Top Languages to learn in 2013

August 10, 2013


The Questions

There are a couple of important questions you need to ask yourself when choosing a language. Firstly, why do you want to learn a specific language?

There are three types of people who need to ask themselves this question;

  • School students who are forced to:

If you’re a young student in school it may be compulsory to learn a language. The majority of students don’t take time when choosing that language, usually this results in disliking the language, and going into each class with a defeatist attitude. Not realising this is one of the greatest opportunities they will have to get an edge over the outside world. This is a tough decision to make at a young age, but take the time to analyse your choices. A good tip is to pick a language that you feel suits your personality.

  • University students who take the opportunity to:

Expanding your horizons and becoming a part of the wider world is the arbitrary answer a lot of naive students like to give when explaining why they’re learning a language. But the reality is that a lot of students rush into the choice. A few months later, they’re left asking themselves why they even choose to learn that language, ending up dropping out or struggling unhappily through those three years of study. Make good use of your time at university; choose a language that helps you along the path you decide to take in life. That can be anything from back-packing around South America, to starting your dream career.

  • People who want to:

It’s usually out of a passion for that language or ambition to develop culturally or add to their skill set; but many people tend to pluck a language out of the air without analysing what would be most beneficial to them.

It’s important when learning a language to understand that you’re choosing to invest a lot of time and energy into something so that it will benefit you in the future. Either by improving your career prospects or helping you on your travels; a second language will help you at some time in your life. So, it’s important to take the time to pick the language you think is going to benefit you in the long term.

The next question; what are my reasons for learning a language?

The answer is simple; to improve your lifestyle. This may come under employability, moving abroad or just enjoying your travels.

Some interesting facts relating to learning a language:

  • Thirty three per cent of businesses want people specifically for their language skills. Multilingual employees can expect a salary uplift of up to 20 per cent.
  • Top industries including tourism, engineering and marketing look very favourably on being able to speak two or more languages when it comes to hiring for a position.
  • It improves your experience of travelling by helping you to make new friends, save money, see a different side of a culture and enjoy a different experience to that of a normal international tourist.

The next question is subjective.  What language bears the most influence for you in 2013? Depending on what career you are pursuing or where you want to travel, the languages can differ. But here is a guide of the top 5 languages to learn in 2013.

Guide to my top 5 languages of 2013

1.     English: The English language has 500 million native speakers but there are almost 2 billion people in the world that communicate in English on a regular basis. The most important factor to note is the largest proportion of these live in eastern Asia, this is important as eastern Asia has the world’s fastest growing economies, with China considered as the rising super power of the modern era.


2.     Spanish: With almost 330 million native speakers and ranked third as the language most countries have adopted as their native language, Spanish is spoken all over the world as a second language. Also more and more students seem to pick it as their language of choice to study at University level.  While the Spanish economy is suffering at the moment, the Latin American economy seems to be growing; hence Spanish is gaining more influence every year.

3.     Mandarin: It’s important to state Mandarin has three times more native speakers than any other language in the world, with close to one billion speakers. However it’s rarely spoken anywhere other than Southeast Asia. It’s important to note that although globally Mandarin isn’t very influential at the moment, it may well be in the near future.


4.     Arabic: Apart from English, French and Spanish, Arabic is arguably the most internationally recognised language, due to its position as the language of the Islamic population. The Arabic-speaking world is a significant contributor to the world’s economy. It’s rapidly growing population is putting out numerous investment opportunities as they are a huge export market for a variety of goods and services.


5.     French: Still the fifth most influential language in the world, French is the official language in 25 countries and it’s the second most geographically widely spoken language. It’s the most popular language after English and is used by many international groups and organisations around the world.


Experts tend to agree there is no easy answer to which language will make you the most employable or will have the greatest influence on the world in the future. It often depends on the industry or country you would like to work in or travel to.

I hope you have taken something from this post and it helps you on your decision when choosing to learn a new language in 2013.


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  • Financial Samurai December 10, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Gotta say, North Americans are SERIOUSLY lacking on the 2nd language fluency front.

    If more North Americans spoke a 2nd language, the world would be a better place!!

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      That is true. We learn French up here, and luckily my parents spoke a few different languages that they passed down to us.

      • Sam December 10, 2012 at 4:11 pm

        Ahh, I would love to speak French! Paris and Cannes was so nice when we visited.

        I recommend every parent make their kid learn Mandarin along with English. You’ll have at least half the world covered!

    • Jacob @ iheartbudgets December 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      Agreed! I feel like a lame because I only speak one language. It would be Spanish for me if I could set aside the time to learn.

