There are strong reasons to learn more languages including giving yourself a competitive edge in the job market, enriching your life and expanding your horizons by becoming familiar with new cultures.
Did you know that the brains of multilingual people function differently? Scientists have found that being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age. Check out the NY Times article on that here.
Here’s a short list of languages you might be interested in, and places where you can learn them for free.
French is spoken as a native language in more than 25 countries. Its spoken by 90 million people as their first language and is an official language in 29 countries. It is the third most spoken language in the European Union (EU), following English and German. French is also an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organisations. In Africa alone, there are over 20 French speaking countries. This makes it invaluable for tourist visits, and business transactions.
Places you can learn for free: MIT(Massachussetts Institute of Technology) Open CourseWare has a French course
Portuguese is the seventh most important language of the world; spoken by more than 240 million people. 37 Brazilian embassies now exist across the African continent, providing Brazil with a stronger diplomatic representation than traditional powers such as Great Britain. Brazil is an emerging economy and if you look at a world map, you can see its proximity to West Africa. Interestingly, Brazil is also starting to invest heavily in African countries especially in Mozambique
Places you can learn: MIT(Massachussetts Institute of Technology) Open CourseWare has a Portuguese course
Chinese is the mother tongue of more than 1.34 billion people. That is one fourth of the world’s population! Chinese is mainly spoken in China which is now one of the world’s driving economies. It’s also spoken in many Asian countries, such as Singapore, Macau, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Places to learn: MIT(Massachussetts Institute of Technology) Open CourseWare has a range of comprehensive Chinese Mandarin courses
Arabic is spoken by more than 500 million people, making it the fourth most spoken language in the world. It is the official first language of more than 200 million people in 26 different states, mainly located in North Africa and the Middle East. Its the language that unites these states and as many as the 300 million people around the world who use Arabic as their second language.
Places you can learn: ArabicOnline.eu is an EU-funded online eLearning course of modern Standard Arabic four tourists, students and business people.
Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It is spoken as a native language by more than 350 million people in 21 countries and is the third most spoken language in the world. Most Spanish speakers are in Latin America and Mexico has the most native speakers of Spanish of any other country. In the US, Spanish is formally recognised at the state level in various states.
Places to learn: The BBC offers a Spanish course
Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and other Nigerian language
Local languages in Nigeria are important for learning more about the cultures and tradition. Its also important because although English is wide spread, a great number still prefer to communicate in these languages, or by using a mixture of English with one or more local languages. These languages are also spoken in many other West African countries.
Places you can learn Igbo: Igbo Language Center includes a few online lessons
Places you can learn Yoruba: The African Studies Institute at University of Georgia has an onlineYoruba course
Places you can learn Hausa: UCLA(University of California Los Angeles) has an online resources directory including videos, poetry, culture lessons and links to dictionaries.
Swahili is the mother tongue of the Waswahili people who inhabit 1500 km strip in the East African Coast. It is the official and national language of both Kenya and Tanzania. Recently, Uganda has put measures in place to promote its official use as has its immediate neighbours. Swahili is one of the four national languages of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Other countries where Swahili is widely used include Rwanda, Burundi, some parts of Somalia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and the Comoros Islands.
Places you can learn:Penn State Swahilli website has a link to online exercises and cultural resources
University of Virginia Swahili website has tons of reading, listening, and writing exercises
Other language online learning facilities we recommend
Memrise.com uses vivid images to teach help you remember words. You can learn over 200 languages by signing up for free courses. You can also download an app to practice while you’re on the go.
Busuu.com allows you to learn languages through courses and interaction the language community. You can learn a language of your choice from native speakers while you teach other members your native language. This means you don’t miss out on the subtle nuances.
You can also try learning by offering to teach a friend a language and they can offer to teach you something else or by short volunteer trips abroad. Immersion usually works pretty well if you don’t hang out as much with people who speak what the languages you already know.
Have we missed out a language that you feel is important to learn or do you have info on a great language learning resource that you feel we should include? Please write to us to let us know!