Last month the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, in his State of the Union conference in Italy, said that English as a language was losing its importance in Europe. This made me stop and think about whether I should reopen my French books or consider studying German. After all, Germany is the European economic powerhouse. Fortunately, the World Economic Forum have published a study which examines the world’s most powerful languages.
Did you know that there are approximately 6,000 languages in the world? Some 2,000 are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people and 15 languages are spoken by half of the world’s population.
The WEF report highlights that there are five opportunities provided by languages:
1. Geography: The ability to travel
2. Economy: The ability to participate in an economy
3. Communication: The ability to engage in dialogue
4. Knowledge and media: The ability to consume knowledge and media
5. Diplomacy: The ability to engage in international relations.
From a business perspective, language is an essential component of competiveness and the WEF report stresses that a multilingual person has more business opportunities than somebody who only speaks one language. So which languages are the most powerful?
The WEF study utilises 20 indicators to arrive at the ten most useful languages in the world (in order of importance): English, Mandarin, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Hindi.
Contrary to Mr Juncker’s comments, English is the world’s lingua franca, this is not a surprise when you consider that English is the dominant language of three G7 nations (US, Canada and the UK) and the UK’s historic colonial footprint.
In the global economy, the world’s biggest financial centres function in English. London and New York are the largest, while Singapore and Hong Kong have English language infrastructures and are bigger than Tokyo. Another consideration is that many of the countries with high GDP figures show proficiency in English, either as a first or second language.
So what does the future hold, which language will rise to the top by 2050? The WEF study forecasts that the order of importance will be: English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, German, Portuguese, Hindi, and Japanese.
Is it time to order some Rosetta Stone tapes and learn Spanish or Mandarin?