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“What Language Should I Take in College?” 5 Big Contenders

College.

It’s a time for parties, required courses and decisions you’ll regret.

But there’s one thing you should never regret: learning a second language.

A lot of colleges and universities require language education before you graduate.

Even if your school doesn’t require it, learning a second language in college is a popular (and smart) choice.

The problem is that there are a lot of options. Big schools can offer everything from Albanian to Zulu. The selection is exciting, but at the same time, it makes deciding what second language to learn quite the challenge.

Luckily, there are some languages that stand out as top options. These languages undoubtedly make the Dean’s List for usefulness.

Ultimately, though, it’s all about finding the language that’s right for you.

So before we look at the best overall options for college language learning today, let’s go over a few things you should consider.

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Why You Should Carefully Consider Your Options When Selecting What Language to Take in College

Learning a language means learning a skill that can last a lifetime. If you stay in practice, the language you learn in college can significantly affect your life, including where you travel, how you interact with people and even what Netflix shows you binge.

Selecting the right language can increase your motivation and your capacity to learn the language. Choosing a language you like and actually want to learn will make it easier to keep pushing forward. Therefore, you’re much more likely to reach full fluency at some point in your life.

What language you choose can affect your career path. For instance, if you choose Latin, chances are international business positions won’t be clamoring for your language skills. Choose Chinese, though, and you’re likely to get a lot further in the business world!

Before Selecting a Language, Think About Why You’re Studying a Language

Thinking about why you’re studying a language is essential before you consider what language to take. This is because your motivation can directly affect what language is best for you. Here are a few key questions to consider.

  • Are you taking a language because you’re required to? If your sole reason for taking a language is because it’s required, you’ll probably want to select an easy language to learn. For instance, Spanish is a lot easier for native English speakers than Chinese. If you study an easier language, you can reach some level of proficiency without putting in as much time or effort.
  • Are you taking a language for your career? If so, look into what languages are in demand in your field. For instance, if you’re studying archaeology, classic languages like Latin, Greek and Biblical Hebrew may be useful. If you’re studying business, though, Mandarin Chinese is in hot demand. Even within industries, there’s some variation based on the nature of the business. For instance, if you’re interested in working for a paper company, Scandinavian languages will likely come in handy.
  • Are you taking a language for fun? If so, consider what cultures you’re interested in. Whether you’re passionate about the cuisine, the music, the art or even just have the travel bug, picking a culture you’re interested in will make learning the language that much more fun.

Additional Factors to Consider Before Selecting a Language

  • How much work are you prepared to put in? More difficult languages usually require more work, so if you aren’t looking to put in much effort, you can rule more challenging languages out. That said, a lot of it’s also down to how you study and how enjoyable the learning experience is for you.

You can rely on FluentU to make your college language learning experience anything but dull. With fun, real-world videos—like the same sort of stuff you binge on YouTube, but in the language you’re learning—it’s the perfect way to supplement your learning in a personalized, flexible and meaningful way.

  • How is the course delivered? At some universities, less common language options may be delivered online. While this is valid, it might not be the best value since you can often find affordably priced online learning options like private tutoring.
  • How do you plan to use the language in the future? How often and in what contexts do you plan to use the language? This can shape both what language you select and how long you should study that language.
  • Will you want to study additional languages in the future? If so, you might select a language with close relatives in order to make learning easier. For instance, Romance languages like French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish have enough in common that learning one will help you learn others.
  • What message do you want your résumé to send? Since language skills are valuable on résumés, you might consider how your language skills will look in this context. For instance, less common languages might stand out more, while more common languages are more widely applicable.

“What Language Should I Take in College?” 5 Top Options

Arabic

Arabic is an in-demand language that can open up many doors. The American Councils for International Education lists seven top reasons to study Arabic.

One obvious reason to study Arabic is the fact that Arabic is widely spoken. While dialects vary, Arabic is spoken across North Africa and the Middle East. World language resource Ethnologue estimates that Arabic is the fourth most common first language in the world, with an estimated 295 million speakers.

Plus, Arabic is in hot demand with government jobs in security and defense. The National Security Education Program (NSEP) identifies it as a critical language, so you might even be able to snag a spot in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program.

(Mandarin) Chinese

Wondering why you should learn Chinese? Well, there are nearly 1.3 billion reasons. According to Ethnologue, that’s how many people speak Chinese, making it the most widely spoken language on Earth.

Granted, some of these dialects are not mutually intelligible, but Mandarin alone has an estimated 898 million native speakers, so if you don’t count other dialects, Mandarin is still the most spoken first language in the world with more than double the number of native speakers of the next most spoken language, Spanish.

And all of this means buying power. The Chinese economy is huge. In fact, it’s the world’s largest economy. What does this mean for college students? First and foremost, it means job opportunities. Chinese language skills can open doors in the business world since international trade with China is booming. Additionally, with a push to teach more US students Chinese, learning Chinese could open up opportunities for teaching Chinese in the US. If you’re looking to work abroad, there are also plenty of jobs teaching English in China, and knowing Chinese could be just the edge you need to snatch a coveted position.

French

There are so many reasons why you should learn French beyond the delicious baked goods.

Ethnologue estimates that there are over 75 million native French speakers in the world. However, French is also a widely spoken second language, so there are around an estimated 229 million total speakers. French is an official language in 29 countries, including Canada and countries in Europe and Africa.

What’s more, even relatively small colleges and universities often offer French, making it an accessible option for students.

Since French is still widely used in diplomacy, it’s useful for anyone looking to go into international relations or international development. Additionally, France’s strong reputation in arts and culture make it a good choice for anyone looking for a career with an artistic angle, such as aspiring clothing designers, classical musicians, chefs and filmmakers.

German

It may not be as widely spoken as Chinese. It may not be as critical to national needs as Arabic. But there are still a lot of good reasons why you should learn German.

Ethnologue estimates there are nearly 77 million native speakers and over 129 million total speakers in the world. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Plus, Germany’s economy is strong. The CIA World Factbook estimates that it does over one trillion dollars in exports annually, making it the fourth top exporter in the world. Since Germany is so strong in trade, learning German can be helpful for anyone looking for a career in international business.

Germany is also a science and engineering powerhouse. If you’re looking to dive into an innovative field, knowing German can help you connect to other thought leaders.

Since a lot of famous philosophers were German, students interested in further study in that field may benefit from reading works in the original language.

Plus, German is a good language for musicians. After all, many operas are written in German. Plus, you may have heard of a few composers from German-speaking countries: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Handel are just a small sampling of the great German-speaking composers who have become household names.

Spanish

Chances are strong that we don’t need to explain to you why you should learn Spanish. After all, it’s so widely spoken in the US that if you live there, you’ve probably heard it in the last few weeks if not the last few hours.

Ethnologue estimates that over 436 million people speak Spanish as a first language. Over 90 million more speak it as a second language. In the US alone, there are an estimated 41 million native Spanish speakers and another 11 million people who are bilingual.

Because it’s so widely spoken in the US, Spanish is a great choice for any American student looking to work in any field who doesn’t already speak the language. From medicine to law to business, all fields need Spanish speakers.

Plus, Spanish is a convenient option for most students. It’s widely offered in colleges and universities. Because it’s so popular, there are often multiple sessions, making it much easier to fit into a busy schedule.

 

When selecting what language to take in college, always take the most important factors into account, but it’s hard to go wrong with these five top language options.

And One More Thing…

Want to get a head start on your first college language course?

With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos, including movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:

FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.

Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover over or tap on the subtitles to instantly view definitions.

You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “quiz mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.

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