Which Language to Learn? The 7 Most Useful Languages

There are countless reasons why anyone should learn any of the most useful languages. That being said, for most people, the biggest motivation to learn one of the most useful language lies with their work. Being able to speak one or several foreign languages has become one of the most sought-after skills in the professional world. But what language to learn? What are the most important languages when you are an English native speaker or you already have mastered English ?

English has been established as a sort of lingua franca spoken globally. However, English does not suffice to be able to communicate in all work sectors (particularly those related to tourism and international business). 

most useful languages

Last update: 28/10/2016

Apart From English, What Are the Most Useful Languages to Know?


This  video and article is for those who want to learn a second foreign language (LV2) besides English and for English native speakers who want to master a foreign language, but who may not know which language to learn. All languages, of course, are useful, and there are plenty of reasons to learn each one.

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Which Languages to Learn


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Criteria used to determine the most useful language to learn for you:

I identified two main criteria that we can use to determine the most useful languages:

• The number of speakers throughout the world
• Relevance in economic and political contexts

According to the book Ethnologist” by M. Paul Lewis, the top 10 most spoken native languages in the world consist of Chinese (or the ensemble of its 12 variants including Mandarin), Spanish, English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portugese, Russian, Japanese and German. (See the complete table)

For the second criteria, I base my conclusions on official statistics from the U.S. Census that highlight the U.S.’s business partners throughout the world. For those in the U.K., the trade partners are similar to those in the U.S.

Here are the seven most useful languages to learn for an English-speaker:

Breakdown of the most useful languages to learn for professional reasons:

1- Spanish

most useful languages

Spanish is the most spoken language in the world after English. It’s also the native language of more than 400 million people across 44 countries, which makes it one of the most useful languages to know.

For those who want to do business, Spanish skills can be an asset for communicating in Spain and throughout Latin America. The considerable size of the Spanish-speaking population of the United States makes it even more attractive on a resume. Americans who plan on working domestically in law, social services or in business can truly stand out by being proficient in Spanish.

Spanish is often said to be an easy language to learn. For example, Spanish is phonetic (you read words as they are written). However, the tenses and verb irregularities are more complicated than in Spanish than in a language like French. It’s also important to realize that for a non-native learning Spanish, you have to compete with native Spanish speakers.

Financial Aspect: It’s quite obvious why learning Spanish has huge financial benefits for job seekers. In both Europe and the US, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language after English. It is also the officially spoken language of four continents. This makes learning Spanish very beneficial, especially for those in business simply due to the number of people who speak it.

2- French

Seven of the Most Useful LanguagesWith Canada being the number one trade partner of the U.S., learning French can majorly boost anyone’s professional worth. Spoken by more than 290 million people worldwide, French has truly become a global language. It is the official language of 29 countries including France, Canada, Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, Senegal, Côte d’IvoireHaiti, Belgium, Rwanda, Togo, Mali and more.

France dominates in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, aeronautics, energy production, and more. In addition, with global initiatives to promote development in impoverished areas of Africa, French is key. Many countries throughout West Africa, Central Africa and East Africa have French as one of the official langua
ges. Being able to communicate in French can land you consultant, non-profit, administration, and tons of other jobs.

French is also the official language of NATO, the United Nations, the Olympics, the Red Cross, and other international organizations. For Americans, since Spanish is often the first foreign language learned, speaking French gives you an edge over other jobseekers.  

Financial Aspect: Due to the wide usage of French language as the second most learned language after English, learning French is extremely valuable financially. Knowing how to speak French opens the doors to working for businesses all over the world from Belgium to Switzerland to Canada.

3- A Chinese Language Such as Mandarin

most useful languages

China has become an unavoidably massive presence in the world (new statistics show that 36% of the world’s population either lives in China or India). In addition to its growing population, China has a stronghold on exports to the U.S. and the U.K., making it a valuable trade partner. Because of this, Chinese is an incredibly useful language to learn.

