You want to learn a foreign language, but you can’t decide which one? There are about 7000 languages in the world to choose from, most of them you have probably never heard of. So, which criteria should you follow? It depends on the main reason why you want to learn a language: work, travel, curiosity, opportunity… When choosing a language, you need to take practical aspects into consideration, like: is it possible to learn that language in the country you live in? For example, you are most likely to be able to learn tribal languages in the countries where those languages are spoken – so, if that is what you want, you probably have to consider moving. In truth, people usually learn these languages for research purposes or because their work depends on communicating with the natives (when working in projects within the United Nations, for example).
Nowadays, English is considered the Lingua Franca, which means that most people from other countries are probably using English to communicate (regardless their level of knowledge). So, if English is not your native language, this is one language you definitely should learn.
If your work has a strong international business component, you may consider learning Mandarin. “Chinese” is, in reality, a group of dialects. When you hear someone is learning “Chinese”, probably that person is actually learning Mandarin. You may also consider learning Cantonese, which is the dialect spoken in Hong Kong and also a reference language in business. In Europe, French and German are good bets. Regarding Latin America, you will have to learn Portuguese if you are dealing with Brazil, and Spanish for all other countries. And, no, speaking Spanish in Brazil will not work.
The Arabic language , which is spoken in the countries of North Africa and Middle East, will open many doors. For someone who wants to work in Intelligence, this is the language to learn. However, be aware that there are actually two types of Arabic, which are very different from each other: Classic Arabic and Modern Arabic. Also, do not mistake Arabic for Farsi (or Persian), a language spoken in Iran. This is also a very sought after language in Intelligence.
Of course, if you want to move to or do business with a particular country, you should learn the native language of that country. However, be aware of official languages and/or dialects. For example, India has 22 recognised languages and many other languages or dialects that are not recognised. Russians usually refuse to speak English, so even if you just want to go there as a tourist, you may consider learning the basics. On the other hand, in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark everyone speaks proficient English, so you don’t need to learn their languages to communicate (although, they would appreciate it).