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7 Bucketlist Languages to Learn Before You Die

There are so many languages to learn! Which ones should you choose? In this post, I examine 7 languages that should be on your bucketlist!

There are so many interesting and unique languages to learn that sometimes it's hard to know which ones to choose! They all have their own benefits and selling points. In this post, I'll be looking at 7 of the best options to add to your bucket list.

1. French


3 Quick Reasons to learn French:

  • It is an official language in 29 countries and has over 400 million speakers.
  • French has a lot of culture and history in art, literature, gastronomy and music.
  • Speaking French gives you opportunities to learn more about many African countries

French: A Global Language

When the world’s most widely spoken languages are discussed French sometimes gets overlooked. We associate it with the romance of Paris and as the language of love, but we sometimes forget that it’s spoken in 29 countries all over the world by more than 400 million people.

For example in Africa, French holds an almost equal footing alongside English as the continent’s lingua franca. It’s the primary language in many African countries and a predominant secondary one in others. And when travelling in countries where it’s the second language, speaking French comes in very useful, as I discovered in Morocco last year.

French remains the lingua franca in Africa, but it’s not so long ago it held that position in other parts of the world too. Before the Second World War and the subsequent rise of the United States to superpower status, French was the most commonly spoken second language in international education and politics. In countries as diverse as Romania, Turkey and Russia, French was commonly taught to the upper and military classes. It’s little wonder that Bucharest briefly became known as the Paris of the East.

The history of France and the French is a fascinating one too. Believe it or not, a uniform version of the French language didn’t even exist up until a couple of hundred years ago. The exported French which was learned abroad was that of Paris, but within France, there was such discrepancy between dialects that people from different regions of France often had difficulty understanding each other.

This persisted in the countryside right up until the invention of the railway started to make the distances shorter and the differences less unique.

Culture is key

The French language is just one small part of French culture, but it’s the key one. It’s through the language that you can begin to fully access and appreciate other elements of French culture such as literature and music. Have you ever seen the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Or the musical Les Misérables? Did you know that they’re both based on books written by French author Victor Hugo? By learning French you’ll give yourself the opportunity to enjoy the works of Hugo and many other incredible French writers in their original language.

2. Russian


3 Quick Reasons to learn Russian:

  • There’s a wealth of fantastic Russian literature: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, etc.
  • Russia is the largest country in the world and Russian has an estimated 260 million speakers
  • Speaking Russian will allow you to understand Russian history and culture differently

Russian often get’s a bad reputation for being a difficult language; and yes, there are certain elements that make it a real challenge for native English speakers. But Russian is also a very rewarding language. For a start, it possesses an incredible wealth of classic literature by writers such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin and Chekhov. If you enjoy reading or immersing yourself in the culture of a language, Russian is one of your best options.

Another great reason to learn Russian is to open your mind and see the world from a different perspective. In the Western world, our impressions of Russia and it’s people are largely formed from what we hear and read in our Western media.

But what do Russians themselves have to say about their history, their politics and their everyday lives? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill A Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Learning Russian gives you the chance to do this by giving you the power to communicate with native Russians in their own language.

And let’s not forget that Russia is by far the largest country in the world! Have you ever heard of the Trans-Siberian railway? This historic railway runs for almost 10,000 km from Moscow in the east to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Imagine being able to experience a journey like that while using your Russian to communicate with natives along the way!

3. Arabic


3 Quick Reasons to learn Arabic:

  • To better understand the world that we live today
  • Arabic is a unique asset due to the lack of speakers in the Western world
  • There are lots of business opportunities for English speakers in the Gulf States

More than ever before, Arabic is playing an important role in the international world. At a time when the world often seems so full of misunderstanding, learning Arabic gives you an opportunity to truly understand events like the Arab Spring and the current situation in the Middle East. You'll be able to learn the perspective of the people who are living through these events, rather than just looking in from the outside.

Arabic is an undervalued language in the Western world with a very small number of learners. But this isn't negative point. In fact, it's all the more reason for you to learn Arabic. Given the lack of Arabic speakers in the West, a knowledge of the language provides you with a unique set of business opportunities. Arabic is the 5th most spoken language in the world and it's the key to understanding an interesting set of cultures in North Africa and the Middle East.

Which dialect should you learn?

The first question most people have about Arabic is "Which dialect should I study?". Choosing a dialect to study in Arabic is not the same as focusing on a particular dialect of Spanish or French where all speakers can still understand each other relatively easily. Arabic dialects are significantly different from each other and this can be confusing for students. Because of these differenes between dialects, many of the Arabic resources and textbooks focus on Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).

