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The language you learn should depend on the life you want to live, so here’s a list that matches five tongues to their corresponding lifestyles.

Tongue Twister

The language you learn should depend on the life you want to live, so here’s a list that matches five tongues to their corresponding lifestyles.

By Lexi Lieberman, University of Pennsylvania


There are thousands of spoken languages in the world.

Yes, not just hundreds, but thousands. Despite the enormous array of dialects, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could even name thirty of these different languages, let alone speak more than four of them.

In high school, most students are allowed to pick from a select, few languages to study: Spanish, French, Latinetc. Upon entering college, the options are expanded. This can be an exciting opportunity for you to learn a new tongue, or, it can be a waste of time studying a language that will never be relevant to your life and will, unfortunately, be quickly forgotten after the class is completed.

So, what language should you take in college? Before you answer this, you should consider a few other questions: What are you interested in studying? Where do you see yourself living or working in the future? Is there a culture or country you want to learn more about?

Now, to help you make your decision, here are five languages you can take and a few supporting reasons as to why knowing them might benefit you.

1. Spanish

Many students enter college proficient in Spanish; however, the argument to continue studying Spanish (or to begin studying it, for those who have not already) is a compelling one. The number of Spanish-speakers in the United States is rising rapidly. In fact, the U.S. Latino population growth projections predict that by the year 2050, the U.S. will be the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, with 132.8 million Hispanics, 30 percent of whom will use Spanish as their first language. This makes knowing Spanish sensible for students across many different disciplines.

It is especially practical to learn Spanish if you are studying medicine. Many doctors and nurses find themselves treating patients who speak Spanish as a first language, and if they cannot understand what the patient is saying, then they cannot effectively treat them immediately, which could be potentially dire in certain situations.

Likewise, business students could benefit from learning Spanish. Not only would the second language give you a resume-boost, but Hispanic consumers are the fastest-growing market segment. Also, if you plan on working in healthcare or education, knowing Spanish may also be important.

2. Chinese (Mandarin)

While there are many different dialects of Chinese, Mandarin is the most common. It’s so common, in fact, that it is spoken by approximately one billion people worldwide.

Of course, it’s widespread usage isn’t the only reason to learn Mandarin; if you plan on studying business, finance, international relations or anything along those lines, speaking Mandarin is a useful skill to have. China has become a dominant economy in the world, and its huge population (and consequently huge workforce) make knowing Chinese an invaluable skill for workers. After all, a businessman who can converse in Chinese with trade partners will be more likely to have good relationships with those associates, and ultimately make better deals.

Image via National Geographic Kids

Chinese literature and philosophy texts can also be dated back thousands of years. Knowing Mandarin will give students access to millennia-old pieces of writing. And while learning Mandarin is no simple feat, it is a skill highly prized by employers on a global scale.

3. German

German may not be one of the most common languages spoken in the United States, but it is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. What’s more, German is one of the most common written languages. One reason for this is that the German book market is the third largest worldwide, following the Chinese and English publishing industries. Learning German will provide you with access to this literature, since many of these books are not translated into English.

If you’re studying any type of science, picking up German can also give you access to a breadth of information. German ranks second as the most commonly used scientific language. If you are interested in studying new technologies firsthand, you should consider traveling to a country such as Germany.

Business students can also benefit from learning German, since Germany is the largest economy within the European Union and the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Are you interested in studying music in the language in which it was composed? German is great for that. Mozart, Bach and Beethoven all spoke German as their native language. Interested in philosophy? Kant and Nietzsche spoke German as well. By learning German, you can appreciate these works of art in their original form.

4. French

Growing up, many students are told to take Spanish instead of French, since Spanish is spoken on a more global scale. However, French isn’t just used in France; in fact, French is spoken on five continents and has an official language status in twenty-nine countries.

If you’re interested in journalism and news production, understanding French can expand your available employment opportunities. French news-outlets, such as TV5MONDE, broadcast news to many different French-speaking countries across numerous continents.

Image via National Geographic Kids

Knowing French can also provide you with more insight into the arts. For example, the Cannes Film Festival is one of the leading film festivals in the world. Francophone Africa is also becoming a popular place to do business, partly because of its growing population. Because of this, speaking French can also make conducting foreign business easier.

5. Portuguese

Learning Portuguese can benefit you in ways that more commonly spoken languages in the U.S. cannot. This is partially because the demand for Portuguese-speakers has gone up at a faster rate than the supply of actual Portuguese-speakers has. Portuguese is the sixth-most spoken language worldwide. There are just under one million native Portuguese speakers in the U.S., and since Brazil’s economy has skyrocketed, now is the best time to pick up this language.

Brazil is now being viewed as one of the world’s economic powerhouses. Doing business in Brazil will present new opportunities, and speaking Portuguese will expand your prospective business options. Also, if you are someone interested in studying languages, Portuguese is a great dialect to pick up early. People who learn Portuguese say it is then easier to pick up than other Romance languages such as Italian, Spanish and French.

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