You’ve heard the studies. Learning a second language makes you smarter. It makes you a better problem solver and more marketable to employers. It even reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. “Okay, okay,” you say. “I’m convinced!” But what language should you learn?
Where to start?
It might be an easy decision for you. Perhaps your Swiss grandparents spoke German, so you’d like to learn it and reconnect with your heritage. Maybe you have business ties to China, so you need to learn Mandarin. Or maybe you have a trip planned to Brazil and you’ve got to learn some Portuguese, fast. But what if you have no allegiance or ties to any language?
Spanish speakers are everywhere!
If you want the benefits of language learning and would like to base your decision on statistics alone, Spanish is your language. The sheer number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. is astounding. According to the 2011 American Community Survey from the Pew Research Center, 37.6 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home. For a comparison, the next most spoken language (not including English, of course) is Chinese, which has 2.8 million speakers. By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the amount of Spanish speakers will range between 39 million and 43 million.
So that bilingual job posting that caught your eye? It’s Spanish they want, approximately 75 percent of the time. Speaking Spanish will make it really easy to travel, as 20 countries have Spanish as an official language, and according to Ethnologue, Spanish is now the second most spoken language in the world.
Want to improve your native language? Learn Spanish.
If you’re worried that learning Spanish will have an adverse effect on your English, don’t be. Learning the structure of another language helps you better understand your own language. (Aha! I finally understand what an indirect object is!) Spanish is a Romance language, which means that it evolved from Latin, and since English also borrows heavily from Latin, many Spanish words sound like English words and vice versa. (Abandon = abandonar, deduce = deducir, medicine = medicina, etc.)
Still not sure? Spanish is ranked as a Category I by the Foreign Service Institute, which means that it’s a relatively easy language to learn. (Compare Japanese, which is a Category III.) And studies have shown that once you learn a second language, you have an easier time learning a third language. So think of Spanish as the gateway language which will not only prove incredibly useful in the United States, it will put you well on your way to learning French, German, Arabic, anything you want. So start learning Spanish today, and you’ll be one step closer to becoming a polyglot!
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