How do you choose a language?

When choosing a career as a translator or an interpreter, you will need to ask yourself a very personal but most important question: which language should I choose to study?

I asked myself the same question a long time ago and helpful family members, teachers and friends gave me advice, and my mind was made up very quickly. When I was a child, I was intrigued by the sound of some Mediterranean languages while on holidays in southern Europe. I liked the people, the rich culture and the warm climate. Besides English, I decided to study the Spanish language and later I also took on Italian. I’ve never regretted those decisions. I chose out of passion, which turned out well on all levels of my personal life and career.

Of course, this is one way to choose a language to study, but keep in mind that the choice you make will probably influence your career path and even your life goals! So maybe it is wise to look at some other reasons and criteria when deciding to learn a particular language to make it your profession.

Some people consider the languages with the most speakers, for example, Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Russian and Arabic. Bear in mind that for some of those languages, you will have to learn a new alphabet and the grammar may be quite complex. Maintaining the motivation to keep studying and improving yourself may be arduous. For some people, it is important that the language of their choice is a UN language. Also consider that a lot of other people will choose the big languages so you might not be very distinct.

Not all languages are equally difficult to learn. Whether a new language is easy or hard to learn depends mostly on the languages you already speak. But also your linguistic preferences, which are very personal, do count. Motives might be the sound of a language, a challenging grammar or a historic valuable tongue. These aspects are important as they will motivate you to invest time and to spend at least two years on learning a new language.

The learning process can be made considerably faster by actually living in (or visiting) a country where the language you want to study is spoken. Whether you are already living there or you have plans to move, the social aspect of spending time in another country, speaking your goal language and embracing the people and its culture really do contribute to improving your language skills. So, location might be a reason to study a particular language.

Nowadays, it is so much easier to study a foreign language. Whether it is in a classroom or online, the learning opportunities are almost unlimited. You might want to check out the availability of language study possibilities in your area before making a decision about which language to study. What curriculum options are available to you for the language you wish to learn? What is the level of difficulty? Is the course you wish to follow a certified programme? How many years will it take?

I understand that most of you who choose to work in the T&I business are looking for a foreign language that is the best for a successful career. The language may open up business opportunities with endless possibilities. You can choose to be a freelancer or an in-house professional, a full timer or part timer, as long as you enjoy what you are doing and you can pay the bills at the end of the month.

To conclude, I would like to refer you to the website of AWL, which gives you an indication of how long it takes in weeks and class hours for a native English-speaking person to learn a foreign language.

All of us are unique and I think there is a ‘best’ language for everyone. Just choose it for the right reasons so that you will have a fruitful and happy working life!