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Jun 13

5 of The REAL Most Useful Languages to Learn

languages

There’s often a huge debate among people on what language is the most useful to learn. Usually, people will lean towards whatever language they speak or whatever language they think would be the most useful. Although I believe every language has its usefulness, that’s not something we’ll get into today. Here, I will give you real, solid reasons on what languages really are the most useful in the world.

1. Mandarin Chinese

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According to the CIA World Factbook, 935 million people speak this language worldwide, making it one of the most useful languages based of this fact alone. This means that 12.44% of the world speaks it. It might seem like a small percentage but in the real scope of things, that is HUGE. English only comes in at 4.83%…

With the Chinese population rapidly growing more and more, it could very well become the universal language and overtake English’s throne – and according to experts, is already on it’s way to becoming it. If you want to be prepared for that transition, then consider learning it.

It’s also great for landing a job. China has a huge market and is constantly needing people to help bridge the communication gap. If you can fill that gap, then you got yourself a very high paying, evergreen job. Although it’s a very hard language to learn (mostly in writing), it’s well worth it.

2. English

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Shocker? If you’re reading this, then you obviously know English and know it’s one of the most useful languages. English can get you around basically anywhere in the world. Whether it be Romania, Russia, Indonesia or Japan…you will find someone who speaks it, every time. Although not everyone speaks it, of course.

In a lot of places in the world, it is becoming increasingly harder to land a job without some knowledge of English since it’s currently the lingua franca. Almost all international business and diplomatic matters are held in English. If you live in a heavily touristed area, then by all means, you will need to know it for job purposes.

3. Spanish

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Spanish can get you around all of Central and South America (excluding Brazil and the smaller countries like Suriname), as well as Spain. That is a lot of places with a lot of speakers. With 4.85% of the world population speaking it, it has just a bit more speakers than English does.

If you live in the US, then you know that Spanish has become a big language here. You see it everywhere nowadays it seems. In my hometown, we have whole towns where everything, the shops, restaurants, etc… are all in Spanish. If you want to be able to communicate with the growing population of Spanish speakers then you should take it up.

Spanish translators are highly needed. You will have no problem getting a job by knowing Spanish as a second or third language.

Let’s also not forget how easy it is to learn, especially for any European language speaker. Given around 3 months or so, you could very easily be on a conversational level. If you are looking to learn Spanish, then I suggest taking a look at Assimil.

4. French

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French is still a huge language and has always been (it used to be the lingua franca). While it might not be close to the others listed here (1.12%), it’s still useful to learn for many reasons and still has over 190 million speakers. It’s also the most popular second language for people to learn.

French is spoken in many more places than just France, for instance Belgium, Canada, and even a South American country called French Guiana. Around 29 countries speak French, so it’s pretty big despite what the numbers say.

5. Arabic

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Arabic is becoming a huge and useful language for a multitude of reasons. The 25 countries that speak Arabic and their markets are quickly becoming a global powerhouse. With somewhere around 400 million speakers, it’s a no brainer.

Arabic speakers are in huge demand right now because of everything that is going on. The problem is – there isn’t enough people to fill this demand. If you’re looking for the best translator job, then this would be it.

Arabic is also beautiful and full of a rich history dating back centuries. It might be useful to you if you are interested at all in the history of different cultures.

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You may or may not agree with this list, but that’s ok. It’s still just my opinion!

What languages do you think are the most useful and why? Leave a comment below and tell me!

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36 Comments

  1. David Buxton says:

    I mostly agree, except I would put english top, not because I am a native speaker, but because it is the most widely spoken, has the biggest vocabulary and has many words and letters from other languages, shares more similarities than Mandarin.
    Mandarin does not have this but I have to agree with you that it is a very important language, especially as the chinese economy is one of the biggest and still growing, so cooperation between Chinese, Europe and America is and will be more important in future years.
    I am learning French as a second language, I am interested to know of your opinion, if you have the time?

    1. Zach says:

      Hi David,

      I wasn’t sure to put English first or second but I agree with the points you made. Because of China’s economy, I chose to put it number one over English.

      As for you learning French, I think it’s a great idea. It’s a language I would like to learn eventually since it’s such a global language and it is an interesting language. Just remember, that no matter how useful a language might be, you should only learn it if you have an interest in it. You’ll lose motivation if it doesn’t interest you.

