We really don’t know how lucky we are in this country. We speak the language that roughly 2 billion other people in the world use on a regular basis, to wit, English. However, although 2 billion speak English, only about 500 million are actually native English speakers. Moreover, of those 2 billion who can and do communicate in the world’s most important language, guess where most of them live?* If you don’t know, you may be surprised. I was!
That said, with globalisation shrinking the world, businesses are slowly realising the importance of speaking other languages. Yes, you can get someone to translate for you (us for example!), but when you get off the plane on the other side of the planet, it does help if you are desperate for a cup of tea and you can ask for it in the local language.
Equally obviously, the language you might want to learn will depend on where you are doing/going to do business. There is no point in being fluent in Spanish if your markets are in the Far East.
A number of articles, easily found on the web, will point you towards the most important languages for business. One online piece I read recently suggested there are eight languages the modern business man or woman which really matter. Apart from English, these are:
Russian – 160 Million Native Speakers. Six countries have Russian as an official language. It’s not the easiest to learn, but as not all Russian businesspeople speak English it is important to do so if you want to do business there.
French – 74 Million Native Speakers. A lot of former French colonies still use the language and there are about 335 million across the world who speak it.
Japanese – 127 Million Native Speakers. Japan is a hugely important economy and technology powerhouse. So if that’s what you do, perhaps you should learn Japanese!.
Portuguese – 202 Million Native Speakers. The enormous number speaking Portuguese is largely due to it being the official language of Brazil (with its population of over 200 million). Portuguese is also an official language in nine countries other countries, including of course, Portugal!
Arabic – 223 Million Native Speakers. The official language of some 27 different countries, Arabic is essential for anyone wanting to do business in the Middle East.
Spanish – 406 Million Native Speakers. The second most common language in the USA, Spanish is a very important world language. Other than in Brazil, it is the language spoken throughout Latin America. Around 20 countries include Spanish as an official language.
Mandarin Chinese – 935 Million Native Speakers. Those 935 million people constitute a big market. Moreover, as China’s reach extends across the world, there are Chinese communities in many countries, from Brunei to the Philippines.
* and yes, the answer to the question of where most English speakers live is China!
David Orr, Director, Global Connects