Chocolate cake or creme brulee?
Vacation to the mountains or the beach?
Puppy or adorable mini hedgehog?
Ever had to make a decision between equally awesome options?
If you’re a language learner or aspiring language learner, then you probably know what I’m talking about.
How can you choose between all the exciting, challenging and beautiful languages out there?
Let’s make things a little easier for you.
There are certain languages that are widely used not only across the globe, but also across key industries and fields.
In this post, we’ll show you the world’s most used languages for business, academia, travel and more.
Line these up with your own goals and you’ll be on the path to foreign language fluency.
As for your dessert, vacation or pet decisions… that’s still up to you.
How to Choose the Language That’s Most Useful to You
When choosing which foreign language is best for you, ask yourself, what’s your learning purpose?
Do you love to travel? Are you trying to broaden your career options? Are you an academic or a politician? Do you just want to be able to communicate with the widest group of people?
When you first start learning a foreign language, your instinct might be to focus on one of the world’s most common ones. But there may be other languages that are primarily used in, say, your professional industry or the places you’d love to visit.
Answering the questions above will help you narrow your options as you explore the world’s most used languages.
What Language Should I Learn? Choosing Between the Most Used Languages in the World
In the list below, we’ll start with the “most used” languages in the traditional sense—the languages that most people speak across the world.
Then we’ll explore some languages that might not have as many speakers, but are commonly used within specific categories.
We’ll also give you tips for studying and key facets of each language to look out for. But for all of these languages, it’s smart to get a strong dictionary for vocabulary building and try a course or textbook for grammar study.
It’s also a good idea to start listening to natives using the language as soon as possible. FluentU is a great tool for this—it provides real-world videos such as movie clips, news reports, inspiring talks and more in your target language.
The videos are organized beginner to advanced and come with interactive captions, flashcards and exercises to help you understand and develop your skills as you watch. There are also built-in progress tracking tools to keep you motivated and moving toward fluency.
You can hear your target language authentically in a variety of contexts, all from your computer or mobile device. Many of the world’s most used languages are included, such as English, Mandarin, Russian and more.
Note: all speaker counts for the languages below are from Ethnologue unless indicated otherwise.
The “Big Three” Most Used Languages Internationally
There are three languages that top the list when we talk about the most used languages around the world. It goes without saying that any of these options will allow you to communicate in numerous countries and a variety of contexts, from personal to professional.
Mandarin Chinese, for example, has 898 million native speakers. It’s a useful choice for travel, business and academics.
Then there’s English, with 372 million native speakers. English is useful all over the globe, particularly in the world of business. It’s unique because it’s got four times as many second-language speakers as native speakers.
Spanish has 437 million native speakers and is steadily growing in popularity for both its global relevance and its cultural significance.
These three languages are all great second learning options, but since they so comfortably fit a wide range of categories, we’re mentioning them here first and focusing on others for the remainder of the article.
Most Used Languages for Business
The Middle East is a hotbed of development in oil, infrastructure and real estate. Learning to speak Arabic will help any professional wanting to work in those industries.
Many consider Arabic a difficult language to learn. The grammar is immensely complex and it requires students to learn a new alphabet and sentence structure rules. Pronunciation is also very important and you may need to learn a number of totally new sounds.
But with 295 million native speakers, it’ll be worth the investment if it aligns with your business goals.
Learning tip: Students wishing to pursue Arabic will want lots of writing and vocabulary practice as they learn the alphabet. A technique called “shadowing” can also be helpful to master new sounds—just listen to Arabic audio and then try to mimic the speech in real time on repeat listens.
You might not be aware that Portuguese is the official language of Brazil! Recent sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup have helped put Portuguese on the map as a relevant language for commerce and economic development.
Portuguese has 219 million native speakers and is quickly becoming relevant as more businesses begin exploring investment opportunities in resource-rich South America.
Learning tip: There are two major types of Portuguese you might be interested in learning: Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese. Once you’ve picked a dialect, make sure your learning resources cater to it.
Most Used Languages in Politics
The UN named six official languages as the global standard for clear, effective communication between countries. These are Arabic, Russian, English, Chinese, Spanish and French.
Therefore each of these languages will be helpful for international politics, but we’ll focus on one that’s increasingly relevant to today’s global economy and diplomacy: Russian.
Future diplomats, take note! With 154 million native speakers, Russian is an influential language with the potential to shape future political and trade agreements.
Russia can be seen throughout history as a powerful player in international relations. It’s rich in natural resources that make it competitive for energy and oil ventures.
As one of the top oil-producing countries, Russia performs consistently among or near the top ten global economies.
Learning tip: Start your Russian journey by mastering the alphabet and pronunciation. Then move on to Russian’s somewhat complicated case system.
Most Used Languages for Travel
France’s colonial history has contributed to the widespread use of French throughout the world. With 220 million native speakers across 29 countries, French is the way to go if you want the widest array of communication options abroad.
Countries that you can navigate with French skills include everything from Morocco to Canada to Senegal to Belgium to (of course) France.
Learning tip: If you don’t already speak a Romance language, you’ll first want to acquaint yourself with the grammatical gender system in French.
Every noun is either masculine or feminine—get a French pocket dictionary and commit to memorizing the gender along with the definition of any new vocabulary word.
Most Used Languages in Academia
The academic community involves many languages, but there are some that have a larger following than others.
English is today’s lingua franca of the scientific community. Chinese and Russian are also widely used among scholars and have an array of political and economic benefits.
But you may not realize German is a versatile and practical language to learn for communication with other researchers and academics.
German is an excellent choice for academics! There are 77 million native speakers and historically it’s a major language for research publications—despite being overtaken by English in the 20th century.
Today, Germany is home to many international corporations and a world leader in engineering, science and technology.
German skills are also extremely valuable for anyone studying philosophy, due to the number of influential writings from major German philosophers.
Learning tip: Understanding the grammar and sentence structure is very important for learning German, so look for courses that offer lots of sentence practice and good grammar coverage. Verbs are another tricky part of this learning process and you might consider flashcards to help you memorize the various uses and forms.
When you realize you’re ready to learn a new language, it’s important to think about what you’ll be using it for to ensure you get the best return on investment! Whether you’re looking to learn a new language for fun or you’re about to move across the world to start a new job, there’s a language for every need and purpose.
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