    • College America February 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      while I feel like it is important to learn another language but I feel like they should start teaching it while they are younger. Because it’s easier to learn languages while you are young rather than trying to learn it in jr. high or high school

  • John S @ Frugal Rules December 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Interesting post! Learning a second language can be a very rewarding thing to do, especially if you’re able to visit the homeland of that language. I think becoming bilingual is becoming more important as we become more globalized.

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      I agree. It makes travelling way easier.

  • Michelle December 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I definitely want to learn a second language soon. I took French in high school but don’t remember a single thing besides “may I go to the bathroom.”

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      I know how to say “my name is”

  • Gen Y Finance Journey December 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I agree with Sam. Knowing multiple languages is such a great skill that is seriously lacking in the US. The problem is we don’t have a culture of teaching children multiple languages from birth. By the time you’re in middle school, it’s often too late to learn a second language. Your brain is no longer in the proper developmental stage to easily pick up a new language. Children learn languages probabilistically by observing patterns. Adults learn languages by rote memorization, with much worse results.

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      I know what you meant. My parents spoke a few different languages to us from birth and it may it easier for us to pick up others when we got a bit older.

  • femmefrugality December 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    This is fantastic. I’ve studied a few of these before, but learning a language can DRASTICALLY improve your earning power even if you’re not going into a field like interpreting, etc.

    I have to plug ASL for US residents. Because it’s kind of my major and I’m in love with it. So I’m biased. But there’s some good money to be earned if you know it and how to interpret effectively. Third most spoken language in the states.

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Interpreting pays pretty well, even as a side job. I really should look more into it.

  • Liquid December 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I tried learning Russian before. I quit because it was too hard. I can speak a little bit of le francais from what I learned in the public education system. But I think if we were to face a future like the one depicted in Firefly then learning mandarin is definitely the best choice 😀 It’s iteresting that some languages don’t have to be widely spoken to be widely used. For example, I find most people I talk to know quite a bit of Japanese words. Sushi, kimono, samurai, Toyota, pikachu, and sayonara, are learned by 6 year olds, yet not many grown up Canadians can translate those words to other languages like Spanish, French, or Mandarin. I would like to learn another language myself other than the English but sadly it’s the only one I can speak fluently at the moment.

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      I’m looking into Rosetta Stone right now. My German and Italian need a lot of help.

    • femmefrugality December 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Russian is really hard for English natives at the beginning. But after you learn all the grammatical rules it gets really easy because unlike English there are very few exceptions. It’s all vocabulary building from there!

  • Eric J. NIsall - DollarVersity December 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    In NYC, we had to take a foreign language in junior high school as well as high school. Of course, it doesn’t always stick as I took 7 years of Spanish and can’t speak or understand it fluently. I do, however know how to say a bunch of random expressions and hold a remedial conversation. Funny thing is I remember everyone clamoring to take the Japanese course when it hit the curriculum, since the Japanese were supposed to buy North America but it doesn’t look like that panned out.

    On a side note, I think it’s especially important to be able to master the primary language, which in the United States seems to have become an afterthought in recent years. It’s especially true with athletes and celebrities who left the educational system early, or had more pressing interests to attend to, particularly when you see and read interviews where they have difficulty generating coherent thoughts and complete sentences.

    • Marissa December 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      ” think it’s especially important to be able to master the primary language, which in the United States seems to have become an afterthought in recent years. It’s especially true with athletes and celebrities who left the educational system early, or had more pressing interests to attend to, particularly when you see and read interviews where they have difficulty generating coherent thoughts and complete sentences.”

      True that.

      Does living Florida help with learning spanish?

      • Eric J. NIsall - DollarVersity December 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm

        Unfortunately, no. I find that it’s more off-putting here because of so many foreigners who will come up to you expecting you to speak their language even though they are in your country. The funny thing is that if Americans go overseas or south of the border they are chastised for not learning the native language, but when people come here and don’t bother, we’re anti-immigration.

  • Pauline December 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I speak all but Mandarin, and was expecting your list to be bending more towards the East. Sam is right, many Americans are lacking language skills, but English has spread so much, especially since internet that you can get by almost anywhere.

  • Jacko December 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    well the truth is the planet is really a Chinese one. By population there’s like two people from China for every other person in the world.

    So what language do you think we should all learn?

    PS: They also learn to speak English starting in pre-school and read and write at a higher grade level than Americans born in New York. Why do you think this is?

  • Aloysa @ My Broken Coin December 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I speak three languages, Russian is one of them. I wish I would have time to learn Mandarin or Arabic.

    • Marissa December 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Nice. I can read Arabic, but have no idea as to what I’m reading.

