Mandarin, your kids will most probably need it, and they’d be most grateful.

  9. Steve Carroll says:

    I’ve found this book to be pretty influential in my language learning: “How to Learn Any Language” by Barry Farber. I find that if your language target has a certification target with levels that can be a good external measuring stick and motivational technique. For example, Japanese has a 4 level national test. The first can be passed after only moderate study and they build from there.

    Finally, I found the fact that you listed Spanish as “only useful in the Americas and Spain” as a disadvantage sort of amusing while the fact that you can speak French in North Africa and a few islands as an advantage :) The Spanish speaking world seems to be on the advance where the Francophone world is receding.

    • You are right that Spanish is becoming more and more useful. I listed it as a (slight) disadvantage because except for Spain it is limited to only one continent, or two if we count North and South America.

      It probably also has to do with me living in Europe, so it’s easier for me to go to Morocco than to Mexico.

      I absolutely agree with you on the certification target! I learn much better if there is a system of certification which motivates me to go through the different levels. For Spanish, the “Instituto Cervantes” offers this and for Italian the “Società Dante Aliegheri”. In French, there are the DELF and DALF certificates.

      Thank you very much for the book recommendation!

      • Taylor says:

        I know this post is old but I just ran across it! Spanish is also spoken in Africa. It is one of two official languages in Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of Africa where Spain has a huge colonial presence. In fact, Equatorial Guinea was Spain’s only colonial conquest from days past. Just an FYI :)

    • I could not find a similar certification system for either Persian or Hebrew.

  10. Steve Carroll says:

    Also, the Asian languages while perhaps not aessthetically pleasing to your ear will certainly buy you more under your listed goals of learning about a new culture and discovering how the languages work. Sorry, Europeans, but your cultures and languages aren’t really as different as y’all think they are :)

  11. i’m an italian learning Slovak! I would recommend learning spanish for several reasons:
    1) It’s a beautiful language
    2) It will allow you to visit many interesting countries
    3) It’s widely speaking
    4) It is a quite simple language, with an easy grammar! That means that in a few months it’s is possible to achieve a decent level

    Anyway, whatever language you will choose, have fun with it!!!



  12. Marian Kechlibar says:

    You might consider some Slavic language. As a German, you’ll find it more useful on German streets than Farsi.

    The autochthonous Slavic minority in Germany, the Sorbs, are too marginal, but Polish could be interesting.

    (Full disclosure: I am a Czech).

  13. Go for Klingon, it;s the fastest growing language on the planet. I’d suggest Elvish from Lord Of The Rings, but only geeks learn THAT one! :D

  14. Elena says:

    It is not in your list, but I think Russian is really good to know! In a lot of countries there are a lot of russian-speaking people.

  15. Brenden says:

    I heard Hungarian uses a pretty unique structure. I heard a programmer from MIT learned it just because he knew it would be helpful with his profession.

  16. Yingying Xue says:

    who is not Chinese?

  17. Kenny says:

    I’d be interested in seeing you try Hebrew, because I was thinking about trying it myself. It’s difficult to get a decent Hebrew grammar book though. Maybe the Rosetta Stone software would be the way to go?

    • In my view, Rosetta Stone is OK as a supplement if you are in a course. You can use it to practice pronunciation and to rehearse a bit in a playful way. BUT then as a supplement, it’s just way too expensive.
      Rosetta Stone does NOT explain any grammar at all.

  18. Goran Mladenovic says:

    Ich würde Spanisch lernen. Es ist ziemlich einfach zu erlernen und es klingt wirklich schön. Spanisch hat zu dem Ähnlichkeiten mit dem Portugiesischen. Wenn man das Spanische gut spricht/versteht dann kann man mit etwas Mühe auch das Portugiesische leidlich verstehen.
    Aber im Grunde genommen gibt es für jede der 5 Optionen gute Gründe. Die Sprache der eigenen Frau zu lernen, ist auch eine gute Option und vielleicht gar nicht mal die schlechteste Option.