If you want to work in international business or banking, learning a Chinese language is one of the most useful languages to know in order to beef up your resume. The tricky part is that there are 12 different Chinese languages, with the most common being Mandarin (with 845 million people speaking Mandarin out of a total of roughly a billion people).

Learning Mandarin is an excellent idea because it is such a prized skill set for the business sector and one of the extremely important languages in the world. Diplomatic and military professionals also will find Mandarin helpful. The small percentage of people who manage to master Mandarin have an incredible advantage over their monolingual counterparts.

Mandarin is known to be difficult to learn how to write since there are multiple moods and registers to conquer. However, the grammar, conjugation and tenses are infinitely easier.

Financial Aspect:  If you’re in the business industry, learning Chinese will open up a world of opportunities for you due to the more than a billion people who speak it.

4- German

Germany’s economy has been  steadily growing, reaching far beyond the Rhine. Such growth has propelled the country into one of the world’s strongest economies. It’s in the top 10 for import and export partners for both the U.S. and the U.K. It’s also an official language of Austria and Switzerland, both of which boast strong economies, too.most useful languages

German is the most common native language. It is spoken by more than 90 million people in the world.

However, many learners of German claim it is not the easiest to learn. High schoolers, for example, tend to have difficulty communicating in German, even after years of study (as opposed to a language like Spanish). This could be due to a lack of interest and motivation. If you’re going to learn German, it’s best to do so when you have the time and can buckle-down with your German lessons several times a week.

Financial Aspect:

German is the language to learn if you want to earn the big bucks! In fact, you can earn 125,000 extra euros just in bonuses! You may be surprised by this as most people would assume a more common language such as Spanish or Mandarin would allow them to be more prosperous. However, knowing German as a second language puts you in a special niche and thus is more economically valuable. Additionally, Germany is a European powerhouse and so yields higher financial benefits than other languages.

5- Japanese

most useful languages

Although surpassed by China in recent years, Japan’s economy has been remarkably strong. Japanese is spoken by 122 million native speakers, making it one of the most spoken foreign languages in the world.

Learning Japanese can be one of the most useful languages to know for those who work in the automotive, communications, and financial sectors. Japan is the 3rd biggest producer of automobiles and makes up one of the biggest producers of mobile technology. According to Forbes, Japan is also home to some of the world’s most powerful companies including Mitsubishi, KDDI, Softbank, NTT, and more.

The Japanese travel to tourist destinations throughout the world. For those who want to work in the tourism industry, Japanese can also be a great skill set.

Financial Implication: Due to the increasing global role of the Pacific Rim and Asia, as well as the economic ties between the US and Japan, learning Japanese is incredibly valuable financially.

6- Arabic

most useful languages

Arabic’s importance is clear in that it’s the 3rd most common language for more than 300 million native speakers spread throughout 57 countries in the world.

Many of the countries where Arabic is spoken provide the West vital resources (like oil). It goes without saying that geopolitical events of recent years have also forced the Western world to become more familiar with the Arab world.

As noted in a comment made by Solal, written Arabic follows a standardized system common amongst the many places where it is spoken. However, the richness of Arabic is apparent in the different dialects or variations of the spoken language. A Moroccan may not necessarily understand a Lebanese person. Egyptian Arabic is a good dialect to learn. It is said to be the most universal (due in part to the Egyptian film industry).

Arabic has been classified by the U.S. State Department as one of the hardest languages to learn, along with Korean, Japanese, Mongolian and Mandarin. In other words, a certain level of motivation is required!

Knowing how to communicate in Arabic is a plus for government and military jobs. It’s also great for those in the journalism and tourism industries.

Financial Aspect: The Arab region is considered to be one of the wealthiest regions in the world having more than $600B GDP. Knowing Arabic means the ability to enter into the Middle Eastern economy, which has grown by 120 percent in the last five years.


7- Portuguese

most useful languages

According to Wikipedia, Portuguese is the 5th most spoken language in the world (although these statistics are always estimates). Portuguese is spoken not only in Portugal, but also in the booming economy that is Brazil. Portuguese is also spoken in several African countries like in Angola, where natural resources abound.