  • Shovellicious December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am

    As femmefrugality said, another language can improve your earnings and I always thought the same. But I still do my job hunting and after some time I realised that in Europe it doesn’t improve your earnings-without languages you are simply not considered to job openings. Unless you’re so good and have something better to offer so they can hire somebody else to translate for you 😉

  • Veronica @ Pelican on Money December 11, 2012 at 2:43 am

    I was so impressed when Pauline at Reach Financial Independence said she can speak 6 languages! Here in U.S. it’s hard to find a non-hispanic who speaks 2 languages even. We’re culture-dumb. There, I said it 🙂

    • Marissa December 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Ha. As a canadian, I’m not sure if I can agree or not.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money December 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I would definitely love to learn a second language, and almost went forward with a plan to learn spanish. I took it for years in school but never went far enough to become fluent or near-fluent. For now I am busy learning programming languages, so I will am putting any plans to learn a second language on the backburner. I do think people that are fluent in a second or third language have a big advantage over others, even if you don’t directly use it for your job.

  • Tackling Our Debt December 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Yes in Canada French was taught in most schools and we were always told that to get a good job we should be bilingual, esp if you ever wanted to work for the government. As a kid I was surrounded by French and German speaking people. I didn’t purse French after high school, but German is our family language.

    • Marissa December 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      How is your german? Fluent?

  • Mochi and Macarons December 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    French is my choice. Great for working, and the most spread out geographically speaking.

    I’ll probably try Spanish next.

  • My Own Advisor December 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    I know a bit of French and working on my Spanish every time I travel 🙂


  • Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin December 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I want my daughter to learn Chinese! As you pointed out they will be the world super power within the next decade or two. It is comforting to know that Eastern Asia already speaks English.

  • Wally January 7, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    I have always wanted to learn to speak Chinese. It’s probably one of the hardest, but a great challenge also. I already 4 languages. There are so many advantages to speaking another language today. It would be nice if more people learned more languages.

  • Daniel July 15, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    My native language is Spanish, I’ve learning english around 3 years and nowadays I try to get fluent. I would like to know another language, I study electrical engineerig majoring in communications so I want a language that It should be so realeted with my future career. I’m interested in German, French, and Mandarin but I heard than Mandarin is the second most difficult language in the world besides Arabic, and also that educated people in China know to speak English because they study it since they are on school so is not necessary at all to know speak Mandarin apart from it take long time to learn it. So I would like to learn German or French and I want to know what would be the most useful for me to get a good profile in Europe or aroud the world. Thanks a lot. Greetings from Venezuela.

    • Bianca July 20, 2013 at 12:21 am

      Mandarin is a great language to learn because it will help trade, and then you can communicate with more than half the world’s population.
      Just an idea

  • Bianca July 20, 2013 at 12:19 am

    My native language is English but I am looking for another language to learn. I’m only young, so I’ve got time, but no money. I don’t know what language to choose, so I need some help. If you have any suggestions, please reply.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina August 27, 2013 at 9:31 am

    I’m bilingual, and actually for a short period trilingual. I learned to speak, write, read French, but then I stop practicing and I have mostly lost everything I have learned. I want to take language classes at community college for fun and to develop my skill set. I want to learn Mandarin.

  • MakintheBacon August 27, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I felt so uncultured when I was travelling throughout Europe. Everyone there is bilingual or trilingual or multi-lingual. When I mentioned that I was from Canada, they automatically assumed I spoke French as well. I had the opportunity to study in a French Immersion program at a young age, but decided against it. I wish I hadn’t and I wish my parents had pushed me to do it.

    In unveristy I took beginner French and Spanish to help boost my average. Since I work for the federal government, I feel I should make more of an effort to learn to speak French.

  • Liquid August 28, 2013 at 4:22 am

    If Firefly is any indication of the future then everyone should be learning Mandarin 😆 But on a serious note I’m disappointed in myself that I only know one language fluently even though I live in Canada. The best way to learn a new language is to live abroad when you’re still young. The older we get, the harder it is to learn new things.
    Not an official language, but if I were to include a 6th option in your list it would be computer language 😀 Knowing PHP, CSS, Java, C++ etc will be a great asset for anyone in the future because these skills, like a real language, are transferable to many fields of work from web design, to medical software, to government jobs, to pretty much any other discipline that uses technology.

  • Matt Becker August 28, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Foreign languages were the one thing in school I felt like I just could not learn. Totally dumb on that front. With that said, I took Latin throughout middle and high school and I feel like it was mostly a waste of time. I wish I had taken Spanish. So much more practical.