For those of you who love to travel as much as Curzon, Younghusband and I, you’ve surely already learned or thought about learning a foreign language to ease your way through the world. Yet, with so many languages and around 200 countries, where do you begin? I speak German and English with bits of Spanish, Serbo-Croat and Arabic. Curzon and Younghusband both speak English, Japanese and bits of other things like Chinese. Yet, if we leave interest aside and speak on a practical level, where will you get the most bang for your buck in terms of foreign languages? ComingAnarchy tells you…
There are a number of ways to rank languages, but I’m concentrating on practicality, thus though Chinese speakers outnumber speakers of everything else, it’s not necessarily a practical language to learn (yet).
1) English – This is a no brainer. Spoken by the US, Canada, UK, NZ, Australia, South Africa and others. English is the #1 second language throughout the world and the lingua franca of the 21st century. If you don’t speak English, don’t leave your home.
2) Spanish – Spoken by over 350 million people (natively) in 20 countries, all of which also have a high birth rate, Spanish is easily the second most important language in the world after English covering essentially all of the Americas and Caribbean. Additionally, being a Romance language, Spanish will get you far in Portugese speaking countries, Italy and also somewhat in French speaking countries.
3) Arabic – Spoken as a native language in around 20 countries, and spoken by minorities and as a 2nd language in around 5 others, Arabic is a heavyweight on the world stage also being one of the 5 official languages of the United Nations. It’s influence on other languages such as Farsi and Urdu as well as its alphabet being used in those two countries plus places like Malaysia makes Arabic a fine, very useful, yet difficult pick for travellers.
4) Russian – Spoken in the largest country on earth by around 145 million people natively and 110 million as a second langauge, Russian can be used from Eastern Europe to the Pacific in regions like the Caucasus and Central Asia, though often not people’s favorite second language. Lastly, though there are many Slavic languages, Russian has enough similarities to others that you’ll be able to communicate with those who don’t speak Russian but speak things like Polish or Serbo-Croat.
5) French – Ranked the 9th most spoken language in the world with 115 million native speakers and 65 million second language speakers. French is also globally distributed and thus practical on almost all ends of the earth. French was a world language of the past and is thus still practical though quickly losing ground.
There are naturally a few others which could be useful such as Turkish, but this list is concentrated on the big boys. Again, one’s interest will also dictate what is worthwhile to learn. Whereas Curzon and Younghusband are clear Asian lovers, I have almost no interest at all in Asia. Yet, Central Asia is one of my loves and thus Turkish (due to its strong similarities to Central Asian Turkic languages) is a good choice for me as is Arabic and Farsi for the Middle East.
Readers, any other recommendations? What has helped you the most in getting around the globe, aside from English and sign language =)