In today’s world, business is truly international. While English may retain the top-spot, knowing other important business languages can open doors to new markets, contacts and opportunities. Considering the number of native speakers, world economies and key industries, we’ve listed the ten most important languages for doing business overseas. Some may be obvious choices, but others may surprise you.
10 most important business languages
Rated the top language for business after English, Mandarin is an obvious choice for international business. China has the second-largest economy in the world with an estimated GDP growth of 8.5% in 2021. While the per capita income is below the world average, the dollar value of China’s agricultural and industrial output is second only to the US in the value of services it produces. With 955 million native speakers in Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore as well as China, the huge potential of Mandarin for international business is well-known. Learning the language is sure to create stronger relations with contacts in China as well as opening business opportunities in areas outside of Beijing and Shanghai, where English is spoken less.
2. Portuguese (Brazilian)
Not as popular as Spanish but with great potential, Portuguese is a valuable language for international business. Currently ranked as the 7th largest economy in the world, Brazil’s business capacity is soaring, and opportunities have only become more frequent since the 2016 Olympics.
With 166 million native speakers in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Russian sits comfortably within the top ten most-spoken languages in the world by both absolute numbers and number of countries. Russia is one of the world’s leading producers of oil and natural gas as well as being a top exporter of metals. Couple this with the fact that only 5% of the Russian population speak English, and the importance of Russian as an international business language is clear.
With 76 million native speakers across countries including France, Belgium, Canada and Algeria, French is an important international language for business. France was placed between Japan and UAE at number 27 in Forbes’s ‘Best Countries for Business’ for its diverse economy and strong tourist market. Belgium and Canada are rated even higher at 12 and 6 respectively, Belgium for its EU trade and Canada for its trade with the US. French has long been recognised as a truly international language, and this certainly holds up today. Don’t forget there are some differences between French and Canadian French.
As the only country in the EU to avoid a recession through the 2008-09 downturn, Poland is an important country for EU and international business. 40 million people speak Polish as their native language, and with about 1/3 of the population speaking English, knowing the language is certainly a plus. Poland’s geographical location in the heart of Europe offers great advantages for business, bordering Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Polish is the second most spoken language in England, highlighting its importance not just in the continent but here in Britain. For some cultural and business tips for Poland and other Central & Eastern European countries, take a look at this blog.
Germany is a leading exporter of vehicles, machinery, chemicals and household equipment, and its economy is ranked fourth in the world for GDP. It’s also the largest in Europe. While this in itself underpins the importance of German for international business, it is also spoken in other strong business countries including Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg. Switzerland, ranked number 9 by Forbes’ ‘Best Countries for Business’, boasts a prosperous and modern market economy with a highly skilled labour force. Their service sector is highly developed and their manufacturing industry specialises in high-technology production. Although don’t forget there’s a difference between Swiss German and German.
As an official language of Mexico, Paraguay, United States and Ecuador among others, Spanish’s share of the world’s population is second only to Mandarin. Mexico has a $1.3 trillion free market economy and is becoming increasingly oriented toward manufacturing, becoming North America’s second-largest export market. As the second most-spoken language in the United States, Spanish is also hugely important in the largest economy in the world.
Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, leading the high technology market and home to some of the world’s largest corporations including Toyota and Honda. Considering Japan’s business links across the globe and the relatively low percentage of the population speaking English, learning Japanese could be an important step for international business interests. To learn more about doing business in Japan take a look at our webinar: Exploring business cultures and opportunities in Japan.
Arabic was ranked third by Bloomberg in the most useful business languages, and it’s easy to see why. With 295 million native speakers, Arabic is the official language in 23 nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Israel. United Arab Emirates comes in at number 38 of Forbes’ ‘Best Countries for Business’ for its high per capita income and sizable annual trade surplus. While Arabic is commonly considered most useful for the oil and gas industries in the Middle East, internet-based businesses are also huge in the region, making translation for these businesses crucial. Known for having the biggest export markets, the region’s consumer market continues to grow, making Arabic an increasingly important language for international business.
Turkish may not be the first ‘business language’ that comes to mind, but with a largely free-market economy and rising automotive, construction and electronics industries, Turkey is becoming a dynamic economy for business. Due to aggressive privatisation in basic industry, transport, banking and communication, coupled with the emergence of middle-class entrepreneurs, Turkey’s economy is expanding with a GDP growth of 3.8%.
You’ve probably guessed by now that we’re incredibly enthusiastic about all things languages! So if you have a question or would like to know more about us, please get in touch.