** This article is updated regularly. The last update was in December 2021. **
It’s nearly the start of a new year! What are you going to do with it?
If learning a language is on your list of things to achieve, there’s a whole world of linguistic possibility spread out before you. But how will you decide which language to choose? Which are the most useful languages to learn? And which are the most fun?
Read on to discover the 15 best languages to learn, whether you’re planning a new career with a fabulous translation company – like ours! – or simply looking to expand your mind.
Spoiler alert! The 15 best languages to learn are:
• Mandarin Chinese
Some of these may seem obvious choices, but others less so. After all, how do you define which are the most useful languages? If you’re off on holiday to France, then French would probably be most useful to you. If your company is opening a new office in Germany, it might be time to start practising your Deutsche.
To kick things off, we’ve looked at languages by their number of speakers. If you’re really on a journey of linguistic discovery this year, we highly recommend checking out the article below on the differences between languages and dialects. In the meantime, let’s crack on with our list of the most important languages to learn.
English has more speakers than any other language when you combine native speakers (375 million) with those who speak it as a second language, producing a total of 1.5 billion speakers. English is recognised as an official language in 67 countries, giving you plenty of scope to put your learning to the test as you traverse the world. It’s also the main language of the internet, with around 55% of all web content being in English.
Update – December 2021:
According to the latest data from W3Techs, 63.6% of all websites were in the English language as at 6 December 2021. That was followed by 7.0% of sites being in Russian, 3.9% in Turkish and 3.7% in Spanish.
China has more native speakers than any other language, at 982 million. Total speakers number 1.1 billion. China is the fastest-growing major economy in the world, with an average growth rate of 6% over the past three decades. It’s on track to become the world’s largest economy by 2050. If you want to learn a language that has the potential to lead to economic gain, Mandarin Chinese would be a sensible choice.
Spanish is spoken far and wide, from Spain itself to the breadth of Latin America. In total, 20 countries have Spanish as an official language, with 420 million people speaking it worldwide (320 million of them natively). It’s one of the top languages to learn for both business and leisure purposes, as well as being fairly easy for English speakers to pick up. It’s also one of the most in demand languages for translators – our Spanish to English translation service is always busy!
Japan is the home of countless technological innovations, so could well be the best language to learn if you’re planning to take the world by storm with your new tech empire. It’s not the easiest language to learn if you’re starting with English as your base, not least because its writing system is so different from the Latin alphabet.
Russian is the most spoken language in Europe by number of native speakers, with 120 million, despite only being an official language in two countries (Russia and Belarus). That’s because it’s still widely spoken in eastern European countries. If you’re planning to travel around eastern Europe, learning some Russian before you travel should stand you in good stead.
Many consider Norwegian to be the easiest language in the world to learn, as we explore in detail below. But what is it that makes a language easy to learn? Similarity to English is key. That includes similar vocabularies, similar sentence structures and a script based on the Latin alphabet.
Do you like to work hard at learning languages, or would you prefer to learn something that’s easy to pick up? If it’s the latter, one of the options we’ve detailed below should suit you down to the ground.
The Norwegian language is blessed with simple grammar (just one form of each verb in each tense!) and has a whole load of vocabulary that mirrors that of English. That’s because both languages are from the Germanic family, which means they also have a similar word order. If you’re asking yourself, “Which language should I learn?” and looking for something simple and enjoyable, the answer is Norwegian! You can discover more about the Norwegian language by clicking the link below.
Read more: The Languages of Norway
Swedish is also blessed with simple grammar and host of words that will be familiar to English speakers, thanks to both languages’ being Germanic. The word orders are fairly closely aligned too, making this one of the best languages to learn for those starting from a base of speaking only English.
Italian is considered by many to be the language of love (although the French might have something to say on that front). It’s certainly the language of culture thanks to opera’s popularity around the world – it can move even those who don’t speak a word of it to tears with its beauty. Thankfully, due to its sharing of many cognates (i.e. words derived from the same root) with English, learning Italian shouldn’t leave you in tears.
The other contender for the title of language of love, French is the language of poetry, art and gourmet cuisine. Its Latin origins mean that many French words are easily recognisable to English speakers and the close proximity of France to the UK, and Canada to the US, mean that there are plenty of opportunities to practice by chatting to native speakers without having to travel too far.
Tired of reading? No worries, here's a quick video summary so you can watch instead.
Are you looking for the most useful languages to learn for business purposes? If so, it’s worth looking at some of those that are in most demand. We’ve ranked these according to Tomedes’ own experience, combined with a range of global economic factors.
