People often want to know the best language to learn to get ahead in life.
Many think that learning English, the international language, is the best option. English is of course an excellent choice, but I have to say it’s difficult for me to suggest just one language when my successes in life have come from speaking so many more languages than English.
I will discuss the languages that have created opportunities for me in life, then dig in to why English is important.
Languages Mean Opportunities
More opportunities than I would otherwise ever have had a chance to experience have come to me because I know a lot of languages. To me, languages mean opportunities.
I learned French, and that’s why I was accepted into the Canadian Diplomatic Service. I learned Mandarin Chinese in order to work in Hong Kong, Japanese, which enabled me to set up my own company selling lumber to Japan. I then went and studied Spanish and other languages and that helped me do business in Europe. It helped me to meet people, increase my range of contacts and create personal connections with people.
That’s just on the business side. Over the last 10 years or so, I have learned other languages that have nothing to do with my business, like Russian. I was able to go to St. Petersburg and Moscow and meet and have dinner with people, talk with locals, visit the theater and understand everything. It gives you a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.
Why English is Important: It’s the Lingua Franca
Though I have experienced great success and enjoyment from languages other than English, whether we like it or not, English is the most useful language in the world. We may wish that Russian, French or Chinese were the international language, but the real situation is that wherever you go in the world, the common language is English.
This is true even if you live in a country where there is not an English-speaking person for many thousands of kilometres in any direction. Today we live in a very connected world, so that even if you live in an isolated place, it is very easy for you to connect with people, movies, music, culture, or whatever you want via the Internet. You can of course do this in whatever language you are interested in, but English is the most useful, since more people speak it.
I’m not talking about native speakers in the United States, Great Britain or Canada. I’m talking about people who use English as a second language. For these people English is not their own language, but a language to communicate with other people who also use it as a second language. So English is the international means of communication. Even if you live somewhere like Siberia, you can have contact, lots of contact with people from other countries, and in order for that interaction to be meaningful you need to speak English.
Personalize the Learning Process
It isn’t enough to want to be fluent in English. In order to actually learn English, you have to like learning English. That doesn’t mean that you have to like everything about the culture of English-speaking countries. You don’t have to like all American music or all British, Australian, Canadian or American people you meet. You don’t have to like them all, but you have to find something you like: music, movies, books, a friend.
You have to find something you like and then devote yourself to cultivating that relationship with the book, person, music or whatever it is and not worry too much about your grammar or speaking correctly. These things don’t matter so much. Most people who use English as a second language make mistakes.
The important thing is to be able to communicate, because we live in this interconnected world today. We are sharing this world. All seven billion or so people who live in the world are sharing it at the same time. We are alive at the same time and have the ability to connect with people who are sharing this moment in this enormous history of our planet.
It’s Worth It
To connect with other people who live in different countries, to connect with their culture and their way of thinking, is tremendously enriching to your life. It will enable you to be more successful because through your language you will be able to access more opportunities and connections. Not because you get a job as a translator, but because if you are somewhere traveling and find yourself sitting on a plane beside someone who is from Turkey, if you have a common language, you can speak to that person. Most likely that common language will be English.
From that you will meet people who will be helpful to you or will in other ways enrich your life because they will become friends.