Best Foreign Languages to Learn

An image of the word "hello" on a blackboard in different languages.

The choice of which foreign language to will vary from person to person, and depend on an individual’s learning goals. However, there are some languages that are so present on the world stage that learning them is definitely worth the effort. In this article, we’re breaking down the best foreign languages for speakers of English to learn, and laying out how they could benefit your life and career. Let’s get started!

1. Mandarin Chinese

Chinese lanterns

Mandarin Chinese is one of the most useful foreign languages to learn because it is spoken by more than 1 billion people around the world. In fact, learning Mandarin will allow you to communicate with around 20% of the world’s population! Being able to converse with so many people can be extremely beneficial for your career, especially considering that China is the world’s second-largest economy. As a result, and as the Chinese economy continues to grow, the demand for bilingual speakers of Mandarin will only keep rising. This makes Mandarin Chinese the language of choice for many people seeking opportunities for economic advancement abroad.

One caveat to keep in mind is that Mandarin is one of the most difficult foreign languages to learn for English speakers. According to the Foreign Service Institute, it takes nearly two years (or 2200 hours) to reach professional working proficiency in Mandarin – and that’s if you’re studying for 5 hours per day, 5 days a week. But if you are up for the challenge, the payoff will justify the effort. So why not give Mango’s course on Mandarin Chinese a try today?

2. Spanish

Spanish is arguably the second-most useful foreign language to learn for speakers of English because of how much communicative value it has. Because Spanish is spoken by more than 500 million people worldwide, and is widely spoken in many English-speaking countries like the US and UK, you’re bound to find someone who speaks Spanish nearby! Spanish is also a great language to learn if you’re someone who likes to travel, since it’s an official language in more than 20 countries in Europe, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Just keep in mind that there are differences in the dialects of Spanish spoken around the world, and that you may have to make some minor adjustments depending on where you go. 

Luckily for English speakers, Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn, requiring as little as 600-750 class hours (that’s 24 weeks of intensive language classes!) to achieve professional working proficiency. As Spanish continues to become more and more widespread (especially in North America) its value will keep increasing as well! You can get started with Mango’s Spanish course – try it out today!

3. Korean​​

A picture of a South Korean flag

Korean is a popular foreign language to learn because of the recent explosion of interest in Korean culture. Korean (which has 80 million speakers worldwide) is the perfect language to learn if you want to jump on the K-Pop train or fully appreciate the products of the booming Korean film and television industry. What’s more, the widespread popularity of Korean media means that it should be relatively easy to access authentic materials for getting in important listening practice. Most importantly, learning Korean can help you make the most out of South Korea, a country with wonderful temples, beaches – and above all – food! 

Like Mandarin, Korean is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn, requiring 2200 hours of study (or ~88 weeks) to learn. Don’t let that number scare you, though; Korean is quite an approachable language. It doesn’t require the use of tones (unlike Mandarin) and has one of the most straightforward writing systems. So why not download the Mango app and start learning Korean today?

4. Japanese

Japanese is a great foreign language to learn if you want to feel closer to, and better appreciate, Japanese culture. Learning Japanese can help you make the most of popular Japanese trends spreading around the world, like anime, video games, and fashion. It can also benefit your career, since Japan is home to firms responsible for some of the world’s most cutting edge-technologies. And if a trip to Japan is in the cards for you, knowing Japanese will come in handy – especially if you want to get away from touristy areas! 

You should know that Japanese is notoriously difficult for English speakers to learn, owing to the vast differences between the two languages. Though you can expect a long journey (around 2200 hours to reach working proficiency), along the way you’ll find yourself immersed in an awe-inspiring and historic culture. There’s no place better to begin your Japanese journey than Mango Languages!

5. French

Shot of a Parisian bridge

French is one of the best foreign languages to learn for people who want to work for an international organization. French is an official language of the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The French language is also a good choice for world travelers, since it’s spoken by more than 230 million speakers across France, Canada, and northern Africa, but also in parts of South America and Asia. As a plus, learning French can help you take in and appreciate the fascinating worlds of French literature, art, and cinema!

If you’ve always wanted to visit Paris, then you’re in luck: French is another relatively easy language for English speakers to learn, with about 30 weeks needed to reach professional working proficiency. If that all sounds “magnifique” to you, then why not download the Mango app and start learning French today?

6. German

Shot of a Bavarian street (Germany)

Anyone who wants to visit or live in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland should consider learning German. German is used on a day-to-day basis in these countries, and is widely spoken in other countries like Belgium as well. Another reason to learn German is because it could be useful for your career. Germany is a big player in the banking world (it has the head office of the European Central Bank!), and the pharmaceutical and automobile industries, as well. And if those reasons aren’t enough, then think about this: German is spoken by more than 125 million people worldwide!

German is one of the easier languages to pick up for English speakers, who need around 36 weeks, or 900 class hours, to reach working proficiency. You can start learning German with Mango!

7. Italian

Picture of Venice

The Italian language (spoken by 68 million speakers around the world) is a good choice for people who appreciate rich and historic cultures. Learning Italian can help you make the most of Italy, a country that is full of artistic history (maybe you’ve heard of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci?). Italy is also home to Milan, the capital of the fashion world, and has some of the best food in the world.