  19. Pingback: Weather Forecast in Spanish | The Happy Hermit

  20. AnaMo says:

    Farsi is a beautiful language, it’s difficult but I think all things worth it are difficult. Listen to Persian music, watch Persian movies and read Persian poetry (Lord know there’s a ton of it to go around) to make things easier and to help you gain an ear for it. I think being able to sit with your wife and listen to Googoosh together and understand the love she sings about would be just awesome. Farsi or Spanish, I’d say. I feel Spanish would be a cinch compared to Farsi and it’s writing system but the reward and satisfaction in gaining the knowledge (in Farsi) would abound. But of course you could always throw out the list and learn Arabic. Aside from Mandarin, I think it’s the second most useful language at the moment. Right now I’m trying (and will succeed) to teach myself French. I find it’s ALL about setting aside the time in the day and sticking to it. Giving up a day or two won’t make the grade at all. I also find myself, however, breaking up the monotony with some Hindi lessons. It’s nice because they aren’t related at all. One fun note : Hindi and Farsi share SO MANY words and phrases. Zindagi, hamesha, humsafar….etc. Whichever language you choose, I hope you enjoy the road to learning it !!! I applaud anyone who wants to further their own knowledge for the hell of it. But yes, Farsi all the way.

    Oh and ONE MORE fun note : I heard once that Farsi and German are linguistically similar. More similar than Farsi and Arabic, which comes as a surprise to some people. They merely share some vocabulary such as nour, dunya, safar, etc.

  21. Jamal Lahav says:

    Unless you are directly involved in some business context with China, Russia, Germany or any other country, I think learning any language solely for their practical utility is a waste of time!
    I believe that cultural infatuation/falling in love with the culture of a country (culture here taken in the broadest sense possible) is the most important factor.
    I have to express my disagreement as regards Hebrew: I grew up with Arabic and Hebrew, which makes me a native speaker of both! Nonetheless, I find those two languages rather rugged and at times even abrasive phonology/pronunciation!
    I am in love with German Philosophy and Russian Literature, which is why I intend to learn both, now that I have perfected my Danish to the extent that I am able to read Kierkegaard kin the original language, which is GREAT pleasure! Danish has, mind you, very tough phonology and that only reason I managed to keep going was the cultural passion.
    I cannot wait to begin learning Russian: fantastic folk music, literature and country.
    Bouna fortuna

  22. Spanish would definitely be my choice, maybe because I have been learning it, poco a poco, for the last 12 years, mainly so I can function in all those fascinating countries south of the US border. I think learning a language so that you can use it is definitely a legitimate reason, as you don’t really know a language unless you can put all that grammar to use in real life! Those 4 pesky divisions of language, reading, writing, listening, and speaking are all very different, and your circumstances will influence which is easier for you. For me, reading is the easiest with writing second because I can recognize words and have time to think. This is a whole different ball game than talking to someone on the street or in a government office! Depending on the person’s country of origin or even the region in a large country, accents, vocabulary, slang, and even topics of conversation (and thus vocab.) will be very different. Think of English in England, the US, Australia, or New Zealand. Some people want to learn British English as opposed to US English, or vice versa. Boston or Texas accent? Of course the grammar is the same, but for practical use, sometimes that’s about all. I spend time in various parts of Mexico, a huge country, and while Spanish is still Spanish, it varies in every region, which is one of the things that makes it fun! In southern Mexico, where I am now, the language is heavily influenced by more than 16 indigenous languages. That, of course, is why languages are so rich and teach much about the cultures.
    I vote for Spanish, then you can come to Mexico!

  23. Pingback: Rated “R” « theseeker

  24. I love the sound of German, I think it sounds more beautiful than French – even though I don’t understand a word of either. I can only speak two languages, so I don’t really know what to suggest since you know much more on the subject than I do :)

  25. maggiemq says:

    I would suggest Norwegian – but it wasn’t an option..
    But I would say French.

