Five tough languages that pay off
When I read the article on the Financial Times focusing on languages that pay off the most, it brought me back to the time when, as a teenager, I dreamed about learning Italian and discussing—fluently—the last football world cup results over a (real) ristretto as I drifted into the Venice channels. I wasn’t raised in Switzerland, where nationals speak at least 2,5 languages, or Nigeria, where speaking 3 or 4 languages is not shocking, but I didn’t grow up in the US either, where according to Gallup, 75% of nationals can only speak English. Therefore, dreaming about speaking other languages was mostly romantic and not necessarily practical.
Looking into what that a new language can do, beyond fashionable discussions or the occasional flirting, may shift your training plan and make you give a serious thought to your after-the-summer objectives.
True, even most Chinese people will admit that their language is hard. The lack of alphabet, the writing system, lack of cognates (not only for English speakers), and the fact that it’s a tone-based language are all particularly confusing aspects for beginners. That being said, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, according to Ethnologue. It might take years to fully master it, but learning Chinese will definitely be worth the investment.
The lack of vowels in its written form and certain pronunciation alternatives can be quite tricky for most beginners to figure out. Additionally, there are numerous Arabic dialects that vary between countries to the point that a Morrocan may have a hard time understanding the Lybian dialect, or a Jordanian may find it difficult to communicate with a Tunisian. Go for the Egyptian dialect to keep it safe, as their films and TV shows made this variant popular just like Hollywood ensured the global reach for the American accent. Arabic is the fourth most popular language in the world by number of speakers and is a big differentiator in sectors like oil&gas, international relations or international finance.
Russian cases and declinations won’t be hard if you are familiar with languages such as German, but even if you’re not, learning the eighth most popular language in the world, with a total of 171 million speakers, will still be worth it. Russian is spoken in Israel, the Balkans, Ukraine, Armenia and the USA, and the emerging Russian tourism segment is making a mark globally. Also, many directors and CEOs of major Russian companies speak little or no English, which explains why employees and collaborators who can communicate in both English and Russian are now in high demand.
Cultural features differences in gender and handling the language’s script are some of the reasons why learning Hindi might be challenging for individuals who aren’t native to a related language. Still, as an Indo-European language, some word roots that are somewhat similar to English. Most India nationals receive their education in English, but considering that Hindi is the fifth largest language in the world by speakers, again according to Ethnologue, becoming familiar can be a great differentiator when doing business within an economy that plays an increasing role in key sectors such as tech and pharma.
The ninth most spoken language in the world, by number of speakers, has plenty of “symbols” called Kanji characters, which give very little clue about how to read them and make intensive studying an unavoidable part of the process. On the other hand, Japanese phonetics is not complex, it only has five vowel sounds compared to 14-16 in American English. You got this!