What is the “best” second language?

21 Dec

I am a big advocate of language learning and I think you should whatever language interests you. The  languages I study, Japanese, Esperanto, Sanskrit, and Toki Pona, were all chosen because they interest me. However, you might want to know which languages allow you to communicate with the most people.

This is more than a question of which language has the most native speakers (Mandarin) it also matters how many people speak it as a second language and how often that language is translated. A fascinating piece in Science explores these questions;

“Speak or write in English, and the world will hear you. Speak or write in Tamil or Portuguese, and you may have a harder time getting your message out. Now, a new method for mapping how information flows around the globe identifies the best languages to spread your ideas far and wide. One hint: If you’re considering a second language, try Spanish instead of Chinese.”

“In contrast, some languages with large populations of speakers, such as Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic, are relatively isolated in these networks. This means that fewer communications in those languages reach speakers of other languages. Meanwhile, a language like Dutch—spoken by 27 million people—can be a disproportionately large conduit, compared with a language like Arabic, which has a whopping 530 million native and second-language speakers. This is because the Dutch are very multilingual and very online.”

One Response to “What is the “best” second language?”

  1. locksleyu December 21, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    This is the first time I’ve heard of ‘Toki Pona’, and I was surprised to find out it was a constructed language.

    If I had more time I’d love to try learning a bunch of languages but with limited time I’ve decided to continue focusing on Japanese for a bit longer.

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