As native English speakers, we are fairly lucky when we travel due to the fact that our mother tongue is widely spoken across the globe, and is often considered as the international language. However, learning a new language is not only interesting, it’s a valuable skill to have. Languages open up countless windows of opportunity both in terms of travel, and more generally in our daily lives. Languages can help us form deeper connections and have conversations of greater substance with the locals that we interact with overseas, and they can help us to further understand the other cultures that coexist within our own country.
If you’ve established that you’d like to take the time to learn a language, but you’re unsure which would come in the most useful for future adventures then fear not, brave women. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most useful and widely-spoken languages to help provide you with some guidance.
Since Spanish is so widely-spoken in Central and South America and, of course, Spain, this is a great language to learn. You will find that in many of these countries, fewer people speak English than you may expect – even in major Spanish cities like Madrid. Never underestimate the value of being able to read and understand the food menu, or to be able to converse a little with waiters and store owners, rather than gesturing at things like a mime.
If you are based on the North American continent (USA and Canada), you will of course be accustomed to encountering people of Hispanic descent who have moved across the border. Learning Spanish enables us to interact with our Spanish neighbours, and helps us to learn more about their culture.
Difficulty: Easy. The European languages of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian follow a similar structure in terms of their verb endings, word positioning, etc. They come fairly easily to native English speakers and once you learn one, you are in good stead to learn the others.
Sacre bluer! The language of love, french is spoken in France (of course), Luxembourg, the Eastern part of Canada, and many Arabic and African countries who speak it as a second language. For those who have always had romantic daydreams about visiting Paris, enjoying a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, and then heading to Versaille to explore the stunning stately homes, then studying French is certainly going to aid you in your adventures. Similarly, if you’re the adventurous type that is looking to haggle the prices of souvenirs and local wares in Moroccan bazaars, or to explore Africa, then you can put your French to good use there also.
Difficulty: Easy. Similar structure to Spanish and not too difficult for native English speakers to pick up.
Mandarin is now officially known as the most spoken language in the world, with over 14% of the world’s population citing it as their native tongue. This is useful if you are looking to travel to China, since many people will not be able to speak English once you venture off the beaten track. With China now becoming a huge economic figure, and the western world continuing to look to China for help with their production and business needs, it’s also useful to learn Mandarin if you are working in the field of International business.
Difficulty: High. Mandarin follows a completely different set of linguistic rules as compared to English or European languages, and may take some time for those not experienced in Asian language to master. The same logic cannot be applied to the sentence and verb structures, and the high count of mandarin symbols are simply images that need to be memorised, rather than letters that can be joined together in a fashion which you would a typical alphabet. (For example, one image may depict mountain, one may depict fire, combining the mountain + fire symbol = volcano, as opposed to individual symbols denoting each letter)
Have you ever dreamed of dousing yourself in glitter, getting all dressed up and heading on down to the Rio carnival? Then Portuguese will come in incredibly handy. Spoken in Portugal (of course), Brazil and some parts of Africa, Portuguese is widely-spoken today. It is particularly useful in Brazil, since the majority of Brazilians you will encounter during your adventures will not speak a huge amount of English.
Difficulty: Easy. Portuguese follows the same European language principles as Spanish, French, etc.
If you’re looking for a challenge and you have an interest in Asian cultures, Japanese may just be the language for you. You may ask “why Japanese?”, since it isn’t a principle or second language anywhere outside of Japan; however, Japan ranks highly in the world of business as the third largest economy, so if you work in international business, or if you dream of taking a trip through Japan, this is a valuable language to learn.
If you should find yourself in Japan, you will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of people in Tokyo who speak at least very basic English. However, once you leave the capital, you also leave that ability to converse in English, so at least prepare a few basic phrases.
Difficulty: Difficult. Reading Japanese is particularly tricky to master since a whopping three alphabets are incorporated into it – Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. You will need to learn at least several thousand characters before you know sufficient Japanese to read the newspaper.
Languages are useful in helping you travel better, and build bonds with the people along your way, in addition to having benefits to your professional career. Though we’ve detailed a few of the most useful languages based on popularity, the most useful language for you is whichever that you take a personal interest in. Maybe you want to learn Spanish because you want a language that you can speak in many areas that you will travel in the future, or maybe you want to learn Korean because you have a fascination with Korean culture. At the end of the day, it’s up to you. Even just learning a few basic phrases (introductions, asking directions and ordering food) can help you substantially in your travels.
When you make your choice, check out our article on how to learn a foreign language for some helpful tips to get you started.