As well as being the official language of Portugal, where it has 10 million speakers, Portuguese is the mother tongue of some 194 million native speakers in Brazil. The ninth largest free-market economy largest in the world by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the eight largest by purchasing power parity, Brazil provides plenty of opportunities for those looking to do business in Portuguese.
To find out more about the Portuguese spoken in Brazil – along with the other languages spoken there – you can click the link below.
Read more: Which Languages Are Spoken in Brazil?
German is one of the most important languages in Europe, coming second only to Russian in terms of the number of native speakers within the continent (German has around 95 million native speakers, compared to Russia’s 120 million). It is one of the three procedural languages of the European Commission (alongside English and French) and a leading language for doing business within Europe.
25 countries list Arabic as an official or a co-official language. If you’re seeking the most useful language to learn to do business in the Middle East and North Africa, you’re found it. Around 420 million people across the world speak Arabic, making it the sixth most spoken language on the planet, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to put your learning into practice.
For the final section of our list of the best languages to learn, we’ve taken a look at some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. According to Nasdaq, the world’s fastest-growing economy is Guyana, with a growth rate of 16.3% projected for 2018-2021. The official language in Guyana is English, which we’ve already covered above. However, the language of the world’s second fastest growing economy is…
The lingua franca of Ethiopia, Amharic has around 22 million native speakers. If you want to learn a language that will open up business opportunities in a thriving economy, this is the one. Ethiopia’s economy is projected to grow at a rate of 8.1% over the course of 2018-2021, with the government focusing on attracting foreign direct investment by turning Ethiopia into a manufacturing hub.
In terms of GDP, India is the world’s seventh largest economy and the third largest by purchasing power parity. Modern Standard Hindi has some 322 million native speakers. It’s not the easiest language for English speakers to learn, given the use of the Devanagari script, but can be well worth it for those looking to be part of the rise of one of the world’s largest economies.
Korean is one of the most useful languages to learn and particularly one of the best languages to learn for business. In just a few generations, South Korea has rocketed from one of the poorest economies in the world to the 12th largest. It has some 75 million speakers in total, 48 million of whom live in South Korea. Interestingly, Korean is a language isolate, although it technically has two standard varieties: South Korea’s Seoul dialect and North Korea’s Phyong'yang dialect.
If your plans include learning one (or even more!) of the above languages, then there are plenty of ways you can speed up the process. After all, why spend longer learning than you need to?
First of all, surround yourself with the language at every opportunity. From radio stations to TV shows, the more ways you can hear and experience the language, the better. Accumulate your ear to the sounds and cadence of the tongue in order to accelerate your learning. Add books and magazines into the mix so that you can learn on the go, as well as at home. Flashcards can also be highly effective. Even sticking post-it notes around the house with the name of things they’re on can help you to absorb vocabulary at a faster pace.
Next, prioritise the order of the words that you learn. Go for cognates and commonly used words first and you should surprise yourself with the speed at which you can learn.
It’s also important to speak the language you’re learning at every opportunity. Whether you sing to yourself in the shower, join a local conversation class or chat with a language tutor online, the more you can practice, the better your spoken skills will become. You’ll also find that regular conversation boosts your confidence.
Finally, be sure to keep your language learning varied. Grammar books are all well and good, but they’re only one aspect of learning. The more ways you can find to learn, the more fun the process will be. From children’s nursery rhymes to formal classes, mix things up to keep the excitement alive.
I originally wrote this article back in early 2020, just before the word ‘coronavirus’ entered common usage. Since then, travel opportunities have undergone major change. At the same time, many of us have ended up with a lot more spare time on our hands. The result? More time to learn languages but less chance to use them in person!
Thankfully, huge advances in use of video technology since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic have opened up access to the globe in new ways, so there’s still plenty of reason to wonder which are the most useful languages to learn.
As I mentioned above, much of this will come down to your personal circumstances and motivations for learning. Are you planning to work overseas one day? Move abroad? Or are you simply looking for a new way to keep your mind active and meet new people?
Only you can decide which is the best language to learn. But whichever you choose – whether one of the 15 most valuable languages to learn we’ve included above or another entirely – be sure to reach out and connect with native speakers as part of your learning. Doing so can be a boost to your mental health during these isolating times, as well as work wonders for your blossoming language skills.
So, that’s it! Which of these languages will be your choice for the year ahead? Leave a comment below to share your plans!