  2. Kenneth Willms says:

    This is complete rubbish. English, French, and Spanish are far more useful languages than chinese. Even though chinese may have more speakers, it’s only used in china, singapore, and parts of burma. Those three languages are are international all around the world. Not to mention they also have the advantage of being used in forms of media. Movies, television, books can all be exported across the globe freely. While in china, most people are suppressed, only having Hong Kong as a media outlet to the rest of the world. Perhaps if the people’s republic collapses, and 900 million are allowed to use their language freely, then it would be more useful.

    1. Zach says:

      You forgot to mention Malaysia, Taiwan, and Macau, as well as the huge amount of speakers in the US, Canada, Vietnam, and Indonesia. You do realize there are significant Chinese communities all over the world?

    2. Zoe says:

      Hi. You also forgot to mention Australia. Not only are there communities within parts of Australia that only speak Mandarin, but since Australia and China do business on such a massive scale together it’s very useful to know the language if you intend to get into a trading type business over here. We learn Mandarin in school as part of our language requirement…

  3. Jane says:

    I agree with you! I speak chinese and english, and now I am planning to learn Spanish. I have found a very good school in Barcelona that seems to be a good option, maybe I will spend some time in the city! :D
    Jane

  4. This Guy says:

    Kenneth Willms you are rubbish. I highly doubt you’ve even stepped outside of your country once in your life. And I’m willing to bet my total worth you’ve never set foot in China. What are you talking about that China’s people are suppressed? It is the biggest media pirate in the world, you can find any song, or movie in China easier than you can do in North America. Even your population count is wrong, 900 million? Holy Cow mister, please just stop.

  5. Estrella says:

    I would place English on top. Although it is true that there are far more Chinese speakers than there are of English, the latter is more useful and more “universal”. Maybe it will be really useful business wise in a few years, but touristic and entertainment wise, I don’t think it will beat English. By the way, I love your blog! I am also a languageholic. I speak Spanish as my first language, English, French, basic German, I understand Portuguese and Italian and I am currently learning Japanese. It’s one of my passions! ¡Gracias por el artículo!

    1. Zach says:

      That is very true. I was more so looking into the future and what will always be useful for years to come but I definitely agree with the points you made. Although I still believe it’s already useful business wise. But anyway, ¡Muchas gracias! Languages are quite addicting aren’t they? It’s like a drug to me, haha. You’re English is very good though. I assume you’ve been learning it since you were little?

      Cheers,
      Zach.

      1. Estrella says:

        Thank you. You’re right, I’ve been learning English since I was very little because my dad likes the language a lot and he’s a fluent speaker, so he was always speaking English to me and my siblings. So, of course, that helped a lot. And I also learned it mostly through films, music, TV and books. With French it hasn’t been the same because I’m not as surrounded by French as I am by English (I am actually not surrounded by French at all). I live in Mexico, by the way.

  6. Erfan says:

    My opinion:1. English 2. Spanish 3. French 4. Chinese 5. Arabic

    I work for a Chinese company, but I don’t need to talk to others in Chinese. We all talk in English.

    I put French in the second place, because most of the countries which speak French are in Africa, a continent which doesn’t play an important role in World trade and politics.

    1. The Truth says:

      A continent with the fastest growing economy? Yep, I’m sure it’s safe to write off Africa if you are interested in capitalizing on this status and its fast growing middle class. Please keep the misinformed Africa stereotypes. Stay in the North while I get rich in the South.

  7. Elisabet says:

    I don’t agree with you from the beginning: there is not a list of languages useful for everybody. It depends on your job, your hobbies, your nationality…

    1. David Buxton says:

      I agree with you Elisabet, and that is why it is debatable about the order of ranking but this is a generic list.

    2. Zach says:

      Of course, but in general these are the languages most people would benefit from learning. It also depends if the language interests you or not.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Zach

  8. Debbie says:

    My opinion: 1English 2 Spanish 3 Chinese 4 Russian 5German

  9. Mark says:

    Spanish is also spoken in Mexico, which is in North America. In fact, it is the largest speaking-country in the world. So the language is not only spoken in Central and South America but also in Mexico (North America), Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (Caribbean).

    1. Zach says:

      Yes! I forgot to mention Mexico as well as the Caribbean islands. Spanish is absolutely huge.

