Learning a Foreign language part 3

A college student wrote to me: ”Which foreign language should I study? Chinese or English? I am confused because my friends said Chinese is more popular than English and in the future, many people will speak Chinese. Is it possible to learn a foreign language in a few weeks or months as some schools suggested? Please advise.”

Answer: Before selecting a language to learn, you should ask yourself why do you need to learn a foreign language? Do you need it for your study, to get a job, to travel, or something else? If you need a language to broaden your knowledge, I think English is the best because it is the most popular and being used all over the world. There are many books, novels, textbooks, research materials, technologies materials written in English. Most online classes (MOOCs, YouTube etc.) are also taught in English. As a college student, it is better for you to learn English to broaden your knowledge and improve your skills. If you need to get a job overseas, today most companies are using English as the official business language for communication and transactions, even Chinese companies are also using English in their business. If you like to travel, English is also the best because it is being spoken in many places. I have traveled to many countries all over the world and the only language I used was English.

I do not know why your friends said Chinese is more popular than English? Probably they refer to the large population of China. Although there are over a billion Chinese people are using this language but it is still very limited outside of China. Even when I taught in China, I used English and most of the students there also speak English. In my opinion, to succeed in this globalized world, knowing English is probably the best thing a student should learn.

Learning a foreign language takes time and practice so do not hurry and think that you can learn in a few weeks or months. Do not waste money on some advertised applications or product promising that you can learn something fast. In my opinion, Foreign language courses are not very well suited for online or mobile apps because in order to learn a foreign language well you need feedback. You need someone to correct your pronunciation and grammar. You need someone to correct your confusion about subtle differences in the meanings of words. A good language teacher knows these issues and can help you but you need to practice yourself and it depends on how much time you can spend learning a foreign language.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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