10 More Languages You Should Consider Studying

 

Back in April 2014 I had a major hit with a post titled 5 Languages You Should Consider Studying. So following that success here are ten more wonderful languages that you probably don’t see offered at your local high school.

These are all major world languages with tens of millions of speakers that really don’t see the recognition or international interest they should. They are ranked in no particular order.

1.) Urdu/Hindi, less commonly called “Hindustani” is a very prominent world language native to northern India and Pakistan. Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible to one another, at least when spoken, so learning one opens up verbal communication with the other.

If you choose your languages based on how many speakers they can claim, you can’t really go wrong here.

  

Estimates vary dramatically, but anywhere from 300 million to over half a billion people around the world speak one of these two languages.

With India poised to overtake China as the world’s most populated country by 2030 the rise of Hindi, as well as other Indian languages, seems inevitable.

It’s important to remember that Hindi isn’t the only language in India, just as Urdu isn’t the only language in Pakistan, but they each represent a larger L2 population than any other language in their respective countries.

In Pakistan; Urdu is spoken natively by a relatively small population but understood by most of the country as a 2nd language.

It is also, along with English, the official language and used by the nation’s government. Hindi differs slightly in that while it is still by far the most widespread language in India, it is only official in some regions of the country.

India has a lot of languages and its central government has given regional governments the right to choose their own local-official languages.

Some of the bigger languages are Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali.

 

digital media in india infographic

Not planning a trip to India? India is huge, literally and when it comes to international impact. With Bollywood on the rise around the world the entertainment industry could be looking at a revolution that no longer places the US at the forefront. India is taking to social media and the Internet faster and harder than any other country today. These days -so goes the Internet – so goes the world.

While international investment in India has been huge for some time now, at times rather controversially, India and Pakistan both promise an increase in business and communications opportunities in the future. And what language can we presume these businesses will be speaking? Well, probably a bit of English, but also Urdu/Hindi.

Furthermore, for all of you language lovers, learning Urdu and Hindi properly will include reading and writing. Hindi uses Devanagari script (the one that looks like squiggly snakes hanging from a tree branch?) and Urdu uses Nasta’liq, a variant of Persian script which is itself a variant of Arabic. Learning these two scripts opens up a world of other languages that also use these scripts, giving you a leg up on future projects.

2.) Bengali, sometimes referred to as Bangla, is the native language of Bangladesh and the 2nd most widely spoken language on the Indian Subcontinent after Urdu/Hindi. Another Indo-Aryan language, Bengali is spoken by a whopping 250 million speakers inside Bangladesh, India and around the world. Bangladesh is ranked among the world’s fastest emerging nations and every year thousands more Bangla speakers flock to the Internet bringing with them their language and culture.

As with any language, Bengali can claim a rich history of literature, music and art. Bengali was the first language of Ravi Shankar, the world famous Indian sitar player and songwriter and the teacher of George Harrison of the Beatles. Bengali poet/writer/painter/composer Rabindranath Tagore is Asia’s only Nobel literature prize winner and became the first non-European to hold the honor in 1913.

One of the biggest issues facing those interested in learning the Bengali language, as well as many of the other languages listed here; is the lack of English language resources. The blog A Tangle of Wires is a decent place to start for those looking for a nice list of resources available online. You can also check out www.mylanguages.org.

Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel prize for li...
Rabindranath Tagore

3.) Greek may not be able to claim the huge speaker counts that some of the others on this list can claim, nor can it claim to be a language essential to most international business. Ranking in as the world’s 61st language by number of speakers with a still respectable 12 million, this language may be smaller, but don’t discount its potential.

You may be surprised to know that you already know a bit of Greek, in fact you’re reading it right now.

Well, sort of anyway. Approximately 25% of the English lexicon is made up of Greek words. Learning Greek is one of the best ways to increase your understanding of English or any number of other European languages. Greek occupies its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family making it unlike any other language. It can also claim to be the oldest recorded living language having been spoken continuously in on the Balkan peninsula and nearby since the end of the third millennium BC.

The language has of course changed over the past several thousand years, but the impact that it has left on the whole of Europe and the Near/Middle East is too vast to be adequately summarized.

There may not be an overabundance of Greek speakers in general, but they are by no means an insignificant minority. Greek communities that still proudly use their native language between themselves exist in most major cities around the world. These little Hellenic oases are ripe with Greek cultural venues, restaurants and music.

