While English is the world’s most widely-spoken second language, being monolingual can only get you so far in the global marketplace. The internet and the world of international business are increasingly multilingual.
And if you’re wondering which non-English language is the most useful, then we’ve got an answer. More than 660 people, based in different countries, responded to our online poll.
And there was a clear result – almost half of respondents voted for Chinese. This was well ahead of the other two options, Spanish (36 per cent) and German (15 per cent).
Of course, our poll had limited options, and it didn’t look at other global business languages, including French, Arabic and Portuguese. It would be interesting to see how the results changed with more options.
However the first place result was not a big surprise. Bloomberg Rankings also agrees that Mandarin (the most widely spoken variety of Chinese) is the most important language for global business after English.
And according to the Confederation of British Industry, it’s one of the most sought-after languages by British businesses.
Chinese is spoken by more people than any other as a first language, with more than 1.1 billion speakers, according to UNESCO. It will soon overtake English as the most widely used on the web, according to Internet World Stats. And as China’s economy grows in strength, it’s becoming more important on a global stage.
(Opinions differ as to whether Chinese is a single language or a family of languages, including Mandarin, Wu and Cantonese. This fascinating blog from the Economist looks at the varying definitions of dialects and languages.)
The Chinese Government are stepping up efforts to encourage people to learn the language. They have established more than 700 Confucius Institutes in over 90 countries. And there’s rising demand for instruction around the world. In the USA, parents are competing to enrol their children in schools with Chinese immersion programmes, believing it will give them a head start in the global market.
Of course, there are good reasons to learn many other languages. There are half a billion Spanish speakers worldwide, and this number is growing rapidly. French and German are both important for doing business in Europe, while there’s rising demand worldwide for Arabic speakers.
Any language will open up doors to careers, business and cultural opportunities. And once you have acquired the skills to learn one foreign language, research shows that a third language is easier (and less daunting!)