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4 best languages to learn at uni

language learning
Learning a new language can connect you to millions around the world, widening your career prospects and enabling new friendships. Source: Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP

You might be looking to study a language at degree level. Or maybe you’re thinking of some shorter courses. Either way, language learning is always a great idea — and can boost how much you earn in the future.

Learning a new language means you’ll be joining a significant percentage of the population worldwide with multilingual skills. This is more dense in some areas than others. In the US, for example, only 20% of students learn to speak a foreign language. But in some parts of Europe this figure stands at 100%

It’s a practice that’s catching the eye of employers worldwide. With our economy becoming more global by the day, speaking a second language can help you land high-skill jobs in countries all over the world. In fact, it was found that having a foreign language on your CV can increase your salary by 11% to 35%

Besides improving your job prospects, learning another language has other benefits too. For example, some studies indicate a link between multilingual skills and preventing dementia. Others show that speaking a foreign language can help with your multitasking abilities, too. 

However, is there an ideal language to learn that is more valued over others? 

You can pick up a new language at your university. Source: Brandon Bell/AFP

Language learning at uni: Best foreign languages for students to pick up

Mandarin 

Whatever you choose to study, being able to speak Mandarin is an asset. It is currently the second most widely spoken language in the world, falling just behind English.  With Asian businesses and ventures dominating the market, Mandarin is increasingly making its mark globally. 

Be warned, though. Mandarin is hard to learn. It’s full of many nuances, thousands of characters and a writing system that requires particularity and sensitivity. Expect many hours of studying.

However, becoming fluent in the language is not impossible. Take Malaysian entrepreneur Shah Farid Rashid, for example. He started with virtually no experience in speaking Mandarin, and only took up a language learning degree in Beijing, China at 18 years old. Since graduating, he’s found that his career prospects improved dramatically — leading to him opening his own Mandarin language learning centre for non-native speakers. 

Spanish 

Next on the list is Spanish, which is spoken by more than 450 million people in the world. This has much to do with the fact that Spanish is the official language of 20 different counties. This includes Puerto Rico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. It is also commonly spoken in large parts of the US, Belize, Andorra and Gibraltar too.

This makes Spanish highly regarded by employers. In the US, 79% of recruiters cited Spanish as the most in-demand additional language. The language is infiltrating everyday life as well– it was estimated that more than 70% of billboards in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross were in Spanish. 

Most modern universities, especially those in Europe and the US, offer Spanish classes at their language learning institutes. 

The export of Korean culture taking the world by storm. Source: JC Olivera/AFP

Korean 

The Korean wave — or “Hallyu” as it is being termed — is taking the world by storm. From movies and music to online games and cuisine, Korean culture has permeated almost every aspect of our society. It’s a deliberate move by the South Korean government, which is dedicated to becoming the world’s leading exporter of popular culture

Picking up some Korean will help you understand the many K-dramas and K-pop on air now — what better way to do this than to join a Korean university? You’ll get insight into the Korean wave firsthand, all whilst being in the centre of a leading metropolitan hub and earning a world-class degree. 

Studying in a university outside Korea? Check out your institution’s language learning centre to see if Korean classes are offered. If those aren’t available, you can always try using a language-learning app to help you master the craft. 

French 

Every student who attended an international school growing up will surely have been given the option to take French classes. At the moment, there are over 300 million speakers who are adept at French, either as their native tongue or as a second language. Many businesses similarly communicate in the language. 

French is a fairly simple language to pick up at university, especially if you are attending one in Europe. Be sure to consult your university for options on how to take up the language or integrate it into your curriculum.