The literary traditions of Greece are without parallel and are among the world’s most famous. Homer’s epic poems are some of the world’s most cherished writings, and while they were of course written in Ancient Greek, it is my understanding that being able to read Modern Greek would at least bring you much closer to the best translation.

4.) Latin is dead. Some people like to refute this fact by stating that they still use it in the Vatican or that a select few individuals chose to raise their children speaking it natively, but the harsh truth is that Latin is still a dead language and calling it otherwise shows a lack of linguistic understanding. (Here comes the hate…)

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn it!

Just like Greek, Latin is one of the most important languages in European history and formed the basis for or strongly influenced many of the languages we have in Europe and around the world today – including of course, English. Learning Latin would give anyone looking to improve his or her Romance language skills a huge boost.

Latin is (still) dead, but it may not stay that way. I remain skeptical for now, but a large and growing movement called “Living Latin” sometimes called “Spoken Latin” or “Live Latin”, is gaining ground in some places, particularly online. Various Social Media sites, including Facebook, now offer Latin as a language option for their pages.

Many web portals, including some on Wikipedia, have opened up offering Latin based forum/discussion boards and Latin language blogs. Living Latin aims to make Latin something of a universal 2nd language and a vessel for international communication and understanding. I’m disinclined to think it will really take hold the way its supporters hope, but it may still make a certain comeback.

Latin – like Greek, is also a language rich with ancient literature and history. While most of it has long since been translated, and the chances of you personally getting a chance to dig around in some Roman ruins for original inscriptions are probably low, any language enthusiast can tell you that there’s nothing quite like reading an original text without translation.

Today, Latin is still used in several different academic fields for various essential purposes and is commonly accepted around the world for use in systems such as binomial nomenclature, Carl Linnaeus’s system for naming organisms, we usually call it “Latin name” or “Long fancy scientific name”. This system is universally accepted and Latin is still often taught in schools and universities around the world, especially to those going into medical or other scientific fields.

5.) Klingon!

Just kidding, I’m not serious, stow your rage, this is just my way of fishing for silly comments from readers who skimmed the headings and then went all rageface when they saw “Klingon”. It’s truly baffling just how rage addled people become when conlangs pop up. They can’t just let it go with a “not my cup of tea” sentiment, they have to express the burning, unbridled rage of a thousand supernovae.

It’s weird.

You could learn Klingon if you really wanted to, but other than winning games of  Trivial Pursuits: Star Trek Edition and having a really convincing cosplay voice there really aren’t a lot of good reasons that I can offer for learning this particular conlang. Perhaps it will make learning High Vulcan easier?

This is also a response to a reader who was displeased about my inclusion of Esperanto in the last post. He stated that if I were to include Esperanto, why not include Klingon as well? Well, this is for you, angry, anti-conlang guy.

Its alphabet is pretty cool looking, and Google Translate actually supports it, so if you’re feeling properly motivated to go learn Klingon, have at!

6.) Swahili, or Kiswahili as it is called natively, is a Bantu language and Africa’s largest and most widely studied indigenous language. Swahili is spoken by around 15 million people natively, mostly in the East African nations of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania but as a lingua franca for tens of millions more throughout the African continent. The estimated total speaker count is believed to be over 140 million.

For those interested in cultural, political or economical issues in Africa, Swahili is a must. The language has taken on a vast number of loanwords from former colonial powers including English, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese and Arabic, making it a vast, vibrant language that is unfortunately, so often associated with third world countries, poverty and violence. This is probably the reason it doesn’t get the recognition it requires to become a major player in international communications.

In my first post I mentioned French growing as a result of anticipated growth among Sub-Saharan African nations in the next 50 or so years and this growth will likely occur right along side the growth of regional African languages and will undoubtedly include Swahili. It is not unreasonable to assume that this language will expand considerably in the coming decades as more and more African nations experience booms in prosperity and as more people take to the Internet, to travel abroad, and as foreign businesses begin to invest more heavily in Africa.

7.) Turkish is big. A lot bigger than you probably thought. Turkey itself is a huge, modern country with thousands of years of history and a huge – and growing – population and the sphere of political and economic influence that comes with it. Turkish is spoken by around 100 million people as a first or second language in Turkey and around the world.

Poised at the gateway between East and West, the Turkish language is closely related to about 30 other Turkic languages that span an enormous geo-political space from Siberia to Central Asia to Eastern Europe and knowledge of one opens a window into the others. Knowledge of Turkish can bring someone a wide variety of jobs, scholarships or other opportunities to find work or study anywhere from China to Cyprus.

