“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

What Nelson Mandela said about languages can easily be applied in the business world. When you are speaking with business associates, potential partners, and even customers in their language, you are gaining additional respect and an upper hand over the competition.

However, even though the advantages of speaking two or more languages are widely recognized, 40 percent of the world population speaks only their native language. This is good news for you, because the fact that you are reading this means you want to be in the world population’s 43% who speak two languages, or perhaps even in the 3% who speak more than four languages. 

If professional goals are motivating you to master a new language, you probably want to know which of the world languages would be the most useful and which ones are the most spoken. Here is a short overview.


What are the most spoken languages in the world?


China is a very large and densely populated country, so it’s no wonder that Chinese is the most spoken language in the world with over a billion speakers. It is followed by Spanish with 414 million.  Believe it or not, English is the last of the top three with approximately 335 million native speakers. What follows is a list of the remaining seven of the top ten languages and the number of their speakers:

  1. Hindi (260 million)
  2. Arabic (237 million)
  3. Portuguese (203 million)
  4. Bengali (193 million)
  5. Russian (167 million)
  6. Japanese (122 million)
  7. Javanese (84.3 million)


What are the biggest languages from a business perspective?


You may be feeling a little confused after reading this list, considering that English is the most widely studied across the world, and the most useful when you find yourself in a foreign country. The reasons why it made its way to this position are multiple, including the popularity of Hollywood movies, social media, and the role of English-speaking countries in various industries.

However, this doesn’t mean that English is the only language for business people. On the contrary, knowing another one, which is not as conventional but is nonetheless influential, could give you an advantage among clients or over other job applicants. For example, while Mandarin could obviously get you far, mastering Spanish would be an exceptionally smart call. After all, its popularity has grown significantly over the years, making it one of the more universal languages among non-native speakers. Of course, as with any other language, the easiest way to learn Spanish is by studying it in a Spanish-speaking country, and you have plenty of options, from South America to Europe.

Furthermore, because Brazil has so much potential in various industries, Portuguese also appears on the list of the most useful languages for business. Depending on your branch, other languages that could help you make it include  French, Russian, Arabic, German, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, and Italian.


Best languages for your business


Of course, your choice of language should depend on your industry. So, here’s a quick roundup of popular languages for business along with some useful hints.

  • Spanish: We’ve already mentioned Spanish, but it’s worth pointing out just how fast this language is growing. There are more than 37 million Spanish speakers in the US, where the Hispanic community is a strong driving force in the small business landscape. Additionally, pharmaceuticals, machine tools, and agriculture are thriving in Spain. And there are some South American countries with a lot of potential too.
  • German: The German economy is one of the most stable ones in Europe. Learning this language will be a big plus if you’re looking for a part in international business, especially in the tech and auto industries.
  • Mandarin: The Asian market, dominated by China, harbors enormous potential. The number of business opportunities is huge, especially in the e-commerce market. The same goes for the mining, energy, and manufacturing industries.
  • Arabic: This is the official language of nearly 30 countries, and some of them have the potential to surpass China with their export capacity. Among the top Arab companies, you will find Safra Group (finance), Aramco (energy), the Saudi Arabian Mining Company, and many others.
  • French: French was once like English, necessary for all types of international jobs. Although its role in the modern market has waned, it certainly shouldn’t be neglected. French is still the second most spoken language in Europe, and it is spoken in approximately 30 countries of the world. It is a good language to know if you’re in the renewable energy, tourism, technology, or culinary business.
  • Portuguese: Brazil is becoming the go-to country for people who want to find partners in pharmaceuticals, energy, and scientific research.
  • Japanese: Japan has a reputation in electronics, robotics, and science, so if you are in any of these fields, you could easily capitalize on knowing Japanese.
  • Russian: As a result of the historical role of the Soviet Union, the Russian language has become the language of trade and diplomacy. There is an undeniable potential in the real estate market, oil, and gas industry.
  • Hindi: Contrary to popular belief, most of the population in India does not speak English well. But the Indian market is full of opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs, especially if they are in the business of oil, steel, concrete, and coal.


Other factors that should impact your decision


The country’s GDP and its leading industries are not the only motives that should guide your choice. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Access to courses and study materials: Some languages are more available than others. For example, it will be a lot easier to find learning material online for Spanish than for Hindi. You should also consider the availability of courses in your area, access to native speakers, and the possibility to study the language abroad.
  • Language difficulty: Languages like Mandarin and Japanese use a completely different alphabet. If you don’t have the time and energy to commit, you should probably skip these two. 
  • Your foundation: It’s always simpler to learn something if you already have a foundation to build on. For instance, Spanish and German have similar grammar and sentence structure as English. If you have studied a foreign language in high school, you might want to catch up on it.


Proficiency in a foreign language is always a great thing to add to your resume if you’ re looking for a job. But it is also incredibly useful if you are already working or own a business. Knowing another language upgrades your personal network by earning you trust and respect among other professionals. An additional benefit is the brain exercise and the perks that come along with it, such as better decision-making skills, improved memory, and increased perception. There are no downsides to it. You just need to analyze the pros and cons of a specific language in terms of career building and choose the one that is best for you.

Author's Bio: 

Biologist by day, writer by night, and a huge geek. My fields of expertise could be summed up to health, psychology and lifestyle-related topics.