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Important languages to learn for business

18th December 2016 Print

While it’s useful to have a degree of fluency in another language when you’re going on holiday, when it comes to conducting business the ability to communicate successfully can make all the difference to clinching a deal. This doesn’t just apply to the big multinational corporations – far from it. With the growth of online trading, it’s just as important for small enterprises, sole traders and entrepreneurs to bring their foreign language skills up to speed.

One useful guide to identifying the languages that will work for you and your business is to consider where your current markets lie and where you would like to trade in the future. It may be that at present your trade is confined to English speaking markets – North America, Australia, India and of course the UK, to name a few. However, it’s likely you would find it desirable as well as prudent to interact more with European clients and customers, and those further afield. Here are some of the things you could consider.

- Attitudes towards doing business

- Average wealth status of associated countries or continents

- Location of native speakers worldwide

- Numbers of native speakers

- Population demographic

- Potential for long term business links

- State of the local economy or economies. 

To help you out, experts who have analysed all these factors have come up with a shortlist of languages that can be considered best for business.

1. French

Polish off your school French by taking a refresher course and learn the business vocabulary you will need. There are 74 million native French speakers and 335 million speakers in total including in parts of Canada and Africa plus several Mediterranean countries. Despite the prevalence of English, many companies still prefer to do business in French. 

2. Spanish

With 406 million native speakers, Spanish is distributed across a huge area including being America’s second most common language. Mexico is an ideal investment site, having an ever increasing trade with the USA. Besides Spain itself, South America, Ecuador and Paraguay are among the many countries where Spanish is prevalent in business.

3. Russian

Learning Russian can be quite a challenge however there are ambitious and wealthy inhabitants of this huge country who are hungry to do business. Many don’t speak English very well, if at all. There are 160 million native speakers in the country (about 250 million worldwide) and of course, this is the location of considerable power and wealth. IT and engineering are particularly prominent among Russian businesses, and the country is one of the top oil producing regions in the world.

4. Chinese (Mandarin)

The Chinese population is the largest in the world and the majority of people speak Mandarin. In fact, the number of Mandarin speakers worldwide outnumbers English speakers two to one. The economy in Taiwan and China continues to grow rapidly. Mandarin is definitely in a prime position as a business language of the future.

5. Arabic

About 27 countries cite Arabic as the official language with approximately 223 million native speakers. The Middle East is said to be one of the biggest export markets for many businesses so taking Arabic lessons could be of real benefit to budding entrepreneurs.