Map of the number of Turkish people in each country

Turkey is still pending membership into the European Union, but still enjoys a close relationship with Europe – particularly in Germany where the language is one of the largest minority languages around.

Turkish was the language of the Ottoman Empire, one of world history’s longest lived and largest empires that spanned most of the Middle East and North Africa for over 600 years from the 13th century to the beginning of the 20th. The influence of the Ottomans can still be felt all over the world and if you’re a history buff interested in Turkish or Middle Eastern history you may find that knowing a little bit of Turkish goes a long way.

Also, kebabs. That is all.

8.) Vietnamese is the most widely spoken Australasiatic language by a wide margin. With over 75 million native speakers alone it easily surpasses any competition making it one of the most influential and commonplace languages in South East Asia.

Vietnamese is not restricted, however, to Asia. The language has an enormous native speaking population living in The United States and Australia. In the former it ranks in as the 6th most common minority language; ahead of German and behind French.

 
One Pillar Pagoda Tiếng Việt: Chùa Mộ...

Despite this fact, German is still the third most commonly taught language in high schools in the US. Very rare are programs teaching Vietnamese in US public schools, even in states like California and Hawaii where it, along with Tagalog, makes up an enormous (and rapidly growing) portion of state minority language speakers.

For many Westerners, breaking into Asian languages may seem like a bit of a pipe dream. It doesn’t help that we’re constantly reminded of how difficult Chinese or Korean are, that Burmese just looks like a bunch of circles, or how Japanese uses three different writing systems and that you have to memorize them all! This may or may not be the case for you, but if it is you may find Vietnamese to be a gentler place to start exploring Asian languages than some of its neighbors.

The Vietnamese language uses the Latin alphabet, taking out the arcane characters so often associated with Asian languages and that often turn those of us who aren’t acquainted with them off before ever being given a chance. Yes, the diacritics look like a mess, but it’s easier to decode some diacritics attached to a familiar alphabet than it is to memorize an entirely new system.

Due to the strong influence of Chinese on the Vietnamese language and the similar tonal structure, the latter may prove an “easier” stepping stone to other languages.

For more information on traditional Vietnamese Chữ Nôm script, check out this article.

Coat of Arms of Sweden

9.) Swedish is often heralded as one of the easiest languages for speakers of English or other Germanic languages to learn. The problem with this Scandinavian language only arises when you have to defend its practicality before naysayers.

Sweden, as a nation, has an (occasionally exaggerated) reputation for being basically bilingual. Still, a very large percentage of its population speaks fluent or near fluent English. So as an English speaker visiting Sweden, trying to justify learning a language that nobody is going to want to speak with you anyway might seem a bit difficult.

Despite that fact, I still think Swedish is a valuable language, but when it comes to motivation to learn you may need to look outside the box. Sweden is a fascinating, progressive, beautiful country full of welcoming, highly educated people and for those seeking to spend a significant amount of time in the Northern European country would do well to learn the language in order to find work or seek citizenship.

However, one of the coolest things about Swedish is that it is mutually intelligible, more or less, with Danish and Norwegian.While there are probably some slight inconveniences when trying to communicate across languages it is usually sufficient for communication, and with a little effort, you can stick two additional languages into your portfolio as well as communicate with a lot more people.

10.) Persian, called Farsi in Iran, Tajik in Tajikistan and Dari in Afghanistan, with some slight variation, is an Indo-European language more closely related to Urdu/Hindi than to Arabic, despite its contemporary proximity and alphabet based on Arabic script.

With over 110 million total speakers world wide (around 60 million native and another 50 or so L2 speakers) it easily ranks as one of the world’s more influential languages and today knowledge of Persian could not be more paramount on the global stage.

Region where Persian is spoken natively.
Places where Persian is spoken natively

Due to current political tensions in the Persian speaking corners of the world there are ample translation or interpretation opportunities for speakers within governments all over the world and the need only seems to be growing.

But there are far, far more reasons why Persian might just be the best language project for you to consider next.

The language has gone relatively unchanged for the past millennium making it possible for a contemporary learner to read original translations from the language’s fabulously rich written tradition which includes such writers as Rumi and Ferdowsi.

Persian served as one of the most influential and widely used languages for much of the past thousand years in Southern Asia and as a result is absolutely essential for anyone interested in the history and culture of the region.

As with Urdu, learning Persian would give the learner some familiarity with Arabic script and provides a similar window into other regional languages that make use of the same, or similar systems.

