Do you tell yourself over and over again that someday you’re going to master a foreign language and score yourself a dream job at a successful international company?
Whether it be Mandarin, French or Spanish, there’s never been a more perfect time to learn a language and seek out a position in one of the world’s top countries for business. If the economy is not strong where you are, why not move somewhere else? If this is the case, you will probably have a good idea of where you are going and which language you want to learn.
However, if you haven’t set any definitive plans here’s a guide for you to decide which is the best language to learn to help make all of your dreams of becoming a business tycoon come true!
Why is learning a foreign language important for business success?
The belief that everyone in the world speaks English is fading. The world and its economies are changing at an increasingly rapid rate. Therefore, more businesses are starting to trade internationally and need their employees to be competent speakers of other languages. For monolingual speakers of English, this means it may be a lot harder to secure a job in business, especially if you are considering non-English speaking countries.
Even if you aren’t planning to relocate, if you want your business to trade with other countries or expand into global markets, you will need to be able to communicate with non-native English speakers. This can be tricky if you have little or no knowledge of other languages. Learning another language is a huge advantage for company owners too, as it means you will gain a level of trust and reputation in foreign markets, which is a pretty big deal if you’re hoping to expand abroad!
So to summarize, learning a new language is a great move for business success because:
- You widen your job prospects and stand out from the crowd
- You have greater opportunity to trade with or work for an overseas company
- Your business will gain a favorable reputation in foreign markets
Which languages should you learn?
It all depends. if you want to train as a top chef in Milan, Italian would be the obvious choice. If you’re looking to become a buyer for Louis Vuitton, go with French. Want to sell houses to Brits moving abroad for retirement in Spain? Spanish will serve you well.
This list is designed to help you decide which language(s) will be most useful to you in the context of your career, present or future. For each of the five languages listed, we have provided vital statistics and information on its popularity and economic influence, as well as how long it may take to learn.
Unsurprisingly, Mandarin Chinese kicks off our list. You’d have to be living under a rock not to realize how much the Chinese economy is growing in value and influence. Many English speakers agree that they should give learning Mandarin a shot, but end up not trying because of how difficult it is perceived to be.
The Mandarin language dates back to the 13th century and is now the most commonly spoken language in the world. Pretty cool! Over 960 million people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese, and it is an official language of different countries in Asia, including China, Taiwan, and Singapore, as well as being one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
It’s important to note that Chinese commonly refers to two languages: Cantonese and Mandarin. Although there are different dialects, Mandarin is the best choice for doing business with China. The good thing is there’s only one writing system, so you won’t need to worry too much about variations when you’re learning to read and write. In fact, Mandarin doesn’t have an alphabet but is made up of characters. Depending on how ambitious you feel, you’ll need to know 2,000-3,000 characters to read your daily newspaper.
Fun Fact: For individuals with dyslexia, Mandarin has actually proved easier to learn than languages like French and Spanish. Go figure!
Regarding business, the Financial Times tells us that China overtook the US in 2013 becoming the world’s largest trader of goods. They show no signs of stopping. If you’re hoping to make big bucks then this is a market you really want to follow. The Chinese economy has grown by 40% compared to 0.5% in the US according to Forbes. Crazy, right? Consumer goods, cars, agricultural products and chemicals are all produced en masse in China, so you’d be right in thinking this is one of the best choices for business.
According to experts, Mandarin takes an average of 2,000 hours to learn. While that may seem like a daunting number to you, consider it’s a small percentage of time compared to the many years you could be successfully trading in China when you have a decent grasp of the local language!
French is no longer the top language to learn for business, but it’s still up there. With over 220 million French speakers in the world, French is the official language of the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, and the Olympics. Learning French is excellent for diplomacy, working for charitable organisations or in banking and finance. It’s also a language used for trade and business in parts of Africa, North America and Europe.
French is a romance language and while it may seem old-fashioned, it’s an extremely versatile tongue spoken in over 40 countries including France, Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland. It’s in no way a dying language! It’s a great option for those looking to expand into EU markets because it can help you learn other European languages, such as Spanish and Italian. And hey, who doesn’t appreciate the language of love?
If you are an English speaker, French is arguably the easiest language to learn given the two tongues share so much vocabulary. This is because way back during the time of the Normans, French speaking leaders imposed mandatory French language use on the Brits. While English leaders eventually fought their way back into power, bringing the English language with them, about 25% of English vocabulary today actually comes from French. This is particularly interesting given English is a Germanic language.
