Ten Unique Languages to Learn Abroad

by Julia Zaremba

Words are a lot like people: they hold the power to excite, disappoint, comfort, and anger. They are as powerful as any physical force and and can be just as influential.  And, like people, they come in all shapes and sizes (or, rather, phonetics and grammar rules).  So, instead of sticking with high school course selections, why not branch out from the language root and try your tongue at something new?

To help get some gears turning, here is an alphabetical list of ten awesome languages found on GoAbroad that offer nothing less than intrigue, excitement, and hidden treasures.  It’s time for these languages to step into the limelight and receive their due praise; help them out!

Shen Triadha Church, Berat Balkans, Albania

Shen Triadha Church, Albania

Albanian (Shqip)

If you’re looking to learn a language that has roots centuries deep, Albanian is a great choice.  With over seven million speakers of the language spread across the world, this Indo-European language is mainly used in Albania and Kosovo, but can also be found in the Balkans.  There are two main dialects: Tosk and Geg, the two divided by the Shkumbin River. Practice Tosk in the southern regions and Geg in the northern parts.  After you have accepted the fact that nodding your head means ‘no” and shaking it means “yes”, the rest of the Albanian language should be a piece of tortë. Check out all the options to learn Albanian!

Aymara (Aymar aru)

Originating from the Aymara People of the Andes, this is one of the most-spoken Native American languages and is one of the official languages of Peru and Bolivia. Before the 16th-century conquests, Aymara was a much more dominant language, but it soon faced competition from speakers of Spanish and Quechua. Despite this setback, the Aymara native language still remains in use and thriving throughout locations of South America. If you are intrigued by vowel deletion and a strong use of suffixes, check out Aymaran language programs and plan your next trip to Lake Titicaca (the birthplace of the sun, some dare claim).

Cantonese (廣東話, Gwóng dōng wá)

One of the five main languages of China, Cantonese is a well-known dialect of Yue Chinese and is spoken by around 71 million people throughout southeast China and beyond. From Hong Kong to Vietnam, Malaysia and thousands of overseas Chinese communities, Cantonese is an international treasure. Because it also appears in a variety correspondence, this language is ideal to learn in its written and spoken form.  If you want to learn the real meaning of dim sum (hint: it has nothing to do with food), look at these Cantonese learning programs!

Danish (Dansk)

The former official language of Norway and Iceland, Danish is the current official language of Denmark and can be found throughout northern mainland Europe.  This is a Nordic language that over time it has integrated thousands of words from other foreign languages, creating spelling rules that change often.  If you’re interested in discovering your creaky voice or reading Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in their original language, start exploring the variety of opportunities to learn and perfect your Danish language skills.

Road Signs in Tallinn, Estonia

Road Signs in Tallinn, Estonia 

Estonian (Eesti keel)

Stemming from the Finnic language group, Estonian also draws many words from German, Russian, and Latin origins.  This creates a language that is as diverse as the people that inhabit Estonia; over 1.1 million speakers claim this as their native language. The oral traditions of Estonia have proved essential to preserving stories and customs, and this elvish language continues to recognize this with its variety of dialects and grammar usage. When you’re ready to start learning the repertoire of the largest collection of national folk songs in the world and to see the European Tree of the Year, check out opportunities to study Estonian!  This is the country that invented Skype, so you know there’ll be no shortage to practice chatting.

Flemish (Vlaams)

The term “Flemish” might be a bit misleading.  What used to refer to the language spoken in the former County of Flanders now refers to any dialect of Dutch spoken in Belgium.  There are four main dialects, each with a rough correspondence to a geographical area of the country.  Despite its heavy consonants sounds, this is probably the easiest language for native English speakers to learn, due to its similarity with English and clear grammar structure of German.  So, instead of shrinking back from words such as kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamhedenplan, learn the simple logisitics behind it with one of the Flemish language programs.

Hungarian (Magyar)

If you thought English grammar could be complex, you clearly haven’t tried Hungarian! With up to 238 forms of nouns alone, the Hungarian language is rich with learning opportunities. As the official language of Hungary, it is spoken by over 16 million people worldwide and is classified as a Uralic language. The 18th and 19th centuries were a flourishing time for Hungarian literature, so you’ll never be at a loss when exploring the history of this dynamic language.  If you’re up for the challenge, take a sip of Bull’s Blood and begin exploring the Hungarian language programs offered.

Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge)

To differentiate it from Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic refers to the official language of Ireland (even if English is quickly becoming the main-spoken language).  The lyrical and rolling brogues are recognizable distinctions of Irish Gaelic and hark back to Ireland’s culture and heritage, immediately bringing to mind fiddles and leprechauns.  It’s interesting to note that there are no words for yes or no in Irish Gaelic, so maybe the concept of right and wrong will be more forgiving when you begin conjugating verb forms.  If you’re ready to befriend sheep and study in pubs, start researching Irish Gaelic programs!

Street Graffiti in Slovenia

Mural in Slovenia

Slovenian (Slovenski)

Don’t let the size of Slovenia fool you. This country boasts over 32 different dialects of the Slovenian language and more than two million speakers worldwide. It is one of the official languages of the European Union and much of its diversity can be attributed to the mountainous regions of Slovenia, which isolates regions of the country and facilitates different patterns of language development.   If you’re ready to move to the Land of the Dragon and learn the difference between matevž and mavžlji, check out these great places to learn Slovenia.

Swahili (Kiswahili)

A Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people, East Africa's Swahili is quick to delight and excite (and not just for our rafikis that are fans of The Lion King). Maybe it’s the phonetic pronunciations of each and every syllable, maybe it’s the delightful colloquialisms that often revolve around bananas (poa kichiza kama ndizi, anyone?), or maybe it’s a delirium induced from eating too many chapati, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a cooler language than Swahili to claim fluency in. Whether you opt to study in Tanzania, Rwanda, or elsewhere, Swahili is considered a strategic world language (the perfect option for someone looking for something different than the typical Arabic, Russian, or Portuguese!).

Whichever road-less-traveled you decide to stroll down, learning one of these alternative languages will set you apart from the crowd, provide an irreplaceable experience, and make you a valuable asset in the job market. 

In some cases, there are scholarships available to help finance your study of less commonly taught languages. Check out GoAbroad’s scholarship database for more information.

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