Originally Posted by MrFarFromRight
I also believe that Italians understand Spanish and vice versa a lot easier than either understand French, so either of the first 2 languages would help you in 2 out of 3 of the countries.
A lot of Italians are fluent in French, actually, as I have found when traveling to Italy. (I'm French). Spanish is pretty much half Latin-based, half Arabic-based and therefore a bit "more different".
I definitely agree with the idea of picking a language you'll use. You're much more likely to be able to learn it and then to remember it.
If you pick a language people around you don't speak, I strongly suggest surrounding yourself with it. For instance, to pick French as an example (because I know where to find things in French as a French person in North America), there are numerous radio channels you can find on the Internet. You can find some TV online as well, and I'd suggest checking for DVDs in the library or rental place, and looking for French-language mp3s. I suspect most of these would work for other languages as well.
In my experience (in learning English) what works best is:
A) surround yourself with the language "passively" (listen to a lot of music in that language, watch movies with subtitles in your first language). Study at the same time, and you'll start picking up more and more words and expressions you recognise.
B) when you learn the language more, switch to subtitles in the foreign language, and get the lyrics of songs you like and study them
C) finally, watch the movies without subtitles at all, and try understanding new songs without any lyric help. That's also the point when you should be able to follow radio shows, radio plays and "saga mp3" (which are the sound equivalent to webcomics, and pretty popular in France). You can start trying these earlier, but you're likely to be overwhelmed and get discouraged, so I strongly recommend leaving it to the side at first.
This takes a very long time, and even all of these probably won't be enough. I would also recommend getting skype or another "phone via the internet" program and finding people whose first language is the one you're studying, and contacting them. Just be honest, say you want to learn their language and would like to try talking to them.
All of these are ways you can try and make for not being around people who speak the language you want to learn. They require effort and still aren't as good as living inside of it. So I'd suggest picking a language that's common where you are if you're worried it would be too hard otherwise.
Or at least try to see if there is a community for that language someone around where you live. Immigrants from a specific region often gather around the same place, and you would get lots of books, musics and movies in their language, as well as local products (from where they're from) and the ability to talk with them.
And of course, even if you learn a language that's spoken around you, the advice above still doesn't hurt.