In early 2018, The Guardian asked, “have we reached peak English?”
There’s no doubt that English is a widely spoken and studied language across the world.
But its standing is challenged by other rapidly growing languages.
As new global markets emerge or established ones expand, the importance of being multilingual cannot be overstated. Meanwhile, languages spoken by increasingly populous or diverse regions open doors for new relationships and opportunities—if you have the communication skills to take advantage.
So if you’re asking yourself, “what language should I learn?” choosing a growing language may just be your answer.
In this post, I’ll walk you through five of the fastest-growing languages in the world and the benefits of learning each one.
Keeping Up with the World: The 5 Fastest Growing Languages
According to the language publication Fair Languages, the five fastest-growing languages in the world share one core characteristic: they’re each projected to have the most speakers by 2050 based on population and economic data.
The demand for second-language speakers will arguably only increase too. For example, even as the technology industry booms and seeks to bridge language barriers with computerized translations, the CEO of one of the largest tech giants in the world still found it valuable to study Mandarin Chinese.
Note: some of the languages below will be expected, others not so much. Be open minded!
French: Beyond Baguettes
This one is perhaps unsurprising and already a popular choice for second-language learners around the world. But did you know that by choosing French you’re choosing a language that’s predicted to be spoken by 750 million people by 2050?
And those people aren’t just French.
It’s a common misconception that learning another language is only relevant if you plan on visiting or moving to the country for which it’s named (in this case, France). However, French is growing in developing regions like sub-Saharan Africa, and as language learning often goes hand-in-hand with wanderlust, French could just be the key that opens new adventures.
Why should French’s growth matter to you?
For the business-minded undergrad or working professional, French is a “truly global language,” according to The Economist, which can give your career a significant boost. You’ll have a common language with people from Vietnam to Morocco to Switzerland, and you’ll be equipped to converse with clients and business partners from both established and emerging markets.
Arabic: Don’t Underrate It
A hugely misunderstood culture has led to a nationally overlooked language of study. From the media to college campuses, Arabic is neglected as the important, intriguing and growing language that it is.
You might not realize how widely spoken Arabic already is, with about 300 million native speakers. It’s also been deemed the fastest growing language within the U.S. and even the fastest growing language on the internet.
Why should Arabic’s growth matter to you?
Learning a language is, by extension, learning about a culture. It’s impossible to learn a language to fluency without communicating with native speakers, listening to their media or reading their literature.
Did you know that Middle Eastern cultures, where Arabic is widely spoken, pride themselves on their hospitality and have a history of being gracious hosts? This is just one tidbit of many to take into account when considering learning Arabic.
Furthermore, because of the shortage of people in the Western world who speak Arabic, learning it can automatically make you a standout in any job market or field. (And did you know the Arab-speaking world has a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion?)
All of these facts marry to create an especially ripe stomping ground for multilingual business people, journalists and politicians—these are industries that’ll be key in the growth of Arabic in the coming years.
Spanish: Trusty and Increasingly Important
Time tested and true, this is one language whose popularity won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and for good reason. There are more than 400 million speakers of Spanish, and its relevance in the business world only continues to grow with countries like Costa Rica establishing themselves as top vacation and retirement spots for U.S. citizens.
The language spans two continents, the North, Central and South Americas, and the industries and fields that a Spanish-speaker can go into or further their career in are innumerable.
Why should Spanish’s growth matter to you?
As hinted above, Spanish is a way to open new doors in a stagnant career! Many employers have recognized the usefulness and importance of Spanish, particularly in global business and consulting markets. The importance and value of an American employee who can fluently navigate English and Spanish cannot be understated, and the potential for international travel may increase with acquisition of the Spanish language.
For example, those in the education or medical fields will find a need for their skillsets overseas!
Mandarin Chinese: Worth the Work
Like Arabic, Mandarin Chinese has a reputation for being incredibly difficult to learn, which can be intimidating to many second-language learners. However, the benefits far outweigh the costs… and if the cost is simply the time and effort to acquire a new understanding of culture and language, isn’t that really a win-win?
What ups the intimidation factor for Mandarin is the language’s use of pictograms, rather than phonetic writing. But did you know that the language is actually much simpler grammatically than what English speakers are used to in their own language? For example, there’s no verb conjugation for different tenses.
Why should Mandarin’s growth matter to you?
In 2015, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. While that may freak some people out, language learners will recognize this as an opportunity to further both their personal and professional growth in one fell swoop. The enormous markets with which China enters the global economy span industries such as trade, international finance and international consulting, to name a few.
Hindi-Urdu: A Giant of the Past and Future
By 2030, India is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country. Hindi and Urdu are two of the country’s major languages and have been gaining momentum as languages to learn because of India’s emerging international presence in the literary, art and cinematic scenes, among others.
Why should Hindi-Urdu’s growth matter to you?
If you’re a lover of history, art or culture, Hindi-Urdu should be at the top of your list.
India has a turbulent history of colonialism and the impact of British rule on the country’s psyche will be evident to second-language learners who pursue further learning in the country’s native languages. You’ll gain a perspective on the country’s history that’s often barely covered or left out of Western curricula.
India’s art and traditions also hold increasing sway over the Western culture, as this article from New Geography indicates. If you’re passionate about anything from yoga to Bollywood films, Hindi-Urdu is a good option.
And of course, as with the other languages on this list, India’s prominence as a world power makes it an attractive option for language-learners who are interested in joining growing business markets at the front of the line.
Whichever language you choose to learn (or for a really zany idea, try learning multiple languages at once!), taking the initiative to learn a second language is a wonderful opportunity to undertake a cultural study as well.
Shared language is an incredible bonding agent between people, which is especially relevant to remember in a world as closely linked as ours is today.
In addition, taking the time to educate yourself on the fastest-growing languages in the world will help you take advantage of unique professional opportunities.