Is Learning a Second Language a Productive Hobby or a Waste of Time?

Learning a new language tends to be more enjoyable in non-academic settings partly because you don’t have to deal with the pressure of assessment tests.

As the world gets smaller and more connected, it only makes sense that you add a few languages to your skillset just in case.

So, Is Learning a Second Language a Productive Hobby or a Waste of Time?

It’s definitely not a waste of time but a valuable hobby. Have you ever come across a viral foreign song on Tik Tok with lyrics you wished you understood? Ever bumped into an exchange student at your school whose first language you wished you could speak? That’s just how useful it is to learn new languages as a hobby.

There are more benefits:

1. Improves Your Employment Prospects

English teachers are always in demand in the Far East, especially in Japan and South Korea.

Foreign envoys and international organizations are always on the lookout for translators in the Middle East, Far East, and Southeast Asia where local languages are prioritized over English.

The same thing applies to Spanish, French, German, and every other civilized tongue on the planet.

2. Helps You Explore the World with Ease

The fact that English is the most spoken language on the planet increases the number of places you can explore without communication issues.

The same applies to other popular languages like Spanish and Chinese.

3. Access World Class Educational Institutions

Some of the best education institutions in the world – most of them being in the U.S. and Europe – offer their courses in English by default.

A big part of education materials is mainly printed in English as well.

Trying to enroll in these universities without proficiency in English may turn your to be a little harder.

Much of the entertainment materials available today are in English.

To grasp the message and get entertainment, you need to understand English.

5. Improves Your Cognitive Abilities

People with a grasp of multiple languages have better memories.

A better memory means high cognitive creativity.

More studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia delays in bilinguals than in monolinguals.

Two Ways To Get Your Language Hobby Started

Learn A New Language Hobby

The most effective way to grasp any foreign language is to listen to a lot of it.

It can be through music or spending time near its native speakers.

With the advent of YouTube and similar platforms, you can have access to tons of materials produced in almost all translatable languages.

Here is how to get started:

1. Take A Language Cultural Trip

Look for movies, restaurants, and events based on your target language.

Do you live in a country where English isn’t an official language?

Visit your local tourist center and spend time in English-speaking events.

2. Volunteer to Spend Time With Native Speakers

WWOOF lets you volunteer in farms distributed all over the world.

You get to work for farmers in countries that you feel would be conducive to learning a new language.

The organization makes sure you don-‘t have to worry about food and a place to stay – they are all catered for.

Eight Additional Languages To Learn

Here are the top languages you should be learning as a hobby:

1. English

Learn English As 2nd Language

The best thing about English is that you can turn to English poetry or literature as a hobby even if you are a native English speaker already.

English is probably the only truly international language, spoken as an official language in most of the former British colonies distributed in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. However, just a fistful of the world nations speaks English as their first language.

These countries make up the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” world (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States).

Today, there are about 1.35 billion English speakers on the planet, the most of any language.

Is English Hard To Learn?

No, but it can depend on your first language.

Because English evolved from Latin, it is one of the easiest languages for any native speaker of the 3 other Latin-derived languages:

  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • and Italian.

Learning Options?

You don’t need to pay to learn English. All you need is an internet connection and a device that can surf it.

Alternatively, if you want to learn from the best, say, a specially trained English instructor, you can pay for an online class via an online course provider like Udemy and Coursera.

Why Learn English?

Being the most spoken language on the planet, English is the only go-to language if you want to speak to a stranger.

Much of the entertainment materials and world events are carried out in English.

2. Spanish

Learn Spanish as 2nd language

Spanish is the official language of about 18 countries scattered in the Americas:

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Cuba
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Mexico
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Guatemala
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Peru
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela.

Spain and Puerto Rico (in addition to English) also recognize Spanish as an official language.

Is Spanish Hard To Learn?

No, in fact, it is the second fiddle language for many Anglophones partly due to its wide reach and practicality.

It is one of the easiest languages to learn in the western hemisphere together with Italian and Portuguese.

Learning Options

Just hop on one any of the popular online course providers like edX or Coursera and you might access a few lessons for free.

Why Learn Spanish?

There are over 400 million native speakers of the language in the world, most of them in the Americas. Did you know Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States?

3. Chinese

Learn Chinese As A 2nd Language

The second most spoken language in the world is not Spanish or Hindi, but Chinese.

Surprising, right?

While there aren’t many Chinese speakers in the West, China – the birthplace of the language – is home to about 1.3 billion people which makes it the most populous nation on earth.

Some Southeast Asia countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan have significant Chinese speakers as well.

Is Chinese Hard To Learn?

Yes – learning Chinese is one of the hardest things you could try especially as an Anglophone that has never been exposed to it before.

However, things can be a bit easier for you if you have a preexisting understanding of the Japanese and Korean (Hangul or Hanja – more on this later) because these languages are similar in some aspects.

