If you’re looking for ways to become cooler, you might go for one of the obvious choices: picking up the guitar, wearing sunglasses indoors, looking uninterested in public and so on. We’re here to advocate for a slightly different option: learning a new language.
We’re biased, but we think learning any language is cool. That said, there are some that have a little more cultural cachet than others. We had our experts choose which languages are the coolest in the world. But first, we look at some of the criteria used to select them.
What Makes A Language Cool?
Coolness is entirely subjective, and its definition changes over time. Just like those sunglasses that look like shutters, languages can rise and fall. What makes it even more slippery of a concept to define is that once authorities like the mainstream media start calling something cool, it quickly becomes uncool. That said, languages aren’t exactly like fashion trends. People don’t pick them up and discard them like low-rise jeans. With that in mind, we had to choose a few different criteria that could be used to evaluate “coolness.”
- Speaker Reputation — The biggest factor for how cool a language seems is how cool the people who speak it seem. This is incredibly subjective, of course, but there’s certainly a lot of notions about which cultures have an effortless cool to them.
- Pop Culture — Movies and music can have a huge effect on a language’s reputation. A single international star can have people running out to learn a new language.
- Fascinating Features — With over 7,000 languages out there, it should come as no surprise that some of them have developed in interesting ways.
Countdown Of The 10 Coolest Languages
This language spoken in parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe makes the list because of one of its most interesting phonetic features: clicks. These are sounds made using the tongue that sound like, well, a click. !Xhosa isn’t the only language that features these — in fact, other languages can produce a wider range of clicks — but it’s one of the most spoken. In a strange twist of linguistic evolution, the only languages that have clicks come from Africa.
The German language, much like Germany itself, has reversed its fortunes over the past few decades. Since the Cold War, Berlin has been the center of German cool, with clubs, musicians and art people flock to from around the world. That’s not to say this one city is the end-all and be-all of the country, however, as Germany has subcultures across the whole country.
Novelty is one thing that can make something particularly cool. While Afrikaans is hardly brand new — it developed from Dutch contact with other languages in Africa during the 18th century — it’s one of the newestlanguages in the world. It’s one of the official languages of South Africa, and it’s also spoken in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Yes, it might seem a little silly to include English as a “cool” language. Its cultural dominance is well-established, because it’s the most-spoken language in the world (if you include both native and non-native speakers). Still, it’s impossible to deny that English had a bit of a monopoly on cool for a while, particularly as American movies, music and more flooded countries around the world. It’s a coolness begotten from colonialism, but it’s a very effective one.
While Arabic isn’t necessarily the most difficult language for an English native to learn, it’s definitely up there. It uses a different writing system, and one of its most difficult features is that it doesn’t write out short vowels, instead expecting the reader to just know what vowels should be used. That said, it’s worth the effort, and there are plenty of models of cool spread throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
One of the best words ever invented related to the concept of cool comes from Italian: sprezzatura, which Merriam-Webster defines as a “studied nonchalance.” It’s no surprise then that Italian should also make its way onto this list. Perhaps one of its biggest cool factors is Italian music, which has been setting an international standard for hundreds of years from Vivaldi to today. Another cool thing about Italian is how varied it is, with each region of the country having its own defined dialect.
Japanese is probably going to be a challenge for English speakers — it uses three different writing systems and doesn’t have much in common with other languages — but many have decided to tackle it anyway. For the past few decades, Japan has been competing with the United States for cultural influence, with some of its major exports being anime and manga. For many outside of the country, cities like Tokyo also look impossibly futuristic, making it a popular destination for people.
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and its reputation for being cool has only grown. In the realms of movies and music, it’s hard to beat Spanish’s climb right now, with artists like Bad Bunny becoming internationally popular. It’s hard to pinpoint any specific Spanish cool, as you can’t really say that the same things are happening in Spain, Mexico, Chile and the United States — to be fair, none of the languages on this list are a monolith — but you can be assured Spanish will only become more influential in the coming years.
France has for a long time been a place for cool people to visit. Whether it’s the 1920s with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, or the 2020s with Lily-Rose Depp and David Beckham, artists and other kinds of international superstars have long made Paris one of their homes. That isn’t to say it’s the only place where French is cool: it’s one of the fastest-growing languages with a projected 750 million speakers by 2050.
At the very beginning, we said languages are not like other trends, but if there is one language currently riding the wave of a trend it’s Korean. With K-Pop becoming one of the most popular genres of music around the world and K-Dramas popping up on streaming platforms, people around the world are becoming inspired to study Korean. It’s not one of the easiest — you’ll have to learn a different writing system — but having a strong motivation is enough to power through any challenge.
Really, though, any language you want to learn will bring its own kind of cool. You’ll be able to understand and communicate with new people, which is its own reward. If learning the coolest languages gives you the push you need to finally try a new language, though, this list just might come in handy.