The problem with this is that nobody actually speaks MSA! It’s a literary language that’s used in newspapers and official documents but it’s not the language that people on the street actually speak! Many people say that the Egyptian dialect is the most widely understood, so this is normally the most popular choice among learners.

Nonetheless, I’d encourage you to think about which countries and which cultures most excite you when choosing which dialect to learn. If that’s Egypt, by all means, learn the Egyptian dialect. But if Morocco or another country is the one that most fascinates you, don’t be afraid to break the mold and focus on one of the less popular dialects!

4. Chinese

3 Quick Reasons to learn Chinese:

  • It has more native speakers than any other language
  • Speaking Chinese is a huge business asset
  • China has a long and rich history to explore

About one-fifth of the world’s population speaks Chinese. Think about that for a moment.1 in every 5 people in the world speaks Chinese. When you consider it this way, the question really isn’t “Why Learn Chinese?”; it’s “Why not?!”

Aside from giving you the ability to speak with a significant proportion of the people you’re sharing the planet with, Chinese has quite a few other things going for it. For a start, it’s an incredible business asset. The number of people learning Chinese in the Western world is still astonishingly small (although it has been increasing significantly in the last 15 years). This means that the value of speaking the language is very high.

As China’s industry develops, it’s starting to become the global economic superpower it should be. And this means that there are more and more opportunities to do business in China or find well-paid work in a job that requires Chinese.China is also a country with a very long and very rich history. Before Europe became the dominant continent during the Renaissance, the Far East was the centre of sophistication, invention and trade. This means that there is a lot of cultural and historical content just waiting to explored by Chinese students.

Learning Chinese will allow you look beyond the products and the image that China exports to the world and see what this unique country is really like.

5. English

3 Quick Reasons to learn English:

  • English is a truly global language
  • It has more media content than any other language
  • English literature is expansive and diverse

For better or for worse, English is the dominant global language in the 21st century. It may not have as many native speakers as Chinese or Spanish, but it is the most popular second language to learn in most of the world. The truth is that being able to speak English opens so many doors for you. It becomes easier to travel, you have access to more and better resources, and you’ll have opportunities for better and more well-paid jobs.

These things in themselves are enough to justify the effort of learning English.But, there are plenty of other reasons to get excited about English aside from these common motivations. For a start, the sheer volume of content in English means you’ll have books, movies, websites and podcasts to keep you entertained for the rest of your life! Whether you want to read Shakespeare or watch an episode of Friends, English has a wealth of quality media content that’s without equal.

6. Spanish

3 Quick Reasons to learn Spanish:

Spanish is one of the most popular foreign languages to learn, and with good reason! It's the dominant language of Latin America and a knowledge of Spanish is essential in order to truly understand this region and its history.Spanish has the 2nd largest number of native speakers of any language in the world, meaning it’s very easy to find great resources and lots of people to practice with!

One of the best reasons to learn Spanish is to enjoy the rich culture of dance and music in the language. From salsa to tango, and bachata to cumbia, Spanish/Latino music is both diverse and addictive! I strongly believe that developing a passion for the cultural elements of a language plays a huge role in helping you achieve fluency. When you’re enjoying yourself, you want to practice more and more!

And if you’re not that big into music, there are plenty of other cultural elements to immerse yourself in. The Spanish language film industry regularly produces high-quality, critically acclaimed films; or if you’re more the sporty type, you won’t find anywhere in the world more passionate about its fútbol than South America!

Best of all, Spanish is a relatively easy language for native English speakers to learn. Don’t get me wrong; no language is easy. But you can definitely learn Spanish in much less time than it will take to learn Russian or Chinese because it has more similarities with English than those languages do (the alphabet for a start!).

7. The language that most excites YOU!

There are so many beautiful languages to learn and no one of these is better than the others. At the end of the day, language is about communication. Who do you want to communicate with and what language do they speak? It could be Turkish, Romanian, Amharic, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Korean, Japanese or any one of hundreds of other languages.

The best language to learn is the one the gets you inspired, the one that excites you and the one you’re actually going to go out and use to communicate with people!

James is a language coach from Ireland, who is fascinated by the mindset side of language learning. He’s the founder of Lingua Materna(http://www.linguamaterna.com), where he blogs about learning techniques, culture and other language-related topics.

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