What language should I learn?

I am looking to learn a second language, either Latin/Spanish or Mandarin Chinese.

What do you guys think would be the most beneficial one to learn from a career perspective?

wtf is Latin/Spanish? Latin American Spanish? I hope you are not thinking of learning Latin. Anyway - learning Spanish or Mandarin will not directly be beneficial to your career. People aren’t going to hire you because you speak basic Spanish or Mandarin. They are going to hire you for your skills. Some very specific positions require people to be bilingual, which is rare and will take you a while for Spanish or Mandarin. Plus, with Mandarin, it takes a while to learn the characters if you want to speak and be able to read and write as well.

From a CAREER perspective? I mostly agree with Analti. However, if you have aspirations to work in Latin America or Europe, then it definitely makes sense to learn Spanish. If in China or Hong Kong, then Chinese.

That said, I think if you’re going to learn a language, it should really be more personally motivated than anything else. I find learning languages to be very enriching and intellectually challenging. Personally I’d choose Spanish because there are so many countries that speak that language, not to mention many Spanish speakers here in the States. I started learning Spanish last year because I had occasion to spend time in Costa Rica, Chile and Peru, and also love listening to Latin music. My interest to learn the language wasn’t professionally motivated, but if I found out I had to go work in South America, then it would definitely become more of a “survival skill” and then I’d have no real choice.

I don’t think learning chinese is good from a career perspective. If you’re doing business in China the people you’d be doing biz with would be english speakers, and you’d never blend in as a Chinese anyways.

Spanish could be a good idea, but I don’t know the business benefits.

Rather than thinking about business, why not just learn the one you’re interested in?

Yeah learning languages is cool. Experiencing different cultures, people, their cuisine, and traditions is pretty awesome. When you go to the specific country, the people see it as a big compliment that you took time to learn their language especially if you are a native english speaker. I learned Spanish first, which wasn’t too bad. I studied Mandarin after that, which is not really too hard to pick up the basics of speaking. The grammar is very straightforward. However, memorizing all the characters is a real pain. If you are thinking of Hong Kong, you have to learn Cantonese. The characters are the same for the most part, except Hong Kong uses the traditional (long form) and Mainland China uses the short form of the characters. I studied Chinese through Columbia - they make you learn the long form the first year and then simplified the following years. You basically end up being able to read traditional or simplified and mainly write in simplified, while speaking Mandarin.

The best way to really learn a language is pillow talk. Each language has its proponents. Choose your language accordingly.

However, with Chinese, you are essentially learning two languages: the spoken and the written. They share a common grammar, but other than that, they are effectively two separate languages.

I agree with the part about not being able to blend in as a Chinese national if you weren’t born in China. I also agree with you in that there are surprisingly many people in China know how to speak English – it’s simply everywhere including in stores, popular culture, cinema, and so forth – and now frequently taught in middle schools especially where the middle class or above are enrolled. However, even the most-educated and white-collar Chinese business people prefer to do business in Chinese. This is at least in part to do with the fact that they’re more comfortable with the language, but I’d say that the more prevailing reason for this is “guanxi,” which loosely translated refers to the business customs and relationships associated with doing business in China.

I’ve spent several months living in China and Hong Kong in the last few years, both for business and for pleasure. I can confidently say that there is more and more money flowing in from the mainland such that many schools in Hong Kong, which used to teach English as a secondary language, are now prioritizing Mandarin instead. The whole problem of breaking into a deal-oriented field such as VC or PE in China is that it’ll be tough for you to do anyway if you weren’t actually born in China. The reality is that there is so much growth in China and so many people becoming enormously rich (the growth isn’t sustainable, though how much of the reports are smoke and mirrors is a discussion for another day), but many of these people want to keep the riches amongst themselves – doesn’t matter if you are white, black, whatever other color person you are, Chinese American, or whatever…if you aren’t a ROC national AND you don’t have some type of key relationships there, you’re at a disadvantage in business there.

