What is the Most Useful Language for Nurses to Learn?

Choosing the best language for nursing students requires careful thought. A school nurse in California, a public health nurse on a reservation in Arizona and a flight nurse in Iowa all need different linguistic skills. That’s why this list of the most helpful languages for nurses to learn explains the reasoning behind every suggestion so students can focus on the advice most suited to their career goals.

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While no one speaks Latin as a mother tongue, this so-called dead language is alive and well in the medical community. From phrases like “pro re nata,” used to prescribe medication as needed to the Latin origins of almost every anatomical term, nursing students will find Latin inside textbooks and hospitals. A few semesters of Latin, especially if the classes are tailored to the nursing community, will pay dividends. Also, most European languages grew from Latin roots, making this language an excellent starting point for future language acquisition.

Local Languages

The best language for nursing students ranges from Arabic to Zulu depending on location. In Minneapolis, Somali and Hmong are spoken by large populations. In California, Mandarin and Korean are more useful. Before minoring in Spanish or Sesotho, nursing students should research widely spoken languages in the area. This advice is especially important for students who want to work as emergency room nurses. There’s no time to wait for an interpreter when a patient is five minutes away from dying. Local languages are also good for nurses who don’t want to commit to fluency in a foreign language; even a few words in a familiar language can reassure a patient.


According to Newsweek, Spanish is the most commonly spoken non-English language in most of the United States. That makes Spanish a top choice for travel nurses or students who don’t want to commit to more exotic locally popular languages. Plus, Spanish is relatively easy to learn for native English speakers, especially compared to other widely spoken foreign languages like Mandarin, Urdu or Arabic. Nursing degrees are rigorous. Few students have the stamina to spend all day in clinicals and all night memorizing vocabulary lists in a foreign alphabet. With Spanish, nursing students can master the basics in just one or two classes, not the years of study required by more-difficult languages.


While the sun never set on the British Empire, France’s colonial reach wasn’t far behind. From Cameroon to Cambodia, dozens of countries around the world are home to French-speaking populations. Across most of West Africa, French is still used as a common tongue. For traveling nurses who want to cross the globe, French is one of the best languages to learn, which is why international health organizations like MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and the World Health Organization need French-speaking nurses. Plenty of Americans prefer French-speaking doctors, too, especially in Louisiana and New York, home to a growing number of Haitian refugees.

Most bachelor’s of science, or BSN, degrees are packed with required courses, leaving little room for elective courses. For some nursing students, selecting a foreign language is one of the only choices in the nursing curriculum. While students should consider their career plans, passion for a specific language is also a key factor in deciding the best language for a nurse to study.