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The world’s most powerful languages: which one will you learn in 2022?

Speaking multiple languages opens doors for you – to international jobs, to meeting new people and to a greater understanding of the world. Academic studies rank English as far and away the world’s most useful language.

The world's most powerful languages: which one will you learn in 2022?
Photo: Getty Images

As you’re reading this, you’ve already got that covered! But which other languages could give you an edge in terms of international opportunities? And which will be the most valuable come 2050? 

As we approach 2022 and the world continues to evolve, The Local has partnered with ESCP Business School to explore which languages could help you create a brighter future for yourself. Students at ESCP can take courses in many of the world’s most important languages, alongside their main programme.

Want to study in three major European cities in three years? Take this four-minute quiz to find out if ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc) may be right for you

1. Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin is the most widely spoken native language with almost one billion native speakers – more than Spanish and English combined. According to the influential Power Language Index (PLI), Mandarin ranks second only to English, both for the overall value of the language and for economic opportunities. That is also forecast to remain the case in 2050 as China’s global influence grows. 

If you speak good Mandarin, you’ll be attractive to countless employers – across industries and borders – especially while fluent non-Chinese speakers remain scarce. Don’t expect it to be easy, however. It’s a tonal language, and some words can be pronounced in four ways – each with a different meaning. Want to read and write Mandarin? With its thousands of special characters, the challenge is enormous. Overcome it and you’ll have set yourself up for an exciting 21st century career few of your peers could ever hope to match.

2. French

French is an official language in 29 countries (second only to English) and is spoken on all five continents. It’s also an official language of the United Nations (UN), NATO, and the World Trade Organization. Proficiency in French can therefore prove a major advantage in careers related to international diplomacy.

Overall, French ranks as the third most powerful language today and will drop only one place to fourth by 2050. French is also the key business language in some of the world’s fastest-growing countries and economies in Africa. Add exciting cities such as Montreal, Geneva, and Brussels to the list of places where fluent French will help you to thrive, and it’s not hard to see why French is the world’s second-most studied language.

Founded in Paris in 1819, ESCP continues to offer many business students today the opportunity to study in France and improve their French (as well as various other leading languages).

3. Spanish

Spanish is an official language in 20 countries and boasts around 470 million native speakers. It’s the dominant language in Latin America and speaking Spanish is also a real advantage in the US, where the Hispanic population could hit 100 million by around 2050.

Little wonder that it has been ranked as the leading language of study for US students and the most in-demand among US employers. Spanish is also set to leapfrog French to become the third most important language by 2050, according to the PLI.

Interested in cross-cultural learning and a career in international business? Find out more about ESCP

Students studying in a coffee shop. Photo: Getty Images

4. Arabic

Arabic has approximately 300 million native speakers. It’s one of the six official UN languages and an official language in over 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

If your first language is English (or any other Indo-European language), learning Arabic is not easy. But achieving a high standard of Arabic could bring you significant rewards, particularly through companies that do business in the Middle East. Arabic ranks fifth on the PLI and is expected to maintain that to 2050, while rising from ninth to seventh in terms of its economic value to individuals.

5. German

German lacks the global appeal of the languages above; it’s an official language in only six countries, all in Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein). But don’t underestimate its usefulness if you see your future in Europe and your primary goal in learning a language is to boost your career prospects.

Germany is the EU’s most populous country and its biggest economy. The likes of Siemens, Allianz and Bayer (not to mention a few well-known car markers) are huge employers in major industries. And research has found that learning German can have significant financial rewards. German ranks seventh in the PLI, but jumps up to third for the economic opportunities it brings – and is forecast to still hold both these positions in 2050.

6. Japanese

Not widely spoken outside Japan, Japanese still ranks as the fourth best language for economic opportunities (eighth overall). This is forecast to drop to sixth (and tenth overall) by 2050. So, who should still consider studying Japanese? People with clear ambitions in select fields – such as robotics, in which Japan is a global leader – could certainly still enhance their career outlook by doing so.

An international team meeting Japanese business leaders. Photo: Getty Images

7. Portuguese

An official language in ten countries or sovereign territories, Portuguese has more than 215 million native speakers, most of them in Brazil, and approximately 270 million total speakers. With Brazil’s development and the high number of Brazilians in Europe, Portuguese is rising in prominence. By 2050, it’s set to move up one place to eighth in the PLI – and to make a huge jump from 19th to ninth in the index for economic opportunities.

As we all look to the New Year, dedicating yourself to learning a language could have an incredibly positive influence on your life path. In addition to those above, you could also consider Russian (the world’s sixth most powerful language, but only 12th on the economic ranking), Italian (12th overall but up in eighth for its economic value), or how about Hindi? It’s forecast to be the fourth most powerful language for economic opportunities by 2050 – a remarkable rise of 12 places.

Cross-cultural learning at ESCP

If you’re looking for an international career, ESCP Business School offers a cross-cultural learning environment and the chance to live and study in three European cities in three years. There are six European campuses: Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, Turin and Warsaw.

