Best Languages to Learn for Business

Article in partnership with Day Translations.

After reading an article from Study International I have realised how, over the years, some languages have been more in fashion and more in demand when it comes for job opportunities and international business.

The aforementioned article used an attention-grabbing image of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, with his wife Priscilla Chan, an American-born woman with a medical degree from the University of California whose parents emigrated to the United States from Vietnam. Priscilla’s family spoke Cantonese at home and she was often the main translator for her parents.

Priscilla went to Harvard graduating in biology before studying pediatry at University of California. On a side note, she is also fluent in Spanish.

Going back to the picture of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, the caption says that the Facebook CEO can speak a number of languages. Zuckerberg is fluent in Mandarin and can confidently answer questions in interviews in this language, having worked in Mandarin-speaking schools. It is worth noting that Mandarin and Cantonese are not interchangeable and have many differences in their alphabet and pronunciation.

The article goes on to say that CEOs who can speak multiple languages not only become better communicators and gain more influence, but also become richer as a consequence. It follows with a roundup of the best five languages for business: Mandarin, French, Spanish, German and Swedish, giving one or two example of a successful CEO for each language and the reasons for studing that particularl language, such as because the main customer base trades in that language.

Best Languages to Learn for Business over the Years

The Language Learning Journal (2018) featured an article about foreign languages being taught in British schools over the years, focusing particularly in the 1900s. French has been the most taught language over the years, particularly in primary schools (almost 80% of them) and secondary schools. Latin, Spanish, German and Russian are also taught in British schools, with Latin having a special status as it has been taught as a foreign language for hundreds of years.

After the Second World War and particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, foreign languages were part of strategic education committees for their cultural relevance and importance in the workplace. During this period the teaching of foreign languages became more common after being retained mostly in expensive private schools (called “public schools” in the UK).

The emergence of Arabic, Japanese and Mandarin as useful languages to learn for business started as global business shifted the focus from Europe and the United States. For example, Japan began focusing on international investments on a large scale from the late 1980s and currently one of its most important trading partner is the European Union, with which it signed an Economic Partnership Agreement that has been in force since 2019 after seven years of negotiations.

Best Languages for International Business

Investopedia analysed which languages are worth learning to boost your chances to strike better international deals. In the United States Spanish is the second most spoken language after English, with estimates that being able to speak Spanish in North America can boost earning potential by 1.7%.

French has been identified as another useful language to learn particularly in Canada where, in some areas, is the main language; being able to speak French can potentially increase a salary by 2.7%. French is also considered a strategic language to learn for dealings with international organisations such as the European Union, UNESCO and the International Monetary Fund to name a few.

Mandarin is considered to be a language that is very much in demand in English-speaking countries and other countries trading with China. Similarly, being able to speak Arabic gives a significant competitive advantage because trading with the Middle East is so important for many countries. Those who can speak Russian, a language that is spoken in several former USSR countries, can increase their earning potential by 4%.

Choosing which language to learn from scratch comes with a consideration about how you are going to use it in the workplace. This can be a strategic decision that you can make either by yourself or that you can agree with your employer, if there is the opportunity to get paid inhouse training.