Perhaps the main reason why the Chinese language is such a hard nut to crack for a westerner is the existence of a bunch of dialects.

There’s Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Xiang (Hunanese), Gan dialect, Min dialect, Wu dialect, Hakka or Kejia dialect, and a few more.

The second reason is the fact that this language is built on special characters that are arranged in blocks to create a complete phrase.

There are 8,000 such characters!

As such, Chinese can be written in two forms –

  • traditional (for the native speakers)
  • and simplified (for learners).

Why Learn Chinese?

China is a fast-rising economic powerhouse.

If you plan to relocate to China or one of the Chinese-speaking nations in Southeast Asia, learning the language is a must-do.

What’s The Trick?

When speaking Chinese, the tone or how you pronounce a word influences the meaning of that word.

For example, saying “mā” with the 1st Chinese tone translates to “mom.”

However, with the 3rd tone, “mă,” means horse.

For that reason, it is recommended that you start by understanding the Chinese tones before moving up the ladder.

Another thing – like English, a sentence structure in Chinese consists of 3 parts a subject, object, and verb.

However, the language does not create a distinction between genders or plural and singular nouns.

4. Japanese

Learn Japanese As A Second Language

Japanese (日本語) is spoken by slightly over 128 million people, most of them located in Japan where it is recognized as a national and official language.

More people in the west and other parts of the world seem to be more interested in learning Japanese than, say, Hindi (spoken by over a billion people, a population many times that of Japan).

There are two explanations for that.

  • Firstly, Japanese comes second after English as the language with the most developed movie industry and TV content. Lots of people worldwide watch Japanese anime and manga.
  • Also, the Japanese style of storytelling is a world apart from the traditional western style of storytelling. Many people are allured by this difference.

Is Japanese Hard To Learn?

No, but can depend. Just like Chinese and Korean, it uses special characters that need to be arranged in blocks to form a complete word or phrase.

Another thing – the Japanese language uses three different kinds of script:

  • Katakana
  • Kanji
  • and Hiragana.

Each of these 3 script types has its own role.

This means there are instances you will find all these scripts in a single phrase or sentence.

The language has only 5 vowels and 13 consonants.

All these make the Japanese language hard to learn in some aspects but easy compared to Chinese.

Why learn Japanese?

If you want to enjoy the full entertainment that comes with Japanese manga and anime, it’s only logical that you work on your mastery of the language.

If you are also interested in the Japanese culture or you plan to relocate there, the Japanese language is a must-learn.

Learning Options

You better sign up with the most reliable teaching and practice platforms that deal almost exclusively in Japanese. Start with these:

5. Hindi

Learn Hindi As second Language

Hindi (मानक हिन्दी) and English are the two official languages of India, but Hindi can be heard more prominently deep in the villages of the Indian subcontinent alongside local languages like Telugu.

The Indian diaspora speaks it in the Middle East (more so Dubai), East Africa,

The United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

With about 1 billion speakers living in the Indian Subcontinent alone, it is the third most spoken language on the planet and second in Asia.

Because Hindi is similar to some popular Indo-Aryan languages like Urdu, Punjabi, and Sanskrit as well as a few Indo-Iranian/Indo-European languages including Tajik and Pashto, a person conversant with these languages will have an easier time learning Hindi from scratch.

Is Hindi difficult to learn?

Yes, for English speakers. The type of script used in Hindi, Devanagari, is among the hardest scripts to grasp. However,

Hindi shares some words with Arabic, something that could make it easier for you to learn if you understand Arabic.

Learning Options

A Hindi lesson on Duolingo takes an hour or less.

Here is an easy-to-follow How-To guide.

Why learn Hindi?

Bollywood is the second – by some accounts like the number of viewers – biggest movie industry in the world just behind Hollywood.

Knowing even the most basic Hindi language, whether for business, heritage, or pure curiosity, also allows you to enjoy Bollywood movies.

Even better, learning Hindi opens an avenue to communicate with more than 1 billion people worldwide.

6. Korean

Learn Korean As Second Language?
a chalkboard with the question do you speak Korean?

Korean (한국어/ 韓國語) is spoken by 77 million people mostly in the Korean peninsula (North Korea and South Korea).

If you look at the numbers, it is the third and least spoken language in the Far East.

However, the reason why many people actively seek to learn the Korean language in the Americas, Southeast Asia, and some parts of Africa is the influence of K-POP (Korean Pop or Korean Music) and K-Drama all of which are part of the larger Korean wave that started in the 1990s.

Is Korean hard to learn?

Let’s just say – “fairly tough”, especially if you are not conversant with Chinese and/or Japanese.

While these languages are remarkably different from each other, they use special characters that should be arranged in blocks.

Korean is somewhat harder to crack compared to Japanese but easier than Chinese.

There are 2 ways of writing the Korean language – Hanja and Hangul.

Hanja borrows a significant amount of Chinese characters and is a little hard to learn but it’s rarely used.

Hangul is a more simplified version, featuring lots of “o” parts in their character blocks.