  26. angloswiss says:

    I will not advise any language, because that is something you must realise yourself. I am 66 years old and now speak French, Italian, German, Swiss German, russian and did a year learning Arabic. I need my foreign languages living in Switzerland as being originally British. My husband says I am never at a loss for words. I just speak and that is my advantage. I don’t care about mistakes. If I do not know the word in french or Italian, then I use the english one with an accent. Languages are just a hobby of mine. We speak Swiss German at home, but my kids speak english as well. What helps of course is being in the country where the language is spoken, hence my bilingual talent in german and english (and swiss german).

  27. cshowers says:

    I would suggest Hebrew, not so much for you as for me. :) My dream is to go to Israel one day.

    Many blessings,

  28. Cyrielle Benoit says:

    Please start with French if you have already mastered Spanish. Most of the world uses three languages: French, Spanish, and English.

  29. Saskia says:

    Hebrew :) And I agree, it is the sexiest language in the world.
    It took me longer to learn Hebrew than Italian, because the concept is so different from European languages, but yet I find it possible and easy to learn. True, you can’t really use it a lot, but it’s too beautiful to bypass it.
    Persian would be my second choice, BUT i found it already very hard to learn Arabic (which I don’t speak anymore unfortunately) and somehow I believe the Persian is even more difficult to study.
    Therefore the next point on my personal wish list would be Portuguese.

  30. Elke says:

    My vote goes for hebrew. hebrew is not my mothertongue, but i vote for it for 2 reasons:
    1. at the beginning of my hebrew-studies, i had little problems and difficulties, because its not very similar to european languags. but after a while (about 6 month) it made “click”. from then on, it was very nice and refreshing for me to talk hebrew. in the meantime my hebrew became better then my english. english i cant wright anymore, like i did in the past. i am not fluently in english, like i was few years ago. so therefore i can only read fluently and also in this case, i dont understand everything. so thats why i recommend to learn hebrew. perhaps one day you will wright in hebrew. your blog is the last english one, which i read.
    2. hebrew is indeed sexy, very sexy!!

  31. Taylor says:

    I think you should learn Persian because your wife is Persian, thats just a given and you should want to learn it for that reason. Its important that you have someone around to reinforce your language skills in the form of practice and conversation. I wanted to learn Swahili because my dad is Tanzanian however it was pointless because I have nobody to speak it with. It shouldn’t matter whether or not it is useful for work because if your heart is not in it, and you’re only doing it for monetary motivations, you will never become fluent. Spanish is popular here in the USA, especially here in California, because of our proximity to Mexico and Latin America. That being said, I am learning Persian instead because I am interested in the people and culture. I studied German, and LOVE it, however I lost my skills because although I have every dubbed Germany DVD and books and music, I had nobody to practice with here in the States. If you have no interest in the people or culture then there is no point in learning the language as you will have nobody to speak with nor be interested in reading news in their language or watching their movies. So, what language did you end up choosing a year later? :) Viel gluck!

    • The problem with Persian is not only that I find it very hard, but that we have absolutely no plans of moving to Iran until it becomes a free country. And that may be decades.

      I ended up learning Italian now because I will move to Sicily next month. Beautiful language and not too hard to learn (especially after having had French at school for many years).

  32. Pingback: Rated “R” | The Seeker

  33. Ehsan says:

    I am persian and I suggest learning italian instead. …..don’t waste your time learning
    Persian. It is a beautiful language I admit but there is a bleak future for this
    Country and its people ahead. No chance of a cultural revival. And hypothetically if there were such chance it takes as you mentioned decades for the country to get back on its feet again, and as a persian poet says “life is backstabbingly short” !………btw Italian is the true sucssecor of the Latin, the prince of languages. ;-)

    • I have actually decided to learn Italian, not least because I have been living in Italy for almost a year now. I like the language, but my progress has not been too great, especially for lack of communication and because I still use German and English for all my reading and writing and for my work.

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