Discovering Your Language Learning Motivations

By Jonty Yamisha • 10 minute read

Getting clear on your why and which language to learn

Why you want to learn a language influences the path of your study and your motivation, and which language you choose to learn is a big decision. We’ll look at both.

Why Do You Want to Learn a Language?

Language is used for various purposes, and focusing on a specific purpose and the language required can help you learn faster.

For instance, if you need to take part in business conversations in French, you’ll get there fastest by focusing first on pronouncing business terms. So if you’re learning Russian to study scientific research, you’ll concentrate on reading skills and technical vocabulary.

Why Do You Want to Learn It

Common Reasons to Learn a Language

Let’s talk about common reasons for learning a language and how they influence what you choose to learn.

Learning focus
General interest in the language
Spoken language should be the major focus at the beginning.
Living in a country where the language is spoken

and wanting to communicate with others

Spoken language should be the major focus. Make a list of speaking needs and keep adding to it. Start with some survival vocabulary.
Partner or family member is a native speaker of the language
Spoken language should be the major focus. If a family member is willing and able to help, start by repeating useful phrases, such as greetings, and talking about daily activities, such as preparing a meal or discussing what happened during the day.
Desire to travel to countries where the language is spoken
Only a small vocabulary is required. Learn survival vocabulary terms and aim for a high degree of spoken fluency. Focus on the items in that limited vocabulary. Write all the survival vocabulary on word cards.
Language is related to work or subject area
Begin working with the texts relevant to the work or subject area. Subject-specific technical words make up a large proportion of the words in such texts (20%–30%).
Language is required for a degree
Start working with the texts you’ll use in your studies. Write unknown words and repeated phrases on word cards and study them daily.
Language is required for business purposes
Start with conversational spoken language and then move on to business-focused conversation.
Language is a university or school requirement
Look at examples of the final exam and prepare for the kinds of questions it will ask.

Which Language Should You Learn?

The reason you want to learn a language also informs which language you choose. If you’re like many people, narrowing down the choices can be challenging.

There are an estimated 5,000+ languages currently spoken on the planet, though only about half of these are expected to survive over the next 50 to 100 years.

Which Language Should You Learn

Having so many options to choose from can be daunting. Some suggest choosing one of the most popular or widely-spoken languages. Others advocate learning a language for personal or familial reasons. Still, others advise you to choose a language based on how easy it will be to learn.

Each of these makes sense, but there is no “one size fits all” approach. 

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8 Key Considerations for Learning a Language

Let’s look at eight key considerations to keep in mind when selecting a new language to learn: interest, difficulty, usefulness, versatility, accessibility, travel, career, family, and culture, and how to narrow down your choice.


If a language lights your fire, take it as an indication that it’s the one you should choose. Personal interest is a powerful motivator, and learning will feel like a chore if it’s absent.

Learning a language requires many hours of exposure and study, and it’ll be hard to make time for it if the language bores you. But, by the same token, if the language calls to you, you’ll have little difficulty making room for it in your schedule.


You may even have started your journey without realizing it. For instance, perhaps you frequently look up foreign words you come across. 

For example, suppose this describes you, and you gravitate toward a certain language. In that case, your subconscious is probably trying to tell you something.

However, if you feel equally passionate about several languages, you’ll have to narrow your choices further.


You’ll be more likely to stick with a new language if it’s relatively easy to learn, especially if you’re a busy student or working adult with limited time for study. So it’s easier to get excited about mastering a new skill when you’re making tangible progress.

Native English speakers generally find that the easiest languages for them to learn include Spanish, Italian, French, and German because they use the same alphabet. Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Russian, and other languages with vastly different grammar structures, letters, and sounds will be the most difficult to learn.


Check the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) ranking to understand where a language falls on the easy-to-difficult scale

This is particularly useful for helping new language students adjust their expectations. For example, the more difficult languages take approximately three times longer to master than their easier counterparts.

Nonetheless, choosing a language simply because it’s easier to learn than others doesn’t guarantee success. So it’s better to choose a language you’re interested in, even if it’s more difficult.


Useful languages are those with large numbers of speakers in countries with large economies. Some of the more useful languages include Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, German, and French.

Although usefulness usually isn’t the primary reason someone selects a language to learn, it bears consideration if your motivation involves career or travel goals.


