There are so many reasons to learn a language, and some languages will come in much more useful than others. So, what are the best languages to learn in 2021? What language should you learn?
Below, you will find a variety of languages and motivations for learning a language. Your motivation and goal can help you decide the best way of learning a language, whether it’s by complete immersion (e.g. moving to that country), learning using an app for 15 minutes a day, or self-studying with books and tutors.
What is the best language for you to learn this year?
What language should I learn in 2021?
While many people know exactly what language they want to learn (e.g. Japan is on your bucket list and you want to learn Japanese, or Spanish because you want to move to Spain), maybe you want to learn a language but don’t know which to choose. If you’ve never learnt a foreign language before, it can seem pretty tricky to start!
Learn a ‘useful’ language
This is the usual reason that people have for learning a certain language – for example, if you want to go into finance or banking, German might be particularly useful. If you’re interested in developing markets and speaking one of the most spoken languages in the world, Spanish would be a good choice. If you want to learn the language of a rapidly growing global power, then Mandarin would be an option.
Learning a language that will be ‘useful’ is exactly why I studied German at university. I originally wanted to work in finance, and Germany as an economic powerhouse meant that it would give me a boost when applying for jobs or choosing where I wanted to work. I would be able to work in a German company abroad, or work in Austria or Germany (which I did, in fact).
While this option is definitely a big motivation for learning a language, I don’t necessarily think it’s the best motivation. If learning a language is simply a chore because you think it’s the language you should be learning, you won’t be as motivated as you would be if you are learning a language because you love it, or the country and the culture.
Learn a widely spoken language
Another reason to learn a particular language might be in order to converse with as many people as possible. Certain languages are more widely spoken than others, either because they are spoken in multiple countries or because they are the official language of one or two large countries.
Some of the most spoken languages globally are:
- Mandarin Chinese (960 million native speakers and an official language in China, Taiwan and Singapore)
- Spanish (official language in 20 countries, with 480 million native speakers)
- English (360 million native speakers and 750 million second-language speakers; official language in 67 countries)
- Hindi (more than 320 million native speakers)
- Arabic (310 million native speakers across all dialects and the official language in 23 countries)
- Portuguese (250 million native speakers and an official language in nine countries)
- Bengali (230 million native speakers, the national language in Bangladesh and an official language in India)
- Russian (150 million native speakers and an official language in 11 countries)
- Japanese (over 120 million native speakers)
- German (95 million native speakers across six countries)
Learn a language because of the country or culture
A big motivation for language learning is because of a love of that country or their culture. It’s a major reason behind why many people start to learn Japanese or Korean, thanks to a love of anime and manga or K-pop and K-drama.
Learning Korean has boomed in recent years, driven by the global popularity of K-pop. Korean, with 77 million native speakers, is now Duolingo’s sixth most popular course amongst English speakers, with over 3 million learners taking the course.
According to Duolingo, the fastest growing language on the platform are Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Turkish, and Chinese. In the UK specifically, Welsh is the fastest growing language with 44% more learners in 2020 than 2019, followed by Hindi and Japanese. In the US, Turkish is the fastest growing on the platform, followed by Japanese and English. According to the platform, the main reasons people state for learning these languages are travel and family!
So, if you love K-pop or K-drama, then it might give you great motivation for learning Korean. Maybe you love Italian food and culture, so learning Italian for a future trip would be useful.
Having an interest or love for the country and culture can really help with motivation to keep up learning a language. Additionally, if you love music, film or TV in that language then you’ll already be ahead with language immersion, which is one of the best ways to learn a language!
Learn the language of your ancestors
Another major reason for learning a language is because of your family or family heritage. For example, this is why I have been learning Lithuanian! My great-grandfather was from Lithuania, near Marijampolė, and I still have a Lithuanian surname. I’ve always been interested in the country and I’ve visited Lithuania three times, so in the first lockdown last year I decided to work on learning Lithuanian properly!
Alternatively, you can learn the language of your country’s ancestors. This is a popular reason amongst language learners in the USA, with popular languages on apps including Irish, Navajo, Italian, and German.
Learn a language for travel
While most of us can’t travel right now, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop planning for travel! If you have any particular destinations firmly on your bucket list, then why not learn that language?
For example, maybe once we can travel properly again, you really want to go to Japan. Maybe you want to move to Spain, or somewhere in Central America. Well, why not use your time now to learn a little of the language each day?
There are so many languages that are useful to know when travelling. Of course, the main language would be the official language of the country that you want to visit. However, you can also learn a language that would be useful in various countries! For example, learning German will be useful for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (although, as a German speaker, maybe not Switzerland…). Spanish is useful around South America, Central America, and Spain as well. French is handy in France (duh), but also in places like Morocco. Learning Croatian (Serbo-Croatian, also known as Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian, four mutually intelligible language varieties) will mean that you can converse and understand in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro.
Learn a language just because!
Finally, learn a language just because you want to! I’m currently learning Russian. Why? No reason at all. I wanted to. It seemed fun.
While not having a reason for learning a language could mean that you don’t keep it up, it does mean that you’ll definitely enjoy learning it! Over the various lockdowns in 2020, I learnt some Moroccan Arabic (Darija), as well as some Catalan, Maltese, Swedish, and Dakota. Why? Because I felt like it at the time. It was fun, I enjoyed myself, and I had the opportunity to learn some interesting facts about the countries, cultures and languages.
If you fancy learning some of a language, then just go for it! Whatever your reason is, or if there’s no reason at all, you should definitely learn a language in 2021.
There is no real list for the best languages to learn, as it entirely depends on your motivation and goals with language learning. Find your motivation behind language learning, and choose the best language for you!
What language are you going to learn this year?