Without being born in China, you (speaking generally, not referring to any one person on this forum) are utterly unfamiliar with the business culture and don’t have relationships there. Even if you can speak fluent Mandarin, the challenges are very difficult to overcome especially in those areas of business that are very relationship driven, including law, private equity, venture capital, and related fields. However, there are still plenty of other fields, both financial (e.g. hedge funds, equity research and to a lesser extent investment banking) and non-financial where having Mandarin proficiency despite not being a ROC national is still very helpful. Oftentimes it’s not even essential to be fluent in Mandarin, but it’s incredibly advantageous to be at least proficient. There are SO many people all over the world that want to go work in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong right now, but the economy just can’t support it. Therefore, any way you can get an “edge” is helpful. In my case, I don’t consider myself fluent in any language other than English anymore, but I’m proficient enough in Mandarin, Cantonese and French such that I would feel comfortable enough to do a 30-minute job interview or hold a casual conversation in that language. I recently had an interview with a Chinese hedge fund and we chit-chatted about investing and other stuff in Mandarin for about fifteen minutes, till they realized I didn’t know how to say stuff like revenues or EBITDA and had to fill in those gaps with English words. However, they didn’t seem too bothered by that - I had established a solid foundation for language, and they explained that I could enroll in a Business Mandarin course if I ended up needing it at some point.

Lastly, to Analti’s point, Cantonese is still the dialect that’s most spoken in Hong Kong. With that said, within the next 20 years (and sooner in the white-collar business environment), I predict there will be more people there speaking Mandarin than Cantonese. Cantonese is a terrific language and it is the heritage and legacy of Hong Kong, but so much money today is flowing from the mainland and as more mainlanders move to Hong Kong and take jobs there, they will bring their language (mostly Mandarin) with them.

Sorry about the long post, not trying to re-write Crime and Punishment here but this is a very fascinating topic and also an incredibly important one especially with the emergence of China as a relevant economic powerhouse. Of course, some of this growth is credible, and other of which simply is not sustainable or frankly not even real. There are a lot of things that can only be seen and believed if one spends time on the ground there.

I would go with spanish, Italian, or portugese as these are realtively easy to learn (you don’t have a chance at getting very good at mandarin unless you go live there), can be used in many places, and will be useful in your travels ther.

Languages like German or French are a waste of time as people in those countries speak English more and more. When you go there, provided you aren’t speaking to someone over the age of 50 you can generally expect that they speak english.

Spanish speaking countries on the otherhand really seem to only speak spanish, so you actually get to use the language when you go there.

learn the language of math…more universal than English :P…i wish i were smart enough to do the same

+1 to everything Numi said.

Just want to reemphasize how much business relating to China requires “native” Mandarin and not just “fluent” Mandarin. It’s unfair to the rest of us, but that’s life when they’re holding all the cards.

That being said, I find that travelling around Asia, basic Mandarin is becoming increasingly useful for day-to-day activities. Both in Korea and Thailand, I’ve encountered situations where speaking Mandarin got through to the restaurant/store/taxi when English hit a dead end.

Dare you to master Hungarian, Icelandic or Finnish.

Arguably, the hardest languages to learn, if aren’t born into a family that speaks it.

Don’t forget Turkish!

If Spanish and Mandarin are equally beneficial, I would choose Spanish. It’s much easier to learn than Chinese, especially the writing.

Arabic might be a better economic bet than Spanish.

Chuck Norris can speak Braille

haha Chuck Norris 1 : 0 God

I have a question, I want to learn portuguese. I currently Know English, Spanish, Arabic (Only talking not writting)…But these languages I have learned because my parents are arabic and I live in PR where the language is Spanish. How do you guys learn another language, do you use Rosetta Stone, take courses, buy books and learn on your own?

With what’s currently happening in the middle east and the potential for liberalization, I would say arabic is a better bet.

mandarin. chinese is the future