There's nothing worse than learning a language, to never use it again. So, what is the most useful language to learn?
We can't make up your mind for you, however, in this article, we will take a look at all of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, why you should learn them and how to choose which language to tackle next.
Aside from English, we found that Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese are some of the most useful languages to learn. However, this all depends on your reasons for learning a new language and where you live.
What Is The Most Useful Language To Learn?
Let's start by taking a look at some of the most commonly spoken languages in the world.
What Are The Most Commonly Spoken Languages In The World?
According to recent data published by Statista (published: 30.03.2021), the following languages are the most widely spoken in 2021.
It's important to note that the numbers shown below reflect the number of native speakers. Just imagine how much these numbers would increase if you started to include second-language learners too!
1. English – 1.34 Billion
It's no surprise that English is one of the most popular languages in the world, spoken by over 75% of the world’s population. Besides countries like the United States, or the United Kingdom, English is also the official language of South Africa, Singapore, Uganda, Kenya and the Bahamas! English is also taught all over the world in schools and operates widely in the global business world.
2. Mandarin Chinese – 1.12 billion
If you want to be able to communicate with a huge part of the world's population, Mandarin Chinese is the language for you! American Express lists Mandarin Chinese are one of the best languages to learn for business, ideal if you're hoping to learn a language to accelerate your career.
3. Hindi – 600 million
Hindi is the main language in India and is spoken widely across Nepal and Mauritius too. Since these countries, especially India, are so densely populated, it’s no surprise that Hindi makes the list. The Indian subcontinent is a growing economy gaining interest from a lot of international companies, which makes it a great language to consider as your next challenge!
4. Spanish – 543 million
Spanish is one of the most popular languages to learn in the world. This is largely due to the efforts of the United States, which is actually the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world. That's not to mention practically the whole of Central and South American, excluding Brazil. With the Spanish population predicting to double in the next three decades in the US, this language would be a great asset to have under your belt.
5. Arabic – 274 million
Arabic is the official language of 28 countries, many of which are important for the worlds export markets. It's also an essential language for international businesses trying to break into the foreign market. With over 13 million Arab migrants worldwide, a lot of countries also have a large Middle Eastern population.
6. Bengali – 268 million
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and widely spoken in India too. Due to its large amount of native speakers (as well as second language speakers), and its growing diaspora worldwide, it is becoming an increasingly important language to learn for both business and pleasure.
7. French – 267 million
French has had a very strong influence on the world because of its colonial past. As a result, French is the official language in 29 countries, including a lot of African countries and Island nations. It is also an official language of the EU and the United Nations. If you learn French, you will be able to communicate on all continents of the world!
8. Russian – 258 million
Russia is a huge economic and political powerhouse, covering an impressive 17.13 million km2 and spanning ten timezones. The Russian language is widely spoken across former Soviet states, and is one of the official languages of the United Nations. An interesting fact is that Russia is the most popular language on the internet! If you want wider access to recipes, DIY's, or memes: Russian is the way to go!
9. Portuguese – 258 million
Portuguese is spoken by 200 million people in Brazil, as well as in Portugal, some parts of Africa (like Mozambique and Angola), and even parts of Asia (the district of Goa in India, and Macau, China). The popularity of Portuguese is growing exponentially, especially due to Brazils growing market.
10. Urdu – 230 million
Urdu is spoken in more than 26 countries and will open you up to millions of people from around the world. When you learn Urdu, you will have access to over 4000 journals, 70 radio stations and 74 TV channels. If you want to broaden your media outlets – this is the language for you!
What Makes A Language Useful?
How useful a language is depends on several factors, all of which are personal to your own situation. These can include your personal goals and preferences, languages you might already speak or any business or educational goals you may have. Here are some things worth considering when you're trying to figure out what is the most useful language to learn.
Where do you live? Or where do you want to live?
If you are thinking about moving house for work or simply for a change of scenery, you may want to learn a language that fits best with your new environment. For example, if you're moving to France, it would make sense to learn a bit of French, in Spain, Spanish and so on.
Alternatively, you could research the majority languages in your area, and see if one of those takes your fancy. If you are learning a language for personal enrichment, you will find tons of communities to get involved in.
Language skills are highly desirable in any field of business. Each industry is unique, but a second language will always look great on your CV. If you are looking to learn a language to help you prosper in business, you can research which companies are hiring in your area, and adjust your learning accordingly.
Sometimes, it's important to pick a language depending on how versatile is it and how you can adapt it to your lifestyle or your work life. Choosing a language like Spanish or Arabic will be extremely versatile. Millions of people speak these languages worldwide, over several continents, and you're more likely to come across people who speak these languages in your everyday life.
How often will you use the language? If it's a language you only use for travel purposes and only once or twice a year – is it worth learning?
Perhaps you have a language that you can use every day. Maybe one that your friends or family speak, or one that you can use in your business. For example, even though a language like Mandarin Chinese is spoken by millions of people across the world, it might not be useful for you.
What Are Your Own Reasons For Learning a Foreign Language?
Languages are unique to everyone, and what is useful for someone else might not be useful for you. Let's take a look at some reasons why you might want to learn a new language.
You may be drawn to a foreign language because of how it sounds, for example, languages like French or Arabic are known to be melodic.
Alternatively, you may be interested in learning more about a particular culture. Say you've always been interested in Russia and have a dream to live in St. Petersburg one day, you might want to start learning Russian for when that day comes. On the other hand, you might want to visit Rio during the carnival, hoping to meet some friendly Brazilians along the way.
Another reason may be love or friendship. You might have found a new friend or a new life partner who speaks a different language to you. You want to get to know them on a more personal level, speak to their family and discover their culture.
A pragmatic reason to learn a new language might be to open yourself up to new job opportunities. As we mentioned earlier, a new language is sure to be an asset in any career.
Maybe you wish to study a foreign language at University, or you want to go study abroad for your whole degree. A new language, in this case, might be beneficial to help you get ahead.
So, How Do You Learn a New Language?
Congrats! You've finally decided which language you want to learn! But…you're stuck. How do you go about learning a new language?
Apps like Memrise and Duolingo can help you retain large amounts of vocab for free! Using their spaced repetition flashcard software and their game-like activities learning a language is fun and efficient. They are great for on-the-go learners and those with busy timetables.
There are tons of courses online that can help you learn the language of your choice! If you decided to study Spanish, consider Baselang. With Baselang you can book a private 1-1 lesson with native speakers for $149 a month. You can also work towards achieving a DELE qualification.
Other great courses include the Uncovered Courses created by Olly Richards. By using the patented Storytelling Method, these courses cater to absolute beginners as well as advanced learners. Uncovered covers Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian and French, and offers a seven-day free trial for all new users!
Our Final Thoughts On The Question: What Is The Most Useful Language To Learn?
Learning a useful language can mean many different things to many different people. It can be useful because the language is used a lot at home with their partner, or useful because of future business prospects. Whatever the reason, the team at Actual Fluency encourages you to learn a language anyway and see where it might take you!
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.