The versatility of a language can also add to or subtract from its desirability. For example, a versatile language can be used in multiple facets of your life—for instance, a language you can speak abroad and at home.


Versatile languages also include those used in many different career fields, which can give you an advantage if you decide to switch careers at some point in your life.


Another top consideration is how accessible a language is to you. Which languages are commonly spoken in the area where you live or work? Are educational resources for the language available in your community?

Suppose it’s not unusual for you to hear a particular foreign language spoken during an average day. In that case, that language will be easier for you to pick up due to regular exposure.


So, for example, if you take the train to work and there are often other riders talking in Spanish, you can use that time to listen for familiar words and phrases.

Because it’s important not to appear to be eavesdropping, you might think about telling those nearby that you’re learning their language. So, for example, you could end up with a couple of new friends willing to offer informal tutoring during your shared commute.

Finding out which foreign language classes your local community college offers will give you an idea of what educational resources are available. Even if you decide to learn a language through an online course, access to community learning aids such as live one-on-one tutoring and conversation groups can help you get through rough patches.



If you want to learn a new language for travel, then, of course, you’ll choose the language of the country that most appeals to you as a travel destination.

If you’re approaching retirement age and thinking about living as an expatriate after your working years, learning the language of the country where you plan to live will help ease the transition.


Language proficiency is a sought-after skill in virtually all career fields, but that doesn’t mean all languages are equal. 

For instance, if you’re currently employed by a school district and your community has a significant number of residents who speak Spanish, learning that language will likely help you advance in your career.

Anyone who works in the US at a job requiring direct contact with the general public can benefit from learning Spanish. Many employers even offer tuition assistance programs.

If you work for a company that engages in global trading, consider choosing your new language from among the countries your firm does business with.

For example, suppose you haven’t yet established your career path but aspire to work in international trade. In that case, those with proficiency in German, Mandarin, and Japanese are currently in high demand and probably will be for decades.


Only five foreign languages are predominantly spoken in the US: Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and German. 

However, with thousands of languages spoken on the planet, you don’t need to set your sights on any popular ones. Even though many of these languages are on the verge of extinction or marginal use in global commerce, about 100 are spoken by at least a million people.

Don’t be afraid to consider other options if your career strategy involves honing in on a niche market or working for a company that trades with numerous parts of the world. Also, remember that proficiency in any foreign language looks good on a resumé.

If you’re an adventurous type who’s never been tempted to follow the beaten path, consider choosing an area of the world that stimulates your intellect, and follow your passion for seeing where it takes you. You could become an international expert on some little-known part of the planet.

Family and Culture


Learning a new language usually involves exploring the culture of those who traditionally speak it. Many people learn their ancestors’ language to create a greater sense of cultural connection. Others choose a language that existing family members speak.

However, if you’re thinking about going this route and are counting on family members to help you learn the language, make sure they’re on board first. They may not be willing to act as resources for learning a language, particularly if it will take up a great deal of their time.

How to Decide Which Language to Learn

If you find yourself torn between two or three languages, the best course of action is to take the time to listen to each of the languages. Perhaps do some preliminary speaking and writing exercises to see if something clicks.

Narrowing It Down

If you’re still having trouble deciding, flip a coin—and pay attention to your gut reaction to the results.

If you feel disappointed, that’s probably a sign that the language that won the coin toss isn’t right for you. If you feel a rush of joy at the result, that language might be the one you’ve been looking for.

The decision to learn a new language should never be made lightly, but remember that it’s reversible. For example, suppose you’ve been studying a language for several months and dreading study sessions. That may be a sign that you didn’t hit your linguistic sweet spot when you decided which language to learn.

However, no journey worth taking is without twists, turns, hiccups, and setbacks, so don’t give up on a language the first time you feel you’d rather be doing anything else but studying. Of course, this happens with any subject, so give it enough time to make sure that changing course is what you want.

Don’t forget to enjoy the adventure instead of concentrating on the end goal. Studying a new language and its associated culture should add a vibrant and enriching accent to your life.

Jonty Yamisha

Husband, father, and accidental polyglot Jonty Yamisha founded OptiLingo after working to protect his native language, Circassian, from extinction. He has helped thousands finally achieve their dream of reaching fluency by promoting SPEAKING over typing languages with OptiLingo.