As businesses extend their reach ever further and companies become increasingly more globalised, the desired skillset of the modern job seeker is rapidly changing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the linguistic prowess of potential candidates, who are gradually being expected to offer more than one tongue.
Knowledge of a different language doesn’t come easy, though, with proficiency standards taking time and considerable effort; therefore, focusing on just one dialect is a sensible option.
To help you choose, we’ve narrowed your options down to just a few, taking into account the economic prospects of the countries where each language is spoken, as well as the demand from potential employers to do business there. The results speak for themselves.
So, whether you’re keen to arm yourself with the skills to advance in your own sector or you simply want to stay competitive in an ever-changing jobs market, read on: these are the seven best languages to learn…
1. Mandarin (Chinese)
Language Family: Sino-Tibetan
Native Speakers: 1 billion
Non-Native Speakers: 200 million
Official Language: China, Singapore and Taiwan
As one of the fastest-growing and most powerful economies in the world, China has been a place to do business for some time now. The Chinese market is hugely influential all across the globe, and whether you’re based in China or collaborating from afar, a knowledge of the language can give you an absolutely huge advantage.
It’s not all about business prospects, either. The ability to speak Mandarin can open up an absolute wealth of professional opportunities, with Chinese firms and stakeholders prevalent across an array of fields and industries. It’s also one of the six recognised languages of the United Nations, and with well over a billion speakers, you won’t be short of willing conversationalists.
Be wary of your pronunciation, though. Mandarin is a tonal language where a single word can have multiple meanings depending on how you say it. There are also 3,500 characters to get your head around, with its reputation as one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn not entirely undeserved.
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic (Semitic)
Native Speakers: 290 million
Non-Native Speakers: 132 million
Official Language: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen
Another of the six recognised UN languages, Arabic is spoken widely across a number of geographical locations, featuring prominently in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. If you’re planning to do business in any of these areas – especially the modern financial powerhouses of Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – then a working knowledge of Arabic can really set you apart.
Arabic is also highly sought after by employers who operate in these markets, especially as the number of native English speakers is so low. It is also a ‘bridge’ language to an array of related and significant tongues, including Turkish, Farsi (Persian) and Urdu. If you really want to impress Arabic clients and employers, they will take kindly to your attempts at speaking their language.
Language Family: Indo-European (Romance)
Native Speakers: 470 million
Non-Native Speakers: 100 million
Official Language: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela
Employed almost predominantly in South and Central America, large swathes of the United States and, of course, its mother country, Spain, the ability to habla español is a highly useful asset, both in terms of business and employment. Take the US, for example – if you can speak English and Spanish, then your services will be immediately sought after in areas such as healthcare, education and media. The South American market, meanwhile, is growing at a considerable rate with a significant number of international companies keen to trade there.
The best part is that it is arguably the simplest foreign language to learn for English speakers, given the shared structure and the remarkable number of vocabulary similarities. If you’re looking for a relatively forgiving place to begin your linguistic odyssey, then Spanish could be it.
Language Family: Indo-European (Germanic)
Native Speakers: 110 million
Non-Native Speakers: 52 million
Official Language: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland
If you’re planning to work or do business in central Europe, then a lot of your success is going to depend on your knowledge and proficiency in German. As an official language of the UN, the EU and some of the richest countries in the world, Deutsche is the modern go-to European language of choice.
This is especially true if you work in the engineering or finance sectors. Germany’s technological and manufacturing output is a major driving force behind their status as a key global economy, while Luxembourg and Switzerland, in particular, are well known for paying some of the highest salaries in the world. To put it simply: if you want to speak the same language as one of the most progressive, powerful and modernised regions on the planet, then learning German is the way forward.
Language Family: Indo-European (Romance)
Native Speakers: 220 million
Non-Native Speakers: 40 million
Official Language: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Macao, Mozambique, Portugal, Principe and Sao Tome
As Brazil continues its march to becoming one of the top new economic players on the global stage, more and more professionals are picking up on the value of learning Portuguese. The language also has value in the future markets of Africa, too, where Angola is predicted to be a key player in years to come.
The benefits are clear. By allowing yourself to get the drop on peers and competitors alike, the ability to speak Portuguese has a high chance of putting you in the driving seat as economies develop and businesses change. English is poorly spoken in Brazil, as well, so if you want to succeed there, a knowledge and cultural understanding of the local lingo could be the defining factor.
Language Family: Indo-European (Slavic)
Native Speakers: 150 million
Non-Native Speakers: 110 million
Official Language: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia
Russian is a highly sought-after language in a variety of industries such as finance, law and business, with the level of demand not lost on business professionals. As much of the ex-Soviet Union opens its doors up to international opportunities, it is becoming a highly popular language choice for many students.
Many Western companies are keen to take advantage of this shift to a free market economy, too, which is good news for Russian speakers. As they size up the potential returns of expanding their brand eastwards, the need for bilingual professionals continues to increase. Indeed, despite the notorious difficulty of getting to grips with the language, one thing is abundantly clear: you won’t be short of employment opportunities, making all that hard work worthwhile.
Language Family: Indo-European (Romance)
Native Speakers: 80 million
Non-Native Speakers: 153 million
Official Language: Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo and Vanuatu
As another official UN language, French is one of the most popular second tongues in the world, spoken fluently across Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean. In fact, many large institutions – such as FIFA, NATO and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – all work in French and require workers who are qualifié en français.
Post-Brexit, the ‘language of love’ will likely come to dominate the EU, too, especially as the country seeks to place itself at the forefront of that institution. Forbes, meanwhile, goes one step further, suggesting that it could be the language of the future. If that sounds crazy, then it shouldn’t; French has an active spoken presence on five continents and is the prominent dialect in an economically evolving Africa.
Obviously, your language needs will depend on your industry and its needs, but this shouldn’t be the defining factor; the benefits of being multilingual extend far beyond your career, after all. However, in an ever-competitive workplace, being able to keep up with the crowd – let alone stand out from it – is the bare minimum, and in a globalised environment, this can often take the guise of a second language.
Remember: as companies and businesses extend their reach, so too should you as a jobseeker. These seven languages are a great place to start.
What language do you think is the most useful? Let us know in the comments below…