Conclusion

There you have it: another list of languages you may or may not have considered studying and reasons to consider each. As with last time, this list could never be adequately completed. We all find personal motivations to learn the languages we choose and I would grow old and grey before ever managing to outline them all.

For reasons like this I have deliberately omitted languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Russian or Mandarin. These languages need no spokesman to promote their value or the extent of their influence. And I surely hope I don’t need to convince my readers to learn English.

Are you planning on learning, or currently learning any of these languages? Why did you choose them, and what additional reasons for learning these languages might you add?

 

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  • Glad to see Vietnamese mentioned!

    The Latin alphabet does make it less intimidating than many other Asian languages and the grammar is more straightforward than some others too. Having dabbled in Korean since learning Vietnamese, I’d echo there are vocabulary similarities that make Korean a little easier than it would be straight off.

    • I dabbled (extremely briefly) in Korean myself, but have yet to delve into Vietnamese. While I will hopefully return to Korean one day (I took it up in super sloppy, unplanned anticipation of a sudden and unexpected trip to Korea that didn’t end up happening.) I found it brutally hard.

      I think that may be mostly due to a lack of proper motivation, and lack of planning on my part, but it certainly left me reeling and somewhat intimidated. I’ll get over it.

      Thank you for reading and for your comment!

    • Anonymous

      Korean has a pretty easy alphabet and is a very phonetic and logical language… It’s pretty simple once you can actually get into it. Then again, I’ve been learning it since I was young, so…

    • I’m a big proponent of the idea that no language is exceptionally difficult. (Except maybe Ithkuil).

      The difficulty of a language will depend on a lot of factors, and I actually really liked the Korean writing system. I didn’t memorize it, but the structure seems highly efficient and didn’t seem like it would be too rough.

      Like I said, I spent about 4 days working on my Korean, and without proper motivation is was really just drudgery. I would like to return to it, if for no other reason than to learn to read the script – even if I don’t understand the words.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • How about Bahasa Indonesia/Malay ? The “lingua franca” of South East Asia region, spoken by more than 200 millions people, recognized as official language in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

    • Hi Adrian,

      I happen to agree with you there! That’s why Indonesian is included on the original post that came before this one. You can find a link to it here:

      http://bit.ly/1kb4bnX

      Thanks for your comment and for reading!

  • Andersson Causayá

    Thank you , i like so much your pag . I will study the native languages of my country . Now i am learning some native languages.

  • I’m really glad to hear that, Andersson!

    Thank you for reading and for your comment.

    What are the native languages that you’re studying, if you don’t mind me asking?

  • Sara Aghaee

    Arabic and Persian/Urdu script are not the same. The letters, for one, have different pronunciations and Persian has four more letters than Arabic. Also, Arabic uses a lot of accent marks that are not used in Persian script.

    • You’re right, I’m not sure why the language in the article wasn’t more clear about that. It has been updated to reflect similarity rather than sameness.

      I still think learning one gives an advantage when it comes to learning the other.

      Thanks!

  • Cesar Gil

    I can think of one benefit of learning Klingon, although it applies to any language. It is adding flexibility to your brain and exercising it to deal with different language paradigms and improving memory retention.

    Another benefit that mostly applies to human-made languages is to appreciate the current state of the art of artificial language creation. Though not every human-created language will necessary be regular (the first attempts were almost as difficult as a natural language), the tendency is that human-made language will be made regular, though one or another irregularity may be thrown in for naturalness or for efficiency issues. So we can appreciate language design from a perspective and understand the issues involved and hopefully create improved artificial languages in the future.

  • Boroto

    Have you thought about including any sign languages in lists like these? The advantages being that not only do they offer something completely different to most languages, but that you can often find native speakers to practice with where you live (as well as learning a method of communication with people who may be unable to learn spoken English). I’m learning BSL (that’s British Sign Language) and it’s been a really interesting journey. (:

    • I’ve really been meaning to do more with sign languages, both personally and as topics here on this site. Being not well versed in sign languages or their users I didn’t feel that I was the best to do much writing about them. I should look into that.

      Great suggestion.

  • Fay Swan

    There are lots of good reasons to learn Esperanto. It is sad that people don’t see that. Each to their own, but I have found it to be very useful and great fun. I’d give Klingon a go just for fun, but if I were to pick any con lang a go it would have to be LOTR elvish. I have to admit this list isn’t really on my to do list at the moment. I tried Greek once not sure I want to try again. At the moment its good old Spanish and Esperanto. Would love to do Chinese or Korean in the future. Interesting article though. You never know things may change.