Which third (or second, or fourth, or fifth…) language should you learn?

Learning a language is great and all - but with limited time and limited resources, which should you choose to best make use of what you have?



You’ve got no time. You want to learn a language, but you’re indecisive, and you’ve got no time to learn them all.


This is an issue many of us experience, especially when it comes to picking a foreign language to learn in school. For secondary school students like myself in Singapore, deciding which third language to take up was a huge headache.


The thing is, it was a hard decision for many of us to make. We could only choose one language, and if we didn’t like it and decided to drop it we couldn’t just transfer to another one. It’s pretty difficult to find an online resource that compares the different languages based on difficulty, so I thought I’d compile one. This article is mainly for all my Singaporean readers out there, but other than the popularity of each third language amongst Secondary One students in Singapore, the rest of the information here applies to anyone else who can’t decide on a language to learn.


In this article, I’ll be comparing the four foreign languages the Singaporean education system offers.


HEY… WHAT ABOUT YOU?


I was very lucky. Choosing to study Spanish as my third language was a rather obvious and clear choice for me, considering I already spoke Japanese and French (Spanish being very similar to French in many ways). Spanish was, after all, a Romance language, much like French – a language like German which originated from a completely different pool of languages altogether would be miles harder to learn. Besides, a quick Google search had told me that Spanish was the second most spoken language in the world, coming in after Mandarin Chinese and before English.


It’s a flex to be able to say you speak the three most commonly spoken languages in the world, and if you disagree your opinion is invalid. If you couldn’t tell, I was kidding about the last part, but it is a huge flex, so I dragged my friends along and bought the Spanish textbook (which, by the way, is horrifyingly expensive and pretty useless, in my opinion.)


‘PULL FACTORS’ TO LEARN EACH LANGUAGE?


FRENCH


Universally hailed as the language of love (I would say the language of romance, but I like to think I’m above making those puns [for those who didn’t get it, French is a romance language]), most people agree and acknowledge that it sounds smooth, it’s graceful and elegant, and it’s one of the most beautiful languages. It’s also easy to learn and resources can be easily accessed online – take for example the fact that many movies and animations are dubbed in French, while many books also have French translations.


Here, I would like to dispel the myth that French is more beautiful than German or even vice versa, because the main reason why French sounds ‘better’ is because it has more vowels – unlike German, that consonant-filled language. The presence of more consonants in German contributes to it sounding rougher, while the vowels in French lends it the feeling that it has rounded corners, making it sound smoother and hence less jarring.


JAPANESE


Japanese has always been a rather popular language for people around the world to learn, largely owing to the popularity of anime and manga overseas. From a more negative perspective, the Japanese culture has been turned into an ‘aesthetic’ and romanticised by the media, which, while lead to a surge in interest towards Japanese culture, has also garnered disapproval from many Japanese due to the disrespect toward their culture and the cultural appropriation involved.


But either way, Japanese is also another attractive language to pick up because its intonation is easier to master than the tongue-and-throat inclusive pronunciation required of French, Spanish and German speakers. Besides, if you’re an anime or manga fan, you won’t have to wait for subs or translations ever again.


SPANISH


In my opinion, Spanish is the easiest out of all the languages listed above to learn, though of course that could just be my French speaking background talking. It’s the second most spoken language in the world, which is quite an impressive feat, and you can use it in any Hispanic country you travel to. Spanish is easy, it’s useful, and their food is really good. What’s not to like?


Also, a plus point to learning Spanish also means you get to speak the same language as Dora. Yay!


GERMAN


If we’re being perfectly frank, I don’t have enough experience with learning German to give it a once-over like I did for the other languages, but I did ask some of my German speaking friends and gathered ‘intel’.


As difficult as German seems at first – and actually is – don’t get daunted by it! Just like any other language, German offers loads of benefits if you learn it, and on the bright side you’ll never stress over remembering the names of the German people scattered across history ever again. If you ask me, that’s a very useful benefit of learning German.


STATS AND RATING


FRENCH


Difficulty: 5/10 (people say it’s hard, but I’ve been speaking it since I was about three, so…)


Popularity (Singapore 3rd language): there will always be space for you; there are classes offered in both MOELC Newton and Bishan


Recommended to learn if you know any of the following languages: Spanish, Italian


GERMAN


Difficulty: 8/10


Popularity (Singapore 3rd language): there will always be space for you so long as you achieve the score required to take a foreign language


Recommended to learn if you know any of the following languages: Dutch


JAPANESE


Difficulty: 8/10 (I’ve been speaking Japanese for about 10 years and it’s still terribly difficult)


Popularity (Singapore 3rd language): very very popular, but there will always be space for you as there are classes offered in both MOELCs


Recommended to learn if you know any of the following languages: Chinese, Korean

SPANISH


Difficulty: 3/10 (however do note that if you do not have a French background it will be harder,,, probably).


Popularity (Singapore 3rd language): very popular, it’s very difficult to get into unless you have a t-score of >260; MOELC is rather short on teachers currently so it is quite hard to create more spaces


Recommended to learn if you know any of the following languages: French, Portuguese, Italian


Well, that’s it for my analysis on which language you should pick up if you’re ever given the chance – and if you aren’t, create your own chances. That said, you need to analyse your needs based on geographical location of where you stay and your interest in the language – there’s no one foreign language that suits everyone to learn!

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