The best thing about Korean is that it is not tonal, and this will be a huge advantage for a western leaner used to Latin languages.

Hangul – the aforementioned primary alphabet – is easier to grasp.

However, the bad news about the Korean language is that agglutinative (suffixed and prefixes replace prepositions, something that makes some words look unreasonably long).

Also, it comes with an unbelievable seven speech levels, all dependent on how formal the situation is.

Even worse, the grammatical structure found in the language is unfamiliar for Anglophones.

Learning Options

The ministry of foreign affairs under the Korean government is eager to introduce Korean culture to as many people as possible.

Visit the website of the Korean embassy near you and you will most likely have access to a free starter program or specific guidance regarding the best way to learn the language.

The ministry also supports 2 other entities for this purpose – Arirang TV and King Sejong Institute.

Arirang TV

Arirang TV hosts two Korean language programs:

(1) Traveler’s Korean

This program introduces you to an array of Korea’s attractions, culture, and history alongside helpful tips and new vocabulary for tourists and travellers.

(2) Let us speak Korean

This program offers Korean culture and language classes that you can take as a beginner.

It offers about 101 episodes introducing you to basic vocabulary and expressions.

Note that registration will be required to use Arirang online programs

King Sejong Institutes

As a learner, you can count on King Sejong institute to get a diverse range of online classes including speaking, listening, reading, grammar, and an array of other study areas uniquely customized to several levels.

Note that registration could be required to take an online course with King Sejong Institute

Why learn Korean?

The Korean language is of great value if you plan to study or relocate to South Korea.

If you are into K-Drama and/or K-Pop or you have been fascinated by the Korean culture lately, the best way to get the most out of your newfound interest is to learn the language.

7. Swahili

Learn Swahili As A Second Language

There are numerous native languages on the African continent but none comes anywhere close to beating Swahili in the number of speakers.

While there are just 1.5 million native Swahili speakers mostly distributed along the East African coast, close to 130 million people speak it in the hinterland of East Africa either as a dialect or some form of pidgin.

Is Swahili hard to learn?

No, but can depend.

There are slightly more than 15 Swahili dialects in East and Central Africa, plus a few pidgin forms. The 3 most important dialects to know about are

  1. Kiunguja, mainly spoken on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania;
  2. Kimvita in the Mombasa region of Kenya;
  3. Kiamu spoken in Lamu in Kenya.

However, standard Swahili – the one you will find in most parts of Tanzania and Kenya – is based on the dominant Kiunguja dialect.

The biggest hurdle to learning Swahili is its heavy use of Bantu grammar (derived from the numerous Bantu languages in the region).

But it is more condensed – a whole English sentence or phrase can be compressed into a single Swahili word. The word “naja” for example, means “I am coming.”

Learning options

Start at Duolingo, although YouTube isn’t short of Swahili instructors.

Check Google Play for Android Swahili apps.

Why learn Swahili?

As mentioned before, Swahili is the most popular truly African language on the continent even though it’s only spoken in East and Central Africa.

If you are a Safari enthusiast or you-‘re always in the East Africa region, exploring or working, then learning and understanding Swahili is one of the wisest decisions you could ever arrive at.

8. Sign Languages

Sign Language Hobby
Shot of focused sign language learners repeating new sign after their teacher

Sign languages make up a group of languages that utilize visual-manual gestures to convey meaning to people with hearing disabilities.

In general, sign languages are mostly expressed via manual articulations in tandem with a non-manual element. They are full natural languages with distinct grammar and lexicon.

Each country has its own sign language, so the hand and facial gestures may vary a little across different nations.

American Sign Language (ASL –, for example, is a natural language with the same linguistic properties you-‘d find in spoken languages complete with grammar that differ slightly from English but one that’s only used in North America.

Is Sign Language Hard To Learn?

Yes, certainly. Sign language is probably the hardest to learn of all languages mentioned here.

The first reason is the fact that, unlike traditional languages such as English, there’s no internationally recognized/universal sign language.

Secondly, it depends heavily on gestures than audible tones, something you will likely have a hard time memorizing.

Learning options

The best way to get started with sign language is to check what your local sign language association has on offer.

In the United States, you will need to visit the ASL website or Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.

ASL has numerous training programs on offer, such as the ASL Defined.

Why Learn Sign Language?

Whether you like to volunteer in foster centers or would like to pursue a career in care for people with hearing disabilities, sign language is the only effective means of communication between you and the other person.


Is learning a second language a productive hobby or a waste of time?

It’s definitely not a waste of time but a valuable hobby. Understanding more than one language opens numerous job opportunities including being an instructor or translator.

Research shows that bilinguals have better memories and are less likely to be struck by dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

The number of languages you know opens an equal number of places you can explore without communication issues.


Learning A Language As A Hobby 

Language as a Hobby 

Language Learning Can Make The Perfect Hobby 

Additional Hobbies For Consideration