With every passing minute, the world is becoming increasingly globalised. Picking up a new language – or ten! – can open up a myriad of opportunities for study, work and more.
There are some 6,000 languages in the world today, but each language’s population is extremely varied. While over 2,000 of those languages are spoken by fewer than a thousand people worldwide, the 15 most used languages account for over half of the world’s communication.
The efficacy of a language largely depends on how many opportunities it opens. Understanding the language of a region enables travel there. It also allows you to communicate with the people there, forge international relations and participate in their economy. Additionally, understanding a language allows you to consume more media and knowledge written in that language.
All these considered, here are the nine best languages to learn in 2020.
Hindi boasts more than 500 million speakers and can be a useful language to learn, even if just for communication with these people. If you do not plan on travelling to India, there are still many opportunities for you to practice Hindi, from those who have it as their mother tongue in the rest of Asia to the extensive Hindi media online, such as Bollywood. While knowing Hindi may not be absolutely necessary to enter into the Indian economy – most Indians also speak English – it does open one’s eyes to a diverse and fascinating culture.
South American businesses are steadily moving to Brazil, which remains a frontier for the Latin American economy. The UK considers Portuguese to be one of the ten most important languages for its future, indicating that we have not yet seen the full extent of growth in this region. Portuguese is not only spoken in Portugal and Brazil, but also in ten other countries from South America to Africa, and is now the fifth most spoken language in the world. However, it is worth noting that there are differences in Brazilian Portuguese and Portugal Portuguese, which can be helpful to know if you plan on communicating in either of these languages.
Most people associate Japanese with a vast collection of online media and culture, including anime, songs, books and history. For a language that is linked to just one nation, Japanese places extremely high in the World Economic Forum’s list of most powerful languages. It is almost essential for one to have a basic understanding of Japanese if they are planning to live, study or work in Japan. Many non-natives around the world have also taken to learning Japanese for its culture and the wealth of knowledge it brings, and it is a prominent language on the Internet.
Although German is only officially spoken in six countries, it is the native language of some 100 million people and remains one of the most important languages in the European world. Germany boasts the largest economy in Europe, a good choice for anyone looking to improve their work and travel prospects. Additionally, learning German can open one up to a rich culture and heritage, from well-known plays to famous composers.
Contrary to what some jokes may suggest, German is actually a fairly easy language to pick up for native English speakers. If you plan to venture into the European market, getting started on German can be a huge bonus.
As one of the six official languages of the United Nations, Russian has been identified as a priority language by the United States government. It is not just spoken in Russia but is in fact one of the most widely spoken languages in the European world and in Eurasia, due to the influence of the Soviet Union. As a major economic powerhouse in Eastern Europe, having easier communication when you travel to countries such as Russia, Israel and Mongolia can be great for getting into their economy. Russian can be hardly an easy language to learn, but it does open some doors that no other language would – since some people in Russian countries speak it as their sole language.
A must-learn if you are thinking of travelling to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and other parts of the Arab world, Arabic has a speaking population of over 300 million people in 57 countries around the world. Understanding Arabic opens up opportunities to dabble in the Middle East’s vast economic wealth, including over $600 billion in GDP. Just in the past few years, the Middle Eastern economy has grown by over 120%.
The World Economic Forum ranks Arabic as the fifth most powerful language in the world. Arabic may be one of the more difficult languages to pick up for English speakers, but the work and travel opportunities it brings are more than worthwhile.
With more than 480 million native speakers across the globe, Spanish is not just the national language of 20 countries, but is also spoken as a first, second or third language in many other places. Even if you do not plan on going to a Spanish-dominated region, knowing the language can help you score job positions in other countries, such as the United States, where 13 percent of the population speaks Spanish as a main language. Knowledge of Spanish is a common requirement for many careers there. Work aside, the large population of native speakers can be a great resource for building friendships and contacts.
Renowned for being one of the romance languages, learning French brings more benefits than just flowery language to seduce someone with. French is the sole official language in 11 countries. While there is some controversy as to whether French is really that important in terms of its position in the whole world, the language is still ranked third most powerful in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. Interestingly, it has the fewest number of native speakers of all the languages on this list, with only 80 million people. Even so, French is widely acclaimed as a must-know for anyone planning to travel around France, Quebec or even Africa, which is expected to see some serious economic growth in the coming years.
Chinese is said to be the second most powerful language in the world, in terms of the geographic, economic and diplomatic opportunities it brings, as well as the sheer number of people it facilitates communication with. Over a billion people around the world speak some form of Chinese, with Mandarin Chinese being the most common dialect – about 70 percent of the Chinese-speaking population speaks Mandarin. Even so, since Chinese uses the same set of characters regardless of the dialect, one can still communicate in writing with someone who speaks a different Chinese dialect.
These days, China’s economy is growing by leaps and bounds. With China’s GDP expected to overtake the US by 2029, the number of multinational companies looking for executives who speak Mandarin has risen by a whole 35 percent.
In addition to work and travel opportunities, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world and the second most used online, so it is likely that there will be many Chinese speakers you can form bonds with along the way.
Which Language Will You Pick?
Regardless of your choice, learning any language can greatly enrich your mind and provide fresh insights into a new culture. Of course, some languages also come with other benefits, such as new networking opportunities, job positions and friendships awaiting to be made!