It typically takes around six months to two years to become proficient in French so what are you waiting for? Learn more about integrating YouTube into your French language learning in this post.
This one is definitely a no-brainer. After Chinese, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world — even beating out English! With the ability to speak Spanish, you can achieve business success in South and Central America as well as in Spain and parts of North Africa. According to Business Insider, there is a huge demand for Spanish speakers in the US across a variety of industries. So learning Spanish could be beneficial if you’re looking for a job in the States.
It not only makes you attractive to future employers but similarly to French, Spanish isn’t too difficult for English speakers to learn. In this way it has its advantages over Mandarin. It unlocks access to a huge range of economies and will enable you to speak with over 400 million people around the world.
Depending on your previous experience with languages, Spanish could take you around six months to two years to become proficient in.
PS. Want to get started in Spanish? There’s not better place to begin business Spanish than with learning your numbers. Try this post on Counting in Spanish.
The economies of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have skyrocketed in recent years. For example, the city of Dubai transformed into a dominant business hub virtually overnight due to high investment in real estate, as well as trading and finance. The economy of the Middle East is very diverse with a high GDP, meaning Arabic speakers have the opportunity to secure a whole host of business roles in Arabic speaking countries.
Over 300 million people in the world speak Arabic. If you want to achieve a career in the petroleum, defense or finance industry as well as relocate to warmer climates, learning Arabic would be a great place to start! It can also be a good language for diplomacy.
In general, Arabic is considered to be one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. That’s because dialects vary widely between countries. For example, you’ll need to learn different spoken expressions if you want to chat with your taxi driver in Cairo, Beirut or Casablanca.
It’s also written right to left and has a cursive script in which the letters change shape depending on where they come in the word. You won’t find too many cognates between Arabic and English but there are a few shared words including yacht, alcohol, and even the dreaded algebra! However, if you are looking to take on a challenge, Arabic is the language for you. It will show future employers that you’re not afraid to reach outside of your comfort zone and impress any Arabic speaking business person you trade with.
We recommend you choose your dialect based on where you plan to do business. You could also just study Middle or Educated Arabic, a form of Fusha that Arabic speakers from different regions use to speak with each other. It’s a bit formal but will serve you well across the region.
You may not be aware that German is one of the most used languages in business and diplomacy internationally. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, German became the official language of Central Europe. So, like with French, for those of you looking to expand or relocate to Europe, German is up there as one of the best languages to learn.
Despite the belief held by many English speakers that German is a difficult language to learn with all of its pronunciation quirks and three-word genders, it may be easier than you think! The English language derives from the Germanic language family, so if you decide to learn German you may notice that there are more similarities than you expected!
As the world’s largest exporter of goods and Europe’s dominant trading nation with the US, it’s safe to say that being able to communicate in German will serve you pretty well in business.
Our top tips for language study
Now that we’ve shared with you our list of the best languages to learn for business, here comes the tricky bit: putting it into practice and learning your new language! For busy people with hectic work and social schedules, learning a new language can seem like a daunting task. But there are some tricks that can help you along the way. Here are our top three tips to help you start learning your new language:
1. Take a class/find a tutor
This is a particularly good idea for complete beginners, and it doesn’t have to take up your precious time. Search for language classes and you can find various classes taught by native or fluent speakers. It’s also a great way to meet people who have the same interests as you. If classes are not as readily available in your area, you could try searching for online tutoring services.
2. Visit the country
While this may not be easy for a lot of people, if you are in University or can make time, take a trip abroad to a country where people speak the language you’d like to learn. A semester/year/trip abroad will fully immerse you into the language and you will learn at a rapid speed. Plus, when is it not a great idea to take a vacation? Especially when you have the added bonus of it being educational!
3. Use at-home resources
This method of learning a language is easily accessible for everyone. Whatever level you are and whatever type of learner you are there is something out there for you, from textbooks to language learning apps to language exchanges. Some of our recommendations include: FlashAcademy®’s app for Android or iOS, HelloTalk or iTalki. You might also try audio lessons for when you need to be hands free.
Learning a new language
Integrate language into your daily routine. Try doing 15 minutes of grammar on your way to work and then another 20 minutes of listening at the gym. A few vocabulary learning activities in the morning over coffee and some foreign language reading before bed will help you stay in regular contact with your language. Meet native speakers in person or online to practice. You can even keep foreign language radio stations on while you’re home relaxing or put up sticky notes to help you learn vocabulary as you move about your house– try FlashSicks® Post-it Notes for starters! You’ll be surprised at how fast language ability and fluency can come with a little dedication and hard work.