In the world of international business, it’s tough if you only speak one language. For many big companies, it’s not uncommon to communicate with a client in English in the morning, in French in the afternoon, and then have an overnight conference call in Mandarin.
But with dozens of languages to choose from, which ones should you choose to learn? In this article, we’ll present the case for the 11 best languages to learn for business.
Note: This article will present the languages that are the best to learn in a general sense with data to back up the viewpoints. This list is not ranked. The best language is a relative phrase, so what’s the best for one person might not be the best for another. Read the information and decide for yourself what is best for your business needs.
We’re not just putting English at the top of the list because we’re in the business of teaching English. It deserves a spot at the top because English is nearly unavoidable in the world of business.
With over 350 million native speakers and 1.35 billion total speakers, English is the most widely spoken global language in existence. It’s the official language of 67 countries, 27 territories, and serves as the base language for the internet, Wall Street, and many other forms of international commerce. It’s also the official language of the UN, NATO, the EU, and the OECD.
If you’re doing business, you’ll encounter English at some point. And its usage is only going to continue to grow. In 2014, the British Council estimated that there were over 1.5 billion English learners around the world—and that was 7 years ago as of this writing!
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If you want to do business anywhere in North, Central or South America, Spanish is a powerful asset. There are over half a billion speakers around the world with more native Spanish speakers than native English speakers out there.
But let’s talk business! The G20 is a forum that brings together 19 countries with the largest economies in the world and the European Union for discussions on global economic policy. Spanish is the primary language for two G20 countries in Argentina and Mexico, so there are loads of business opportunities there and in the surrounding countries.
Plus, the United States has a population of over 40 million native Spanish speakers and over 50 million total. And let’s not forget about Spain! Spanish is another language that isn’t going away and could serve you well in your business endeavors.
With nearly a billion native Mandarin speakers, it surpasses all other languages in terms of first-language speakers. And while sheer numbers don’t always mean a language is one of the best languages to learn for business, in the case of Mandarin, it does.
That’s mainly because China’s economy grew at one of the most rapid and unprecedented paces in history since the country opened up in 1978. In fact, China was the only major economy to have growth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the growth has slowed down some, it won’t stop. China is now the second largest economy in the world and on pace to pass the United States by 2030.
Outside of China, Mandarin is spoken in many island nations in the South China Sea where large pools of manufacturing and customer support teams operate. For any entrepreneur, if you want your business to go global, you’ll have to do business with someone in Mandarin. It’s not a question of ‘if’, but a question of ‘when’.
4. Hindi / Urdu
We won’t get into the controversy of whether these two languages are different languages all together. Most linguists consider Hindi and Urdu to be mutually intelligible and label them as two dialects of the same principle language: Hindustani. With that out of the way, let’s see why the language is so good for business.
Urdu and Hindi are the languages spoken by the populations of Pakistan and India. And while China normally is normally the most talked about nation in terms of economic growth, these two countries are also soaring as centers for technology and tech support teams.
Also, India is expected to pass up China in population by 2030. So with booming populations in the region, economic opportunities are plentiful, especially if you speak the native language!
Portuguese has over 250 million speakers which puts it at ninth in the world, and the number two Romance language behind Spanish. But it’s it’s popularity in South America that makes it a solid language to know for business.
Even with the pandemic, Brazil is still a large economic power that’s growing more and more every year. Because of this, Portuguese will pass English as the top language for business in South America very soon.
However, South America isn’t the only place where Portuguese is useful. In the 15th and 16th centuries, colonialism brought the language to many nations in Africa and Asia. Now, Portuguese is the official language of oil rich Angola and Mozambique and is a co-official language in Macau. In fact, only 5% of Portuguese speakers live in Portugal! Combining Portuguese with another popular language like English or Mandarin is a smart business move!
People usually think of Mandarin when talking about learning a language for business in China. However, Cantonese has over 80 million native speakers and is the dominant language in Southern China. If you’re doing business in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, or Guangzhou, then you won’t be speaking Mandarin.
In fact, since the largest number of Chinese immigrants come from Cantonese speaking regions, it’s also the most popular language for the Chinese communities in Western cities like London and Vancouver. In addition, it’s a great back up language for business in many Southeastern Asian countries including Vietnam and Malaysia.
Germany is world renown as an industrial powerhouse, and as the largest economy in the European Union, there’s no doubt that economic opportunities are plentiful for those who speak the language.
Also, Frankfurt houses the Central European Bank, and banks in Switzerland all use German as their primary business language. Combine that with Austria as a large German-speaking European economic power, and you have a language that will set you up for business success on the continent of Europe!
Arabic currently holds two titles right now: the fastest growing language in the US and the fastest growing language on the internet. While one title is somewhat notable, the fastest growing language on the internet is definitely something worth looking into from a business context.
With the UAE, Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia as big players in global markets, you can see where business advantages lie for those who speak the language. The most notable fact is that: in the last 8 years, the number of Arabic speakers on the internet grew from ⅓ of the speaking population to over half! And so, Arabic translations online are becoming a large selling point for ecommerce companies.
French is known as the language of love, but it’s also a globally recognized language in the business community. With over 270 million speakers, French is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world. What makes French so useful in the business world is that there are more French speakers outside of France than in the country.
Because of French colonization, the language is the top to know for doing business in many African nations like Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Tanzania. And with their economies moving towards market-oriented styles and growing rapidly, the sky’s the limit for those who want to do business and help these nations flourish.
The Russian economy is expected to surpass Germany by 2030 and the language is growing even more as a part of the international business community. With huge stakes in industry, science, and technology, knowing Russian is highly advantageous if you’re doing business in those sectors.
Also, Russian speakers are statistically less proficient in languages outside of Russian, so knowing the native language without a translator is beneficial as well.
Japan is a country known for technological innovation and creativity. Because of this, many of their businesses are highly active on a global scale. And though most of the over 125 million Japanese speakers live on the islands, the language’s usefulness in a business context cannot be denied.
The country is number three in terms of global economies behind China and the US and is home to the highest concentration of workers and inventors in the robotics industry.
Conclusion: The Best Languages To Learn For Business
If you’re doing business on a global scale, there are a lot of languages to choose from that could help in your business dealings. Making a decision on the best languages to learn for business completely depends on the region where you do business and your industry. Hopefully this has given you some statistics to think about and a better idea of which language would work best for your business needs.
Regardless, if you’re looking to improve on your English speaking skills, we’ve got you covered with SpeakUp by Magoosh. While most English learning programs neglect a lot of speaking practice, SpeakUp will enable you to become fluent by speaking with native and non-native speakers. We even offer many classes that focus on business communication.