Posts Tagged ‘language’

Which Language to Take?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Cool thing about Stanford is you can take tons of languages.  Question is: which one it?

A sketchy EE grad student friend of mine (who’s from Greece, by the way, which makes this whole thing pretty impartial) and I set out to rank languages.  We used the following formula:

Value=Number of Speakers*Per Capita GDP of Speakers*(1-Percent of Speakers Who Speak English)

This approach balances economic opportunity and English penetration.  It returns the GDP that you can access once you have learned the language.   For instance, Germany may be home to BMW, Bosch and Q-Cells.  But with 56% of the country that speaks English, you probably can get by without burning 15 units to become conversant.  And you’d certainly surprise some people in North Korea if you started speaking in Korean.  But with a per capita GDP of $1,900, do you really want to do business there?  Plus, you know, the whole personality cult thing.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account opportunities to explore Florentine culture, examine Lenin’s letters or to have that Parisian love affair you always dreamed of having (as the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler apparently did).  But a quick scan might give you some insight.

Good thing they made you sing Frere Jacques back in second grade...

By the way, if you want to check our math, check out this spreadsheet.