Are you an entrepreneur looking to sell products abroad? Or someone who wants to work for a large international firm? Business is not often confined to one country anymore. Modern businesses are international: we import parts and export products, have colleagues spread out across the globe, and look for clients in all corners of the world. This means that speaking only our mother tongue is not enough. We need to learn a foreign language to help us do business. But which one? Read on to find out what we think are the best languages to learn for business.
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Top 5 languages you should learn for business
English is widely recognised as the international business language and has been for many years and definitely one of the best languages you should learn. The language is spoken all over the world, by the heads of huge international banks and roadside sellers alike. And English is the most spoken language in the world, with 375 million native speakers and around 1.5 billion non-native speakers. Not speaking English means you cut yourself and your business off from a lot of people.
Employers expect that their employees speak English now, so not speaking English can mean that you don’t get the job you want. One of the reasons for this is that having a common language helps in negotiations. If you speak the language well, you will have better relationships with your counterparts. And less of a chance of mistranslating something and offending someone, or selling your company for the price of a pomegranate.
International companies are increasingly using English as the language of internal communication too. Nissan, with its headquarters in Japan, was the first company to adopt a policy of English as the language of communication in the 1990s. More and more companies followed – even Airbus in France, that notoriously English-averse country. If France is on board, that means you should be too.
If you want to give a presentation at a large conference, it will likely be in English. The most prestigious academic journals are published in English. And if you want to know what your international colleagues are gossiping about, it’s English again. English is the driver of innovation because it enables people to share ideas. Whether that idea is the latest development in engineering or whether your boss’s toupé needs more tape.
Spanish is another language that is great to learn for work. There are almost half a billion native and non-native Spanish speakers in the world, so that’s a sizeable chunk of the population. It’s spoken in Spain and most of Latin America, plus there is a growing Spanish-speaking community in the United States.
So for a language which is thriving, choose Spanish.
A billion speakers? Learning Mandarin seems like a no-brainer. Think of all those Chinese customers you could pick up. China also has the world’s second-largest economy, so if you don’t want to sell something in China, you’re likely buying from there.
Speaking Mandarin also makes you attractive to employers. As international companies expand into China, they need Mandarin speakers on the ground. And Mandarin speakers who are fluent in another language, especially English, are not all that common. To be crude, that means more cash for you. So learn Mandarin to get ahead.
The Middle East, where Arabic is spoken most widely, has the lowest levels of English proficiency of any world region. That means you will have a great advantage if you speak Arabic.
There are a lot of different dialects of Arabic spoken in different countries. However, there is Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) which people across the Arab world understand and people learn MSA as a foreign language.
Our final pick for a business language to learn is German. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and German is also spoken in Austria and the very wealthy Switzerland. Yes, a lot of Germans speak good English. But speaking German will make it more likely you’ll get business trips to these gorgeous central European countries, or make you more attractive to German companies.
With all this choice, which language should you learn for business if you can only choose one? Let’s see: if a Qatari businesswoman meets a Chinese businessman, they will speak English. English is everywhere. It’s inescapable. And it’s the one truly vital language to learn for business.
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Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.