The 8th strongest economy, Brazil has seen rapid growth and has become a major trade partner with the U.S. and Europe. Its strongest domaines are in minerals, iron, steel, coffee, grains and more. While Spanish has become the de facto language to learn for many, Portuguese is rising in importance. Professionals who work in business, logistics, and agriculture are sure to find Brazilian Portuguese a plus.

Financial Aspect: Although Portuguese isn’t as in demand as Spanish, it is currently on the rise. This is due to the fact that Portuguese is the official language in Brazil, which is an emerging economy.

Naturally, if you’re going to work in a specific country, no analysis or table is needed. Learning the language of the country where you’ll be living is the most practical solution.

Perhaps the table below can give you an idea of the most common languages spoken. This chart is meant as a general guideline since it’s not easy to estimate. Here are the 10 most spoken languages:

Language – Country – Number of speakers (in millions)
1. Mandarin Chinese  – China, Singapore, Taiwan – 1 080
2. English – United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, several African countries – 508
3. Spanish – Spain, Latin America  – 382
4. Hindi – India, Pakistan – 315
5. French – France, Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, several African countries, Oceania, Antilles, South East Asia – 290
6. Russian – Russia, CEI – 285
7. Indonesian Malay – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei – 260
8. Arabic – North Africa, Middle East – 230
9. Portuguese – Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Mozambique, Guinée Bissau – 218
10. Bengali – Bangladesh, India – 210

(Attention : These statistics vary according to the criteria used)


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  1. I’m so glad to see French and Spanish in this list, since I’m learning both of them. Hooray!
    French is not a difficult language for an Italian speaker, but its pronunciation is tricky!

    I’d love to study Japanese one day, so it’s great to see it among the 7 most useful languages! 🙂

    • Hi Claire,

      Thanks for sharing your opinion!

    • i love english language because its very popular language & easy.
      but i want to learn spanish. its not difficult for indian people.

      • Hi Mohammad,

        Thanks for your comment.


    • Molto bene di apprendere la lingua italiana. Io comenso una settimana Ed io posso appena Dire qualche frase. Io sono arabo io parlato Arab francese englese spagnola e un poco di Portuguese

  2. i am a native german speaker. first of all i am teaching my friend how to speak german. he has NO problem with it. Also german speakers fill 75% of switzerland. French only takes up 19% of the population.

    • Hi Bob!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Best regards,

  3. I’m 17 years old and I speak English, Norwegian, Swedish, French and Spanish fluently. I plan to be able to speak Italian, Russian, Arabic and possibly Portugese fluently by the time I’m 25. Then hopefully Mandarin and/or Japanese by 30.

    • Hi Jordan!

      Thanks for sharing your next plans!
      We wish you the best!


    • Hi Jordan!

      Russian is actually more simple than you might think after learning the alphabet. Although it took me 4 months of 2 hours a week learning for the alphabet, three years later i can speak Russian fluent enough that I stayed in Russia for 3 weeks with no English spoken to locals!

      • Hi Jessica,

        Thanks for sharing your experience learning Russian!

        • hi jessica

          quite a achievement….gr8.
          i am crazy language learner……in one day (just one day only) ,i learnt so much of wriien n spoken japanese that i would hold myself well in japan without much help from english…speak french,spanish,german,mandarin n few others….but i found russian very tough…i know the alphabets..fluently i can read….know lot of vocab…but still i m not able to speak it well(forget fluently)…any suggestions for me….wud love to help u in your learning..

          • Thanks for your experience Jimmy!

          • Yes, Russian is tough due to grammar. Reading it fluently is wonderful. But, to speak it fluently you must have feedback. Be among those who speak Russian as their first language and speak only Russian with them. They can help iron out the kinks for you!!

      • Jessica, congratulations on learning Russian!! I learned the alphabet in one week. The second week I was reading a little Russian. I made good progress for a while, but I let it go over the years and I will try again. However, Spanish and Arabic are common where I live! Finding people to speak Russian here is limited.

