The Best Languages to Learn (And Why!)
If, like most of us, you’re always dreaming of your next getaway, why not challenge yourself to learn a new language?
You get a bunch of benefits, whether it’s finally watching that foreign language film without the subtitles, or gaining a bilingual advantage in the eyes of employers.
Undoubtedly, some languages are easier than others depending on your mother tongue. Nonetheless, language learning is a piece of cake if you’re willing to put in the hours. You could even plan a vacation to truly immerse yourself in a language.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential and useful languages to learn for native English speakers. If you’ve already decided which language you want to learn, check out the best way to learn a language or how to make a language study plan to get started.
As the official language of China, Mandarin is spoken by over 900 million people worldwide – nearly 15% of the global population. It’s the most widely spoken language in the world (second most online) and its rise in popularity is only going to grow in years to come.
The demand for Mandarin speakers has continued to grow because of the country’s importance to international trade. Some economists have forecast that China’s GDP will surpass that of the US by 2030, or even earlier.
Learning Mandarin is one of the savviest business moves you can make if you work with Chinese clients. Not only will you be able to converse with them directly, you’ll also have an incredible advantage over your monolingual counterparts when it comes to building trusting business relationships.
The only catch is that it’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn as a result of its complex writing system and tricky tonal nature.
Difficulty Rating – 9/10
With just under 500 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most common language spoken behind Mandarin. As the official language of 21 countries across Europe and Latin America, Spanish speakers open themselves up to high growth countries such as Argentina, Colombia, and Chile.
Alongside being one of the easiest languages to learn, learning Spanish can also ease the learning process for other similar languages like Portuguese and Italian. As the third most common language used on the Internet, learning Spanish is highly accessible and one of the best for English speakers to pick up compared to the likes of Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, or Hindi.
According to the British Council, 34% of UK businesses agreed that Spanish was “useful to their organisation”. The fact that Spain is only a couple hours away by plane coupled with affordable rates means there’s no excuses not to put your practice into action once things get back to normality!
Difficult Rating: 4/10
Though among the oldest languages in the world, Arabic language is quickly becoming a very valuable asset to those hoping to reach the prospering economies of the Middle East and northern Africa.
Many Arab countries produce vital resources such as oil which has transformed the region into one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Having the ability to converse with Middle Eastern businesses would help your business to penetrate the market.
With over 420 million native and non-native speakers worldwide, Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world. There are 25 countries that claim Arabic as their official language, albeit with different dialects.
The right to left writing system and convoluted alphabet means Arabic is still rare to find as a second language. However, put in the hard work and you may open yourself up to a whole host of new opportunities.
Difficulty Rating – 9/10
French is spoken by around 270 million people worldwide – 80 million native speakers, as well as 190 million secondary speakers from former French territories and colonies.
Despite not being as prominent as it once was, French is still the official language in 29 different countries including Canada, Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo Haiti, Belgium, Rwanda, Togo, Mali, and more.
French is also the official language of NATO, IOC (International Olympic Committee), and the United Nations. Furthermore, learning French provides a springboard for learning other romance languages like Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
French will always be an important language for English speakers, given the country’s close proximity to the UK. Post-Brexit, France will still remain one of the UK’s closest trading partners with the British Council stating that 49% of UK businesses are looking for employees who can speak French.
French language skills are both necessary and important for businesses here, and it remains one of the top languages to learn.
Difficult Rating: 5/10
Spoken by around 230 million people in three different continents, Portuguese is one of the most important languages to learn if you’ve got your eye on the Brazilian market. As the official language of Brazil – the 9th largest economy in the world – learning Portuguese is essential as most Brazillians speak little to no English.
As the largest and most populous country in Latin America, Brazil has become a major trade partner with the UK and US for resources such as minerals, steel, coffee, nuts and grains. Portuguese is also spoken in African countries such as Angola and Mozambique, where natural resources are abundant.
Portuguese is the hipster cousin of the romance languages. Plus, how cool would it be to order a Pina Colada on the Copacabana in Brazil’s mother tongue?!
Difficult Rating: 4/10
With over 265 million speakers in a whole host of countries, learning Russian could be particularly useful if you’re looking for promising business opportunities.
As a result of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, Russian speaking countries include Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Although given the Eastern bloc’s history, it’s considered the unofficial lingua franca in former Soviet countries like Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, and Lithuania… the list goes on.
The Russian economy is on track to leapfrog Germany by 2030 and the new Silk Road that China is building naturally flows through Russia, giving them access to a big slice of the trading pie.
The business climate is particularly difficult for non-Russian speakers as many Russian business people only do business with other Russian speakers. Being able to speak the language would be a colossal advantage for you and your business opportunities.
Difficulty Rating 7/10
Almost all of the 130 million Japanese native speakers reside in Japan, and why wouldn’t they? Japan is the third-largest economy in the world and leads the way in terms of innovation in the tech and automotive industries.
Learning Japanese can be one of the most useful languages if you work in either of these sectors. With an economic boom imminent, learning Japanese would allow you to read about these products before they hit international markets.
Unfortunately, the writing system, known as Kanji, is pretty tough to get your head around. There is no alphabet like there is in English. Instead Kanji uses different character sets and strokes to show meaning. Nonetheless, it’s worth putting in the hours now to reap the rewards just in time for the big boom!
Difficulty Rating 9/10
The German language has just over 100 million native speakers. Germany is the 4th largest economy in the world and the largest economy in the European Union. This makes German an important language for international business and diplomacy.
Germany is a main import and export partner for both the US and the UK, as well as an official language of Austria and Switzerland.
Germany is the UK’s most important trading partner and its second biggest exporter of goods and services. Being able to strike up a conversation in German may be critical to the success of many business relations in the post-Brexit era. Germany is also a market leader in the automotive and chemicals industry, and an already popular second language in Europe.
Difficulty Rating: 5/10
With over 260 million native speakers, Hindi is the fourth most spoken language in the world. It’s also the most popular language in India.
Despite many people speaking English in India, your ability to speak Hindi will give you the edge for carrying out business. India is the fastest-growing trillion dollar economy in the world and the fifth largest overall. It even overtook the UK and France in 2019.
So, while speaking Hindi may not be essential for business, it’s sure to earn you a few brownie points. It’s also very similar to Urdu. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, meaning speakers of both have a good understanding of each other.
Difficulty Rating: 8/10
With roughly 6,500 languages to choose from worldwide, the world really is your oyster. You could learn a second language, or even a third, or fourth.
Unless you’re dedicated to learning a particular language, it’s a good idea to start off learning one close to home. Once you’ve established a process and mastered one, you can really start to push the boat out. You could even learn a new language with a completely different alphabet and writing system.
Learning a new language is extremely rewarding and provides you with endless opportunities, whether that be personal, business or cultural. With a range of language learning apps readily available, it doesn’t have to be time consuming or constrictive. They can help you to improve pronunciation, and even brush up on your skills if you’re prone to forgetting language.