During an arduous job hunt, many of us have encountered what seemed like our “dream job” only to see that dream vanish before our eyes when we read the job requirements and noticed that a second language — or more often a specific second language — is a prerequisite. We remember someone, somewhere, saying that this was one of the most useful languages to learn for your career, but that does very little to make up for what feels like an insurmountable gap in our skills and knowledge.
It’s a shame to leave that job application blank and put a dream career on the shelf. And while reading this article in English means you already understand the most widely used language in international tourism, trade and academia, there are boundless opportunities that multilingualism can create for you.
These are the seven most useful languages to learn for the most occupational bang for your buck.
The Most Useful Languages For Business
Illustrations by Jana Walczyk
Mandarin’s global influence has been spreading for some time. Thanks to the continuous, rapid growth of China’s economy — second only to the US in size — Mandarin is deemed the second-most important language in global business behind English.
Chinese is also one of the most sought-after foreign languages among English-language employers, and is often considered particularly difficult for native English speakers to learn. Therefore, proficiency in Mandarin is a stand-out asset that is bound to catch the eye of a potential employer.
Although English has maintained a strong influence in Southeast Asia, China is the dominant trading partner in the region. Thus, there is an increasing need for Mandarin speakers, particularly within the tourism and education fields. English and Mandarin are likely to co-exist in this part of the world, so those who speak both will be in demand.
For anyone who wants to work in Europe, investing time to learn German could pay dividends: Germany has the largest economy in the EU, and it is the official language in several central European nations. In total, there are over 130 million people who speak it worldwide.
German companies maintain a reputation as hallmarks of quality, regularly finding themselves at or near the top of their respective industries (think Allianz Worldwide, Siemens, Deutsche Bank Group and BMW).
We Forum’s Power Language Index ranks German third in the world in terms of the economic opportunities that it presents to its speakers, while job site Adzuna found it to be the most lucrative foreign language for a British-based worker to know.
Learn German with Babbel.
Geographically speaking, Spanish offers far greater advantages than most other languages for traveling and communicating internationally.
With more than 450 million native speakers, there are large parts of the world where being able to provide a Spanish-speaking service is a major asset. It is the official language in 20 countries, and across those nations there is a combined population of approximately 500 million.
More specifically, Spanish is the official language in booming South American economies like Paraguay and Ecuador. The language can prove crucial for anyone who lives or hopes to make a living in the US, where the Hispanic population is expected to nearly double in size to around 111 million by the middle of this century.
Learn Spanish with Babbel.
The demand for Portuguese speakers has increased through Brazil’s steadily developing economy — it currently ranks 9th in global GDP.
As the second-most spoken language in Latin America with approximately 260 million speakers around the world, it is also said to be the fastest growing one in Europe and among one of the most useful languages to learn globally.
A number of African countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo, teach it in schools, and Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva believes Africa will be home to the greatest number of Portuguese speakers by the end of the century.
As foreign businesses continue tapping into Brazil’s growing markets and vice versa, the newly opening trade routes will continue to create increased demand for translators and interpreters.
Learn Portuguese with Babbel.
For anybody working in or wanting to go into the fields of science or technology, knowing Japanese can open up a plethora of opportunities. It was recently dubbed “the language of robotics” due to Japan’s notable progress in developing and integrating robots into their workforce.
There are approximately 128 million Japanese speakers, and, while it does not offer the same broad travel advantages as languages like Spanish (it’s the world’s most geographically concentrated language), Japan is the world’s third-largest economy and highly regarded for technological innovation. Knowing the language offers opportunities to work with many exciting companies.
Although the number of French speakers is currently declining in Europe, the language is thriving in other parts of the world, including Africa, where some of its fastest-growing economies recognize it as their official language. The African continent’s rising population could boost global French-speaking numbers to over 700 million by 2050, making it one of the most useful languages for ambitious people to learn.
French is a powerhouse in international diplomacy, where both the United Nations and World Trade Organization depend on it as an official language, and it scores second-best in the world in terms of advantages for travelers who speak it. Travel, tourism and hospitality grant widespread employment prospects to French speakers, not least because of France’s highly regarded wine and food culture.
Learn French with Babbel.
Arabic boasts around 313 million speakers worldwide, and is the communication gateway to the Middle East where many have made a fortune in energy, construction and real estate. A number of countries who recognize Arabic as their official language are economic powerhouses who make billions annually doing business with countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.
Learning Arabic may present more challenges to the average native English speaker compared to those more closely related Indo-European languages, but having a level of competency in this language will distinguish your CV from many others in the pile.
The Middle East is where some of the highest growth in internet use is occurring lately, so for those who market online (and who doesn’t these days?), being able to translate and deliver digital services to the Arabic-speaking world means tapping into profitable markets where there is a significantly high concentration of consumer spending power.