    • Hey, holy cow that’s impressive!!
      What was your learning technique? I would love to be fluent in multiple languages, I am close to fluent in Spanish and have a base of French.

    • Can someone help me choose? I am already fluent in Chinese and English, and I have some degree of knowledge in French (I know all the basic tenses, basic vocabulary etc). I am learning Spanish and German too. What language should I learn? Which one is the most useful?

      • Hi Charlie!
        Thanks for you comment.
        In my opinion the most useful is Spanish.
        Best regards,

  4. I’ve been learning Hindi, due in part because I lived in India for a while so it was necessary.

    Much as I have been enjoying studying the language and the added richness it provides to my studies of Indian culture, it isn’t a very useful language to learn in terms of your competitive edge in business. This is predominantly because of the huge number of bilingual English-Hindi speakers that exist in the ex-pat community in the USA and UK. While Hindi (and its sister language Urdu) are spoken by vast numbers of people, there are people of Indian/Pakistani descent who will speak it better than you ever will. The same goes for Bengali and Gujarati. That said, I was recently elected by my office to go on a business trip to India despite my relative inexperience at my job (which I’ve been in for two months) and I suspect having the cultural knowledge and language skills made a difference.

    I suspect it’s similar for Arabic. There are a lot of bilingual English-Arabic speakers out there because of migration.

    My point is that “useful” languages are not just those with lots of speakers or even those we have strong trade links with. Germans, for example, generally have excellent English skills (especially younger folk) so I would question the usefulness of German in a business context. I reckon being able to speak a more unusual language is more useful – nobody ever seems to learn Russian as a second language despite the vast swathe of planet Earth dominated by the old Soviet states, and Russia itself. Nobody seems to bother with Korean or Malay either.

    Perhaps even the newer expanding markets of places like the Philippines – would Tagalog be really useful?

    People are always going to learn French, Spanish and German. Chinese and Japanese are also popular (often for the challenge of it). You’re always going to have heavy competitors with these languages. A more unusual European, Asian or even African language might give you a whole extra level of uniqueness.

    Anyway, I’ve waffled, sorry. Hope I made a point somewhere in there!

    • Hi Sam!
      Thank you very much for sharing your opinion and your experience learning languages!


  5. I’d love to study in several foreign languages. Now I’m studying chinesse, next might be spanish. I also interesting Japanese, korean, Germany and french. I hope I still have a chance and time to learn all of them.
    Anyway, thank u for your great post. It’s so informative for me 😉

    • Thanks Anastasia!

  6. I’m 15 , I talk English , French , Hebew , Arabic , (Fluently ) Russian and Spanish and i’m learning Italian and Swedish .. 🙂 languages are the best <3

  7. Hi,I’m from south Africa,I was planning to learn Japanese coz i love manga,and it would be so much better to watch nd read anime,although there’s traslated anime I dnt like it that much,u could say the language interests me.
    I plan to learn french next coz my friend speaks french,its a fun language and I know the basics for now.hopefully by next year I will be able to speak one of two languages.

    • Hi Nomvula,

      Thanks for sharing it with us.
      We are not developing Japanese apps but I am sure that you will find resources on the Internet.


  8. im learning russian i know a good deal of spanish i dont know why im learning russian if its not listed as a major language i mean in the top 7 its not for this website i guess im just drawn to it

    • Hi Luke,

      Thanks for your message. Don’t worry. Russian is a good language too!

  9. I would like to learn how to speak Arabic any help?

    • Hello and thank you for your comment!
      We have received several requests for Arabic and will keep this in mind. We have more languages coming soon but no date yet for the release of Arabic. Thanks for your interest!

  10. Its not my first time to go to see this site, i am visiting this site dailly and
    get good data from here daily.

  11. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and
    I’m impressed! Extremely useful information particularly thhe
    last part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was seeking this particular information for a long time.
    Thank yoou and good luck.

  12. I am confused in this all languages can any body suggest me a better language out of this

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