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What Foreign Language Should I Learn


For English-speaking North Americans, Spanish is a fantastic language to learn. With over 480 million native speakers, Spanish is the second-most spoken first language in the world, behind Mandarin Chinese. It’s spelling, grammar, and pronunciation are extremely consistent, and it contains very few sounds that are difficult for English speakers to pronounce. Perhaps the biggest advantage of Spanish as a second language is that it’s widely spoken within the United States as well, making it a useful skill in everyday life. It’s also easy to find opportunities to practice in real life. Different Spanish-speaking countries have different dialects, but the differences among these are generally small enough that it doesn’t really matter which version you learn.

Where it’s spoken:

  • Spain
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc.)
  • Central America (all countries except Belize)
  • South America (all countries except Brazil, Suriname, and the Guianas)


Though it has fewer native speakers than Spanish or English, French is also a great language for travelers to pick up. Like Spanish, it’s a member of the Romance language family, along with Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and several others. While English is not a Romance language, a surprising number of English words have French origins because England was ruled by the French-speaking Normans for nearly 300 years. The spelling and pronunciation are a little tricker than in Spanish, but still not that hard to pick up. In addition to the countries listed below, French is a popular second language in areas all over the world.

Where it’s spoken:

  • France
  • Canada (esp. Quebec)
  • Caribbean (Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe)
  • Africa (many countries in Northwest, West, and Central Africa, plus Madagascar)
  • South Pacific (Tahiti, New Caledonia)


To be perfectly honest, Russian is mainly on this list because it’s the only other language the author of this article can speak at all. It has a large number of native speakers, but the majority of those live in either Russia or Ukraine, neither of which is particularly safe to visit at the time of publication. For English speakers, Russian is more challenging than most other European languages due to a number of grammatical features that simply don’t exist in English (or Spanish or French, for that matter). That said, Russia has one of the world’s great literary and artistic traditions, and this rich cultural history means your time invested in learning the language will not go to waste. As a bonus, Russian is an excellent language to cuss in – Russian profanity is an art form in and of itself. So not the best language for travelers, but still a great language to learn.

Where it’s spoken:

  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Belarus
  • Other former Soviet republics (Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.) as a popular second language

Chinese (Mandarin)

It’s important to note that “Chinese” really isn’t a single spoken language.

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