English-speakers should already be surprisingly familiar with a relatively large portion of Italian vocabulary – words like piano, graffiti, and pizza come to mind. However, because Italian is more closely connected to Latin than some of the other Romance languages, its grammar is a bit more complicated. Despite this challenge, Italian is still an easy language to learn for English speakers, needing just 24 weeks or 600 classroom hours to reach working proficiency. If living “La Dolce Vita” sounds good to you, then download Mango and start learning today!

8. Portuguese

Learning Portuguese is an excellent way to give yourself a competitive advantage over others in the job market. Portuguese has around 250 million speakers worldwide in Portugal, South America (Brazil), and Africa, which are home to many companies in the banking and tourism industries. Of course, both Portugal and Brazil are well-known tourist hot spots, so Portuguese is a great choice for anyone interested in traveling as well. 

Portuguese is about as easy to learn as Spanish, requiring around 24 weeks or 600 classroom hours of intensive language study to reach working proficiency. So whether your goal is to travel to Rio de Janeiro on vacation, experience Portugal’s world-renowned wine culture, or to explore some of Lisbon’s ancient architecture, learning Portuguese with Mango is sure to be worth your while.

9. Arabic

Arabic is a good choice for people with both recreational and professional ambitions. For one, Arabic is a great language for tourism, as it is spoken in more than 25 countries across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East by more than 273 million speakers. Many high-profile international events have taken place in countries that speak Arabic in recent years (e.g., Expo 2020 in Dubai, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar), and more are likely to be held in the future. Professionally speaking, the Middle East is a hotspot for the fashion and oil & gas industries, so learning Arabic is also a great choice for those looking to do business in this part of the globe.

Now, even though Arabic is typically considered to be a single language, in reality its dialects are quite dissimilar from one another. A good place to start learning Arabic would be Modern Standard Arabic. Once you get a grip on the basics, you can then move onto learning the local dialect of the place you want to use the language. But learning Modern Standard Arabic is not an easy task. Like Mandarin Chinese, it takes around 2200 hours to reach working proficiency in Arabic, so we recommend finding a tool or application (like Mango!) to help you stay on track.

10. Russian

Red Square in Moscow, Russia

Russian is spoken by more than 250 million people around the world, which makes it a good foreign language to learn if you want to communicate with lots of people. Russian is also a great choice if you want to travel throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia – you’ll find Russian speakers in most ex-Soviet countries (e.g., Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, etc.). As an official language of the United Nations, studying Russian could be useful for those interested in pursuing a career focused on global issues. Plus, Russian speakers are in high demand by the United States government. Russian can be tricky to learn for English speakers, however, as it takes 1100 hours to reach working proficiency. So if this is the foreign language that interests you, then download Mango and start learning today!

Why is it important to learn a foreign language?

Learning a foreign language increases the number of speakers you can communicate with around the world. This simple benefit comes in handy considering that the world has become (figuratively) smaller and smaller in recent years. Knowing a foreign language can also help you fully appreciate the places you travel to and cultures you interact with. Foreign languages can even open up doors to new career opportunities by setting you apart from the competition. What’s more, being bilingual has actually been shown to strengthen your brain and help slow cognitive decline!

What is the 2nd best foreign language to learn?

The 2nd best foreign language to learn depends on your goals, but a sure bet is to choose a language that is similar to the 1st foreign language that you have learned. This way you can have a leg up in the learning process, and get to working proficiency faster! Aside from this advice, the next foreign language you choose to learn could simply be the language that has the most speakers around the globe. If your native language is English, you could try:

Which foreign language is most commonly used on the internet?

After English, the most commonly-used language on the internet is Mandarin Chinese, followed closely by Spanish and French. But there are millions of web pages published in most popular foreign languages, such as Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, and Arabic. Of course, you should be able to find content online in most of the popular foreign languages if you look hard enough!

What is the most useful language to learn in the future?

Mandarin Chinese is probably the most useful language to learn in the future, simply because it has the largest number of speakers globally. China has also experienced massive economic growth over the last three decades, so learning Mandarin could be useful for your career as well.  That being said, you should choose what language you learn based on what you believe will be the most useful for your future.

Which foreign language offers the greatest number of work opportunities?

By sheer numbers alone, Mandarin Chinese would be the language which offers the most career opportunities. However, if you choose to learn a language for your career, you should learn one which makes the most sense for your industry and future goals. Want to be a part of the fashion industry? Then French, Italian, Arabic, or Japanese are good languages to consider. Thinking of the manufacturing sector? In that case, Mandarin is a safe bet. Regardless of the language you choose, knowing a foreign language is an advantage in any business sector, since any company must ultimately overcome the language barrier in order to grow and expand abroad. And even if a company is more of a domestic player, learning a foreign language can help you communicate with the millions of foreign language speakers who live at home – Mandarin Chinese or Spanish speakers in the United States, for instance. For a more in-depth look at which languages can help you out in the job market, check out our article on the best languages to learn for business.

We hope that this article has helped you get a good sense of which foreign languages you should learn. At the end of the day, it comes down to you, your ambitions, and those dreams that you want to make a reality.


Meet The Author:
George Smith - Headshot
George Smith
Linguist at Mango Languages
George Smith is a Linguist at Mango Languages. He holds a Ph.D. in Second Language Studies from the University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa and conducts research on second language listening, speaking, and vocabulary learning. He is a lifelong language teacher and learner who enjoys gabbing about language with his family and friends.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We’d also like to set analytics cookies that help us make improvements by measuring how you use the site. These will be set only if you accept.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We’d like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. For more information on how these cookies work please see our ‘Cookies page’.

Skip to content