ESCP attracts students from across the world, many of whom speak several languages and are eager to learn even more. Alongside their main programme (which is taught in English with some courses in Spanish, French or German), students on the Bachelor in Management (BSc) will study up to two additional languages from Chinese Mandarin, Spanish, French, German and Italian.

These language courses help students to fully adapt to the country they’re studying in, as well as brightening their career prospects. Students can gain a good understanding of business language in German, Spanish or French, including technical vocabulary not covered in a typical language course. And while you need to speak English to enter the BSc, students also enhance their abilities and vocabulary in the world’s number one language at ESCP, making them even better-suited to working in international environments.

Take this four-minute quiz to see if the Bachelor in Management (BSc) could be right for you, or perhaps a young friend or relative. 

Want to study business and improve your language skills? Find out more about ESCP Business School and its Bachelor in Management (BSc)

Member comments

  1. English won the competition for a global language. The rest will wither on the vine and go the way of Welsh and so many others. English is now taught as the primary second language in every EU country bar those that have it as a first language. It’s also the primary second language taught in China and Russia. The idea that French could now supplant English as the World’s common language is an idea Canute himself would be proud of.

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EDUCATION

Embassy warns students to avoid French pickles

As thousands of British students head to France to begin their gap year abroad, the UK embassy in Paris has issued a list of warnings on how best to stay of out trouble. From avoiding renting scams to not making any false friends, there are plenty of pitfalls students need to be aware of.

Embassy warns students to avoid French pickles

Congratulations, you’ve been accepted on a French study programme along with thousands of other lucky foreign students. 

You’ve packed your pocket dictionary, a beret and a garland of garlic but are you really ready to embark on a Gallic adventure?

No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re bound to encounter some problems as any seasoned foreign student will warn you.

Whether it’s an apartment scam, an untrustworthy "new best friend" or a lost passport, at some time or another the chances are you are going to get yourself into a scrape or two.

The one place that knows a thing or two about the kind of pickles students get themselves into in France is the British Consular, which has taken the step of issuing a series of warnings this week in order to help students stay out of bother.

“Every year we are contacted by students who have experienced difficulties during their time studying in France. We hope that these tips help ensure fewer students have difficulties," UK Ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts told The Local.

Here's what his staff are advising:

Beware of scammers:

Flat-sharing websites are like Disneyland for many scammers, who can't wait to take advantage of newly-arrived naïve students.

“If you’re asked to pay a deposit by cash money transfer, be wary – does the flat actually exist?” warn embassy staff. “We talk to people every year who have been a victim of scams like this one.”

If you’ve had no luck finding our apartment, check out The Local's top tips for finding a flat in Paris.

Health

Students from Britain spoiled by a free health service are often unaware that you have to pay upfront for healthcare in France.

“You’ll need your European Health Insurance Card to get a Carte Vitale, and you should get top-up insurance too,” say Consular staff. “Talk to the French university about this. Don’t wait until you’re ill, as you may have to pay for your medical costs up front.”

Insurance

“I’m young, why do I need insurance?” you may ask. There are many reasons why you may need travel insurance, ranging from a healthcare concern to a cancelled flight. And don’t just go for the cheapest deal.

“If things go wrong, you may need to be repatriated back to the UK? Does your travel insurance cover that if your travel insurance cover that if you’re on an exchange programme?,” the Consular warns.

Stay safe

No doubt you’ll be meeting lots of exciting new people, after all, that’s one of the main reasons people study abroad. But how much do you really trust them?

“Back home, your friends will make sure you get home safely – is that the case here?,” asks the Embassy.

Drink sensibly

Binge-drinking may now be an official French word now but that’s no excuse to booze it up.

“We’re not going to tell you not to drink (that probably won’t work!) but do make sure that you drink sensibly,” warn Consular staff, who can often be seen enjoying a sensible "demi" (half pint) in bars near the Consulate on a Friday evening.

No means no

No matter how fluent you are in French you are not a native speaker and should watch out for misunderstandings.

“Does that person understand what you’re saying? Does he (or she) understand that you’ve said no?”, staff warn.

Constant vigilance 

Whether you’re from a small town or a big city like London or New York you should always keep one eye open no matter how small your adoptive town is.

“A big city is a big city, even when it’s ‘une grande ville’. Remain vigilant and use common sense, just as you would at home. Don’t carry your passport on you,” staff advise.

Take care of the pennies

Euros may look similar to Monopoly money but you’ll need every cent you can get. French cities like Paris can be pricey places to live, especially on a budget.

“Draw up a budget and stick to it,” the Embassy advises.

For tips on how to do this check out The Local's ten tips for living on a student budget in Paris.

Learn French!

This may seem like an obvious tip but you’ll have much more fun this way as well as gain a vital skill, says the embassy.

Don’t keep it to yourself

If the idea of living in a big foreign city scares the living daylights out of you take this simple piece of advice: “If you run into trouble, talk to someone about it. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.”

Are you a student in France? Got into any scrapes you want to share with us? Let us know in the comments section below.

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