      Thanks for commenting,
      Zach

  10. Ron says:

    My opinion:

    1 English 2 Spanish 3 French 4 Chinese 5 Arabic

    I lived in many countries and speak 3 of these languages and I believe that Chinese will never become the lingua franca. It’s too different from other languages and is concentrated in a specific area. The Chinese minorities in the West have to speak English or French, no need to communicate in Chinese.

    I have many friends who studied Chinese and when we meet Chinese people they often switch back to English because the pronounciation is very hard. A little accent can already cause misunderstandings and the differences between the dialects (even more in Arabic) are huge, so we are talking about a lot of speakers her but we forget that Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka etc are not the same!

    And the Chinese population won’t continue growing like this for long. The fastest growing population is in Africa, and these people learn English and French.

  11. S K Y Goa says:

    Thanks for good blogging with useful information. But I thing Hindi is also one very important language to learn If you want to reach a huge market in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal etc.
    So think about this also.
    But it’s useful opinion for us.

  12. S. Warren says:

    This is a very interesting list. I am very interested in languages. I am a native English speaker that knows some Spanish (I had some not so nice experiences in high school with the course, it was a pilot program online with a lot of technology issues). I am minoring in Russian and also learning Serbian. Next year I plan to take up one of the Turkic languages, as well.

    I am an International Relations student, and I noticed that this list seems to be primarily geared towards international business. For those interested in international security of the foreign service, the following are probably the five most important (and marketable). This is primarily geared towards Americans, a person in Thailand or Zambia or Belize would have a slightly different list.

    1. Arabic
    2. Russian
    3. Mandarin
    4. Farsi
    5. Swahili

    This is based primarily on traits that NATO and the CIA look for. NATO’s two focus languages (other than English or French, the official languages of the alliance) are Russian and Arabic. The CIA regularly looks for experts on the Middle East (Arabic and Farsi), Sub-Saharan Africa (Swahili), Central Asia (Russian and Farsi) and East Asia (Mandarin). Ten years from now Mandarin may jump Russian, and eventually Arabic, but recent geopolitical events (Syria, Arctic Union, nuclear proliferation) combined with the aging population of Russian experts (often from the end of the Cold War) increases the current demand for Russian speakers. Russian is also an important language in the War on Terror (many militants in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen speak Russian). Swahili is often overlooked, so there is a huge advantage for fluent speakers, especially with a shift in the War on Terror towards the Horn of Africa (many members of al-Shabab, the group responsible for the attacks on the Nairobi Mall and other things, are from Swahili speaking areas, as are many allies fighting them). Farsi is also often overlooked, and will be important whether there is a rapprochement with Iran or not.

    Spanish and French are also great to know, but there is currently a very large body of people that speak these languages. If you are very good and/or highly interested, by all means learn them. They are also great for business, as this article mentions.

    Portuguese is also highly marketable (Brazil and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa).

    Learning a lesser-known language in conjunction with a major language (Turkish and Arabic, Uzbek and Russian, Korean and Mandarin, Pashtu and Farsi, Hindi and Swahili) would also increase your marketability, especially in defense-related industries.

    1. Kenny Boy says:

      You make many an interesting point my friend. I cannot ask “Do you work in Defense?” because if so, you would not be allowed to discuss issues of National Security openly LOL.
      I have an instinct to keep language learning a fun pastime because if ever the fun element left you, it would become such a terrible struggle you would only give up. Trade, vacations and possibly a romance LOL.
      The UN has in order of importance English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Arabic and Russian. Time is wasted studying say Welsh when everyone in Wales speaks English to the exact same standard as spoken in England..
      French is the only useful thing I took out of school. Also speak Swedish. Know basic things in Arabic and Chinese but really must follow my passions LOL.
      But its not wrong. Many have passions for Defense, Security and issues surrounding the Middle East.
      Good luck, bonne chance, vielen gluck, ibueno suerte, lycka till

  13. Alejandro says:

    Hi! my name is Alejandro, from Spain or Catalonia, whatever you want. I speak Catalan, Spanish, English and French. I think Chinese and Arabic are so difficult for me so, which language do you recommend me to learn?

