The world is an ever-shrinking place, thanks to advancements in travel, technology, and broad human endeavors. More people than ever are telecommuting to jobs with headquarters in far-flung places, while others find themselves working with clients in countries distant from their own. All this means one thing: It’s time to learn a new language if you want to get ahead.
Look, we won’t mince words, learning a new language as an adult is hard. As research suggests, learning a new language in adulthood can be difficult because we have already established superior cognitive function. Children, on the other hand, have a much easier time because they process grammar rules differently than adults.
But if you’re dedicated and looking to learn a new language to help you get ahead at a new job, there is one more worthy of your time than all the others: Mandarin.
“Mandarin would be the best choice: This is the native language for 14 percent of the world’s population, and most of those people do not speak English, so it’s all a win,” Emily Oster, associate professor of economics at Brown University, told Quartz.
The language used by more than 1 billion people worldwide will certainly get you in the door at many multinational corporations. As Lifehack reported, companies that are looking for executives who speak Mandarin has risen by 35 percent. Additionally, Lifehack adds, China will likely become the No. 1 economic power on Earth by 2020.
The only downside to taking up Mandarin lessons is the sheer difficulty of learning the very complex language. Instead, many linguistics experts suggest starting with something a little easier, and a little closer to the English language.
“I’d suggest you do not start with any language that has a different alphabet (or no alphabet), such as: Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Bengali, and Punjabi,” Sanda Golcea, a noted polyglot, explained in her response to a Quora thread that has now made it onto sites such as Quartz and Business Insider. Instead, Golcea suggested trying out languages like Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, or French.
Oster, like Golcea, advocates learning Spanish if you’re simply unable to dedicate the time to picking up Mandarin, but both also note that whatever language you choose needs to be relevant to your own particular goals and future. There’s no point in picking up Mandarin or Spanish if you’re going to be doing business in the Middle East.
If you’ve committed to the idea of learning a language and chosen which one you’re going to try first, the only thing left to do is study. But what’s the best way to go about actually learning the language?
“You cannot expect to just absorb language the way that a child does,” Robert DeKeyser, a professor of second language acquisition at the University of Maryland, told Forbes. “Children are good at learning the underlining system of all the language input they get because they can infer the underlying patterns without understanding the rules. Adults must be conscientious of the rules of the language. Their implicit learning doesn’t work all that well.” The only way to learn a language as an adult, DeKeyser noted, is through total and absolute commitment. “The only way to learn a language is to make quite a bit of effort on a daily basis,” DeKeyser said.
Find the thing that works for you, whether it’s podcasts, audiotapes, classes, or in-person tutoring and stick with it for as long as you can.
According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, it takes about 480 hours to reach basic fluency in Spanish. The simplest way to achieve these hours is to study every single day, and to immerse yourself in a culture that speaks that language. Our suggestion? Pack your bags, take a trip, and stay with a host who only speaks the language you’re attempting to learn. You can thank us for your new globe trotting future later.