We all want to give our kids a leg- up in life, and currently the belief is that learning a second (or third) language at a young age will boost our child’s development and future prospects (See my blog: Fleeting language- here today but gone tomorrow? for more on this). Research says that our children’s brains are like sponges, and so should be sopping up everything possible, especially between the ages of 2-4. But what to chose? How do you know which language is best for your child?

There are varying points of view on this: do we go for the most important or the easiest? Or even the hardest- after all, if they can learn anything right now, then why not aim high?! I wrote before on the easiest language to learn for English speakers, (The easiest foreign language to learn), so here’s a different standpoint.

Some parents choose a heritage language, meaning that Mum, Dad, Granny, or another relative speaks the language. This is great because it provides real-life experience to use the language and gain confidence. But if only English is spoken at home, and you’re not sure which language to choose, here are 5 foreign languages experts feel will best benefit kids for their futures:

Spanish is a popular choice for parents. It’s also one of the easiest foreign languages for English speakers to learn. Much of the Spanish vocabulary is similar to English, and Spanish is a phonetic language, which means that words are pronounced as they are written. Consuelo Bova, CEO of the children’s foreign language learning store SmartMouthLearning.com, sees Spanish as a good foundation for learning other languages: “With its similarity to other Romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese), it can be an excellent jumping-off point for a child who comes to love languages.”

If people are looking for careers with languages, Spanish is always a good, safe bet. There is an incredible number of native Spanish speakers in the world (about the same number as native English speakers).

If you want a language for international business, politics, or travel, French is best,” says Pablo Solomon (pablosolomon.com), a former teacher, counselor, and consultant to the U.S. Department of Education. “French is also the language of choice in the arts.” According to the 2012 Tourism Highlights publication from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, France is ranked No. 1 on the international tourist list. (China is No. 3, Spain is No. 4, Italy is No. 5.) And with more people traveling abroad, they may have a goal of traveling to a French-speaking country where the language can be reinforced for the child.

Given China’s vast population, growing economy, and increasing political power, experts recommend learning Mandarin, the main spoken dialect. Learning the language would be beneficial for your child’s future career prospects. Employers in our country and other countries need people to speak Mandarin to conduct business. This is not a trend that is going to be changing any time soon. But it’s difficult to learn, right?  The language’s tones make it sound more like a song, which is a tool utilized in teaching young children for other subjects. The written characters look like pictures, which appeals to younger children who are usually visual learners.

German is another European language which should be considered. Germany is consistently ranked in the top 10 visited countries; the country awards a generous number of scholarships and other support for foreign students to study in Germany, and of particular interest to music lovers is that most of the world’s famous composers and musicians (Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Handel, Mozart) came from German-speaking countries, and Vienna, the capital of Austria, is known as the center of classical music around the world.

Germany has the fourth strongest economy and is the number-one export nation in the world. Because English is a Germanic language, some words and their origins are similar, which can make German an easier language for kids to pick up. It’s a key language to learn in the current global economy too. In Europe, schoolchildren are learning German because their economy is the strongest there.

And finally, Arabic. Learning Arabic is not as hard as you think! Estimates vary, but it is believed that Arabic is spoken by close to a billion Arabs and Muslims around the world. There is a high demand and low supply of Arabic- speakers in the Western world. With the growing importance of the Middle East in international affairs, there is an extreme shortage of workers in the West who are versed in Arabic language and culture. Those who study Arabic can find careers in a variety of fields: journalism, business and industry, education, finance and banking, translation and interpretation, consulting, foreign service and intelligence, and many others.

Learning a new language takes consistency and exposure, and works best when it’s heard in a variety of environments. A few hours a week isn’t enough, and TV isn’t particularly effective. Reading, and interactive or social activities (like meet-ups with other kids who speak the language) are the best to instill an interest in the language and to grow a good vocabulary. So read to your little ones in any language you feel comfortable… it’s good for them!

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