Most people have ambitions to learn a new foreign language, but many get stuck on the question: “Which language should I learn?” If you’re asking yourself that question, it probably means you don’t have a strong interest in learning any language in particular. We recommend picking one of the most useful languages. But which one is the best? And if you want to pick up more than one, which should you learn first? Here are the most important languages to learn for native English speakers or people who have already mastered English.

Last Updated: 04/28/2021

most useful languages

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

English has been established as a sort of lingua franca, so people all around the world speak it. However, English does not suffice to be able to communicate in all work sectors (particularly tourism and international business). There are countless reasons why you should learn any of these top 7 most useful languages. That being said, for most people, the biggest motivation to learn one of the most useful languages is professional. Being able to speak one or several foreign languages has become one of the most sought-after skills for recruiters.

This video and article are for:

  • anyone who wants to learn another foreign language besides English
  • and native English speakers who want to master a foreign language, but who don’t know which language to learn.

All languages are useful, and there are plenty of reasons to learn each one, but the key is finding the most valuable languages to learn for you.

It’s Personal: Figure Out the Best and Most Useful Language to Learn for YOU

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

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

According to Ethnologue, 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, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and German. (See the complete list.)

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

Here are the 7 most useful languages to learn after English:

  1. Spanish
  2. French
  3. Chinese
  4. German
  5. Japanese
  6. Arabic
  7. Portuguese

Top 7 Most Useful Languages to Learn for English Speakers

As we said, many people learn a new language to get a new job, to move up the ladder, or to earn more money at their current job. In our opinion, these are the most interesting languages to learn if your language goal is professional in nature.

1. Spanish

most useful languages

Spanish is the third most spoken language in the world after Chinese and 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 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 in Spanish than in a language like French. It’s also important to realize that as a non-native learning Spanish, you’ll be competing for work with native Spanish speakers.

Why it’s such a useful language: 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.

How to learn it: Best Resources to Learn Spanish

 

2. French

With 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.

louvre museum

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

French is also an official language of NATO, the United Nations, the Olympics, the Red Cross, and other international organizations. For Americans, since most people learn Spanish in school, speaking French gives you an edge over other jobseekers.

Why it’s such an important language: Due to the wide usage of the French language as the second most learned language after English, learning French is extremely valuable. Knowing how to speak French opens the doors to positions in businesses all over the world, from Belgium to Switzerland to Canada.

How to learn it: Resources for Learning French

 

3. A Chinese language, such as Mandarin

most useful languages

China has become an unavoidably massive presence in the world (recent 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 if you want to beef up your resume. The tricky part is that there are 12 different Chinese languages, the most common being Mandarin (845 million people speak Mandarin, out of a total population of roughly 1.4 billion).

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 has an incredible advantage over their monolingual peers.

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

Why it’s such a valuable language: 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.

How to Learn it: Resources to Learn Chinese

 

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. More than 90 million people in the world speak it.

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.

Why it’s such a valuable language: German is the language to learn if you want to earn the big bucks! In fact, you can earn up to 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.

How to learn it: Resources to Learn German

 

5. Japanese

japan

Although surpassed by China in recent years, Japan’s economy is remarkably strong. 122 million people speak Japanese as their native language, making it one of the most spoken foreign languages in the world.

Japanese is 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 home to some of the world’s most powerful companies including Mitsubishi, KDDI, Softbank, and NTT.

Japanese people love to travel. So, if you want to work in the tourism industry, Japanese is a great skill to have.

Why it’s such an important language: Due to the increasing global role of the Pacific Rim and Asia, as well as the economic ties between the US and Japan, Japanese is one of the best languages to learn.

How to learn it: Resources to Learn Japanese

 

6. Arabic

The global importance of Arabic is clear: it’s the 3rd most common language, with more than 300 million native speakers spread throughout 57 countries in the world.

Many Arab countries provide the West with 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.

most useful languages desert middle east camels

As noted in a comment made by Solal, written Arabic follows a standardized system common in 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. Some people say it’s the most universal dialect (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, you need to be super motivated!

But knowing how to communicate in Arabic is a plus for U.S. government and military jobs, so it’s one of the best languages for Americans to learn. It’s also great for people who want to work in the journalism and tourism industries.

Why it’s such a useful language: The Middle East, considered one of the wealthiest regions in the world, has a GDP of over $600B. Knowing Arabic allows entry into the Middle Eastern economy, which has grown by 120% in the last five years.

How to learn it: Tips For Quickly Learning Arabic Vocabulary

 

7. Portuguese

portugal

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. People also speak Portuguese in several African countries like Angola, where natural resources abound.

The 8th strongest economy, Brazil has experienced rapid growth and become a major trade partner with the U.S. and Europe. Its strongest exports are minerals, iron, steel, coffee, and grains. While Spanish has become the de facto language to learn for many, Portuguese is rising in importance. Business, logistics, and agriculture professionals are sure to find Brazilian Portuguese a handy language to know.

Why it’s such an important language: Although Portuguese isn’t as in demand as Spanish, it is currently on the rise. That’s because Portuguese is the official language in Brazil, an emerging economy.

How to learn it: Resources to Learn Portuguese

 

Bonus Video and Infographic About the Most Useful Languages in the World

Here’s a quick recap of the most useful languages and why they’re so beneficial.

If you liked that video, subscribe to our channel for more language facts and tips.

Still Can’t Decide Which Language to Learn? This Infographic of the Most Useful Languages Can Help

Which Languages to Learn

 

Conclusions

The 3 best languages to learn (after English) are: Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Naturally, if you’re going to work in a specific country, you don’t need to think twice about what language to learn next. The decision is already made for you! Learning the language of the country or region where you’ll be living is the most practical solution.

If you do have a choice, the list 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:

LanguageCountries/Regions SpokenNumber of Speakers (in millions)
Mandarin ChineseChina, Singapore, Taiwan1,080
EnglishUnited States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, several African countries508
SpanishSpain, Latin American382
HindiIndia, Pakistan315
FrenchFrance, Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, several African countries, Oceania, Antilles, South East Asia290
RussianRussia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan285
Indonesian MalayIndonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei260
ArabicNorth Africa, Middle East230
PortugueseBrazil, Portugal, Angola, Mozambique, Guinée Bissau218
BengaliBangladesh, India210

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

 

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