    1. Alejandro says:

      I forgot to say that I’m from Barcelona capital city. Maybe it can help you :)

    2. Zach says:

      Hi Alejandro,

      I can’t say for sure what language would be better for you but you can ask yourself a couple questions such as: “Which one will I use more often?,” “Which one do I have more of an interest in?,” “Could I see myself learning Chinese/Arabic for a year or more?,” “Do I have more access to speaking with Chinese speakers or Arabic speakers?”

      These are just a couple questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide which one to pursue. They’re both useful languages so whichever you choose, I wish you luck!

      Zach

      1. Alejandro says:

        Thank you so much ;) Take care!!

        1. Zach says:

          You’re welcome!

  14. Lance says:

    Chinese should not be on this list. I studied and taught in Nanjing, China and can tell you unless you plan on living and working in China (with its low wages and repressive gov), Chinese is 0% useful. English for the past 75-100 years and currently is the world’s most useful language. Spanish is 2nd, French 3rd with one half of Africa speaking, Arabic is the 4th with millions of Arabs being introduced to first world living standards and economic powerhouses in Doha, Dubai and its ilk. Lastly, Portuguese is 5th, having nothing to do with Portugal of course but everything to do with the economic emergence of Brazil. However the top three languages almost entirely benefiting from early entry into the colonialism game are 1.) English 2.) Spanish and 3.) French.

  15. Lotta says:

    1) English 2) French 3) Spanish 4) Russian 5) German or Portuguese or Japanese .
    I am fed up to see people putting Mandarin number one , it makes no sense , not even spoken by everyone in China , people learn it in Malaysia too for example but not an international interest , and i do not even add the fact worldwide most people who tried to learn it , gave up or will not master it .
    There is no doubt about my top 3 , the true top 3 ,English and French are the only languages spoken in all continents and even if english is number one a century ago it was french ! After it is difficult , Japanese do not speak anything else than japanese and there is the manga worldwide community people learn japanese , it is a powerful country , same with Russia and many countries in Europe and Asia still use it , Arabic is like Chinese , high number of speakers but not learn highly worldwide very few interest , there is still German or Portuguese , i would say Portuguese before German , German speak english and in Netherlands not a good link with them , there is Switzerland , barely speak in Belgium., thrre is Austria and Liechtenstein , in France it is learnt after Spanish and maybe after Italian , Portuguese not really learnt but i do not think they speak something else in Brazil or in Portugal !

  16. Jman16007 says:

    Hi,
    I’m 13 years old and I’m Dutch.
    At school I learn English, German and French.
    But I hate it that we don’t learn any Spanish while it’s very important. Did you know that New York was first Nieuw-Amsterdam? And that we discovered Australia. But it was at wrong side so we left there. And at one moment Holland was the richest country in the whole world. That’s why nobody speaks the Dutch language. After the golden century we focused on the Nordsea and halve of all out land did we won against the water.
    1. Dutch
    2. English
    3. German
    4. Spanish
    5. French
    Jman16007

  17. Premal Vashi says:

    Hi zach,

    I am from India so i know gujrati and hindi very well..and in this days i am planning to settle in USA..so which language is helpfull there for betterment..because i have a enouch power on english..but i want to learn other language for better scope in jobs..according to you which is best..plzz rpl when ever you have time..thank you.

    1. Zach says:

      Hi Premal,

      The only languages you need in the US are English and Spanish. Knowing Spanish will definitely help with getting jobs here as we have a huge Spanish speaking population.

      Good luck!

      1. Premal Vashi says:

        Yes it may be..but you are definitely sure about it.??
        Bz i wanna learn other langauge to enhanch the job scope in future..i m going usa for masters..and after that i need a good job..so still your ans is spenish.??

  18. Hannes says:

    OK, here goes. I’ve spent a lot of time studying languages, thinking about language strategy and career/life opportunities. My criteria: attractiveness of culture/country as a place to live (quality of life), growth and dynamism, international spread/multinational companies, number of speakers/size of economy. English is a given so not even on my list. Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish. Other languages are more for unlocking opportunities in specific countries, say Indonesian, Portuguese

  19. Will says:

    French Guiana is not a country, but an overseas part of France itself.

    Also, other than those interested in doing business in China or with expatriate Chinese communities in North America and Asia, there is really no way Mandarin Chinese can be considered more “useful” than English. English is the global lingua franca and has no real competitor.

  20. rofida says:

    i don’t think that a population based ranking is a good idea.
    it’s not enough for instance German can be helpful in finding a job more than Chinese .