Portuguese comes out the winner in this great Huffington Post piece, Dr. Ali Binazir: The Best Languages to Learn in College.
Here’s what he had to say about French and Spanish, and I can’t fault him. (Bonus points for daring to speak the unspeakable – that French pop is cool – and for mentioning Jacques Brel, that great Belgian singer, great in the original sense of the word “great”.) And what about Chinese, Japanese, Italian or Russian? Go forth and read his assessment. Based on what’s below, he certainly knows what he’s talking about.
French. Hate to say it, but French is pretty useless except for speaking, well, French. If you speak French to Parisians, they will love you and treat you like a king, which is the diametric opposite of the treatment most Americans receive. The literature is astonishingly rich, and it’s a treat to read Montaigne, Molière, Balzac, Rimbaud, Éluard and other greats in the original. French pop is pretty awesome, too, and knowing French makes listening to Aznavour, Jacques Brel and MC Solaar that much more fun. Although the employability boost is minimal at best, of all the languages you could learn, this one probably makes you look the most sophisticated.
Ease of learning: 6 Employability enhancement: 1 Cool factor: 10 Overall: 18/30
Spanish. Easily the most useful language you can learn on the planet. There are 400 million native speakers and 500 million total speakers of Spanish in the world, second only to Chinese. By speaking Spanish, you can own Central and South America as well as Spain (aka the world’s biggest non-stop party).
If you have any intention of pursuing medicine, learning Spanish is de rigueur in the US. You will have patients who simply don’t speak English, and asking them “Where does it hurt?” slower and louder ain’t gonna get you nowhere. It’s also super-easy, especially if you already know another Romance language. So learn freakin’ Spanish. I picked it up in med school, and it has been indispensable — especially since people in hispanohablante countries tend not to speak any English. Order dinner in Costa Rica? Check. Direct the cab in Barcelona? Check. Bonus: you can listen to the Spanish-language soccer commentators on TV, which are approximately 5.8 quadrillion times better than their English-language counterparts.
Ease of learning: 10 Employability enhancement: 8 Cool factor: 6 Overall: 24/30
— for more hints and tips on language learning, buy Conquering Babel: A Practical Guide to Learning a Language here in the US and here in the UK.