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Best languages to learn for journalistic purposes?

Hi, Duolingo!

I'm an aspiring journalist. My first language is English, and I'm proficient in Spanish. My main focus right now is German, hence why I've returned to Duolingo after being absent for a while.

In your opinion, what is/are the best language(s) to learn if I want to excel in reporting? It seems like people lean towards English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic, though I'm not entirely sure how accurate that list is. If you think there are some I'm missing or some I could omit, please let me know. Thanks!

April 16, 2017



It will depend where you plan to be a journalist, and which languages are used. The languages you listed are all major languages used in the world, however if you are a journalist in Spain, for example Mandarin might not be the most popularly used language. I suggest considering where you are writing, and which language the majority of your target audience speaks. Best of luck!


Fair point, haha. I think I'll be primarily U.S. based, but foreign policy in the U.S. government is something I imagine I'd like to report. I do want to travel as much as I can though, obviously!


The languages you list are great for most any career, yet I guess that learning a less widespread language can be an asset... how many reporters can speak Turkish or Korean - and thus provide us with a more accurate coverage of what's going on there? Building and bolstering your own "uniqueness" as a journalist can be also achieved through a clever selection of the languages you master. Buona fortuna!


That's another good point! I think Anderson Cooper is fluent in Vietnamese, and he's doing rather well... probably for reasons besides that, but I digress. Thank you!


I guess a lot comes down in which segment of journalism you want to work. Politics? Science? Travel? Women's magazine? Sport?...


Politics and culture, primarily. I'm trying to take international relations with the U.S. into account for the political piece.


Truth and falsehood


The list is actually very accurate. English is used as a lingua franca in the US, Canada, the UK, India and South Africa. Spanish is used throughout Latin America and is understood by Portuguese speakers. French is useful not just in France, but Canada, Africa and pockets of Asia as well. German has use in Germany, some of the neighboring countries, and pockets throughout the world. Russian is useful throughout the Slavic world. Mandarin has the most speakers by mere number. And Arabic is repeatedly the fourth or fifth most spoken language in the world due to it's use in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Geographically, it makes sense to learn those languages if you want to communicate with the most people using as little languages as possible. All of them frequently make the top 10 list of languages most spoken in the world. So if you want to be a well-traveled world reporter, that's a good mix, but you should always consider where you are working as well. For example, if you work in India maybe Hindi would be helpful (Hindi, or Hindustani, or Hindi+Urdu, is the fourth or fifth most spoken language by number). So I hope I helped you a bit in some way.


That is very helpful, thank you for such a comprehensive answer!


Welsh! You could get a job at SC4.


German used to be one of the most difficult languages to be a journalist in. As in past they rated the skill of journalists by the length of their sentences and words.

What's the big deal about that you might think? Well, first off, in the old German spelling rules, it was pretty much allowed to turn a whole sentence into a single word (even modern German still allows some insanely long words to be constructed). For example, it's as if you'd write the following in English: "the bigredfiretuckoftheWashingtonDCthirddistrictinthestateMarylandoftheUnitedStatesofAmerica".

Secondly those long sentences I mentioned, you'd sometimes find an entire article written in ... 1 sentence. Because of how sentences were constructed, you'd often find the subject in the beginning ... and the verb at the very end. For example "The mayor ... [insert 30 lines of the same sentence here] ... quit his job."

No, I didn't make this up, this is an actual (but indeed crazy) fact.

For those interested, German still has many insanely long words. As you can read for example here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/54048/heres-how-crazy-long-german-words-are-made.


That's wild, I didn't know that! Makes sense though, Duo has given me a few slightly intimidating words already. Thanks for that little piece of trivia.


You might want to cover different language groups. eg. EU Slavic (RU...), Asian (Chi...), world (...Esperanto). :)


That's a good suggestion, thanks! Well-roundedness is always a good route. :)


Look to wherever tensions are rising in the world if you want something more precise than those major, very important languages. The trouble is knowing how long tensions and interests will last to make learning a language useful enough to learn. For being a journalist /right now/ Korean may be useful to look at the North Korean problems. Also, tensions seem to only be mounting regarding the status of Kurds within Iraq and the upcoming Kurdish independence question so learning Sorani Kurdish may be useful.

Really the safest bets would be those languages you listed and perhaps some important nearby ones that have to do with the tensions on which you can take the opportunity to report. If you knew both Arabic and Sorani Kurdish, for instance, you'd be invaluable to report in Iraq. Go where interest lies or try to predict where interest will lie by the time you will have finished learning a language.


Sorani Kurdish is a good suggestion! I want to say I have a little over 5 years (finish high school + bachelor's degree) to really put language to use in the field, so it is hard to predict, but that's a good idea! Thank you. :)

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