It’s an impossible task to master all 6000+ languages that exist in the world today – instead, to succeed overseas you need to focus on the languages that will prove most valuable to your business.
After the turbulent political and socio-economic events of 2016, those languages that were pivotal 5 years ago may well hold less significance than others today.
So, which should you be communicating in? To help, we’ve put together our own guide of the 8 most important languages for businesses in 2017:
1) Mandarin: strength in numbers
Mandarin is one of the most important languages in the world, primarily because it is the most widely spoken language in the world. With 955 million speakers, it also boasts being the 2nd most popular language online. As China’s economy continues to boom, the demand for Mandarin speakers will likely grow, but be warned; it’s also one of the hardest to master, taking an average of 2,200 classroom hours.
2) Arabic: join over a billion readers
Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, is read by over a billion Muslims worldwide. The 4th most commonly spoken language in the world, it is a priority language for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Arabic is significant not least because it is spoken in many fast-growing economies in Africa and the Middle East, playing a pivotal role in market sectors including oil, real estate and construction. For those that are fluent, there are key opportunities available, particularly where economic and diplomatic benefits are on offer.
3) Spanish: an official language of the US?
Spanish has always emerged as a popular language, spoken throughout Spain, Latin America, and within the USA. In fact, it is the 2nd most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin. With Hispanics forming a large part of the American population, there have been calls to make Spanish the 2nd official language of the US. But it’s not just important to Americans; The British Council note that 34% of UK businesses describe Spanish as “useful to their organisation”.
4) German: gaining power after Brexit
Featuring between 89 and 110 million native speakers, Germany also represents the largest economy in the EU. Now that the UK has opted to leave, Germany plays an increasingly powerful role within the EU. In business terms, German is considered by many to be the language of technology, science and invention. As the UK’s most important trading partner and its greatest source of imports, those that can speak German stand to benefit in the wake of Brexit.
5) Portuguese: the language of Brazil
According to UNESCO estimates, Portuguese is the fastest growing European language in the world other than English and it’s easy to see why – spoken by millions of people worldwide, it is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, and countries in Africa. As one of the 5 major emerging national economies of BRICS, Brazil is gaining in power, and boasts the largest economy in Latin America. With potential opportunities available within trade, science, education and diplomacy, it’s likely that Portuguese will become increasingly popular within global business.
6) Russian: a formidable force
The largest country in the world, spanning 9 time zones and covering about an eighth of the world’s land surface, Russia is a force to be reckoned with. As a top oil, natural gas, and steel producer in the world, Russia’s economy is powerful, consisting of many wealthy business people, of whom few speak good English. Being able to speak Russian offers tremendous business advantage; the economy is predicted to beat Germany’s by 2030, and the Russian market is of great interest due to the prevalence of natural resources.
7) French: the top language by 2050?
An official language of NATO, the EU and UNESCO, and taught in countries worldwide, French is the 2nd most widely learned foreign language after English. It remains a key economic trade partner for the UK, and according to the British Council 49% of UK businesses are looking for employees who can speak French. Spoken in some of the fastest-growing areas of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, a study by Natixis estimates that there will be 750 million French speakers in the world by 2050. Might you be one of them?
8) Japanese: the language of robotics
Japan is the 3rd largest economy in the world, and is significant to the UK: a major investor, in 2016 it was estimated that Japanese companies employed around 140,000 people here in the UK. Japanese companies are highly innovative, and investing in research and development is a top priority. With particular ties to science and technology, Japan is your language if your business involves the robotics industry – and with an expected revenue of near $70 billion by 2025, it may prove a profitable language to excel in.
If there’s a language you need your business to be communicating in – whether it features on this list or is altogether more obscure – just get in touch with the team here at Sally Walker Language Services to see how we can help.