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January 10, 2007

Language usefulness

Edwin at The Tower of Confusion raises the interesting question of choosing a language based on its usefulness. Often when people try to choose a language based on general "usefulness", they run the risk of missing the correct answer. I don't think that the question is always "What language is most useful?" I think that a much better question would be, "What language is most useful TO ME?"

Here in the US, people will generally tell you that Spanish is the most useful and important language to learn, because "if you learn another language you can get a better job and make more money." So I started Spanish in high school and ended up taking it for all 4 years. I was top of my class and won the school foreign language award.

But in 25 years I've never used Spanish, never have spoken it with a native and probably never could. Here in western Michigan, what is Spanish useful for? It's useful if you want to get a job in bilingual customer service or become a social worker for migrants. Instead, my first career path took me down the path of learning German, Latin, ancient Greek and Hebrew. In practical and monetary terms, Spanish was useless to me (although it did show me how much fun learning a language could be, and made me actually learn English grammar).

Anyone who wants to learn a language based on its usefulness really needs to consider the "TO ME" aspect of usefulness. Do you need to learn a specific language for your current job? Would a particular language help you in a career you want to pursue? Will a certain language assist you in a hobby or line of research that interests you? Do you want to learn one language over another simply for the fun of it or out of personal interest? I think that it's usually better to choose a language based on your specific needs and interests rather than simply choose a language everyone says is most useful and then hope you'll find a use for it.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at January 10, 2007 10:24 AM


Joe, thanks for your reference. I have added some comment in my original post.

Posted by: Edwin at January 11, 2007 09:22 AM

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