Did you know that there are well over 6000 languages in the world, some of which are spoken by less than 1000 people?
Most people assume that English is the most spoken language in the world. In fact, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world; or, if you are being nitpicky, Mandarin Chinese is.
While English may not be the language with the most speakers, it is the most powerful language if you were to rank the world's languages using the Power Language Index (PLI).
Power Language Index uses 20 indicators to measure the influence and reach of languages, including basic opportunities afforded by the language.
The question this index tries to answer is: “What language would serve an alien best if they were to land on earth and had the same ambitions as humans?”
In that case, the language aliens would choose would:
- Allow them to gain knowledge and consume media (knowledge and media)
- Allow them to be diplomatic (diplomacy)
- Allow them to travel widely (geography)
- Allow them to earn a living (economy), and
- Allow them to communicate with others (communication).
When hundreds of languages were compared against these five domains, some languages emerged as the most powerful languages in the world. These powerful languages are also among the best languages to learn for business. They are:
One could say that English is the world's lingua franca. If you look at the Power Language Index scores, English has the highest scores at more than 0.8.
The English language technically has approximately 379 million native speakers. However, it is spoken by at least 1.1 billion people, and it is often the foreign language of choice to learn. This may be because it is the second language to a diverse group of people or because it is Latin-based and so easier to pick up by most people than most other languages.
A big concern people have about the English language is it may cause other weaker languages to die off. If more and more people learn and communicate in English, then the need for speaking the other languages lessens. This isn't entirely a bad thing, though, at least as far as cross-border business is concerned, because it would significantly ease communication among people.
However, some countries are taking steps to block the English language's encroachment as, perhaps, they rightly should.
It makes sense that Mandarin (Chinese's largest dialect) ranks second in the world as the most powerful language.
Mandarin has strong results in communication, economy & knowledge, and media. The language has approximately 918 million native speakers but is spoken by at least 1.12 billion people around the world.
The Mandarin language may be more difficult to pick up when compared to English, but when learnt it may allow you to communicate with approximately one in six people in the world.
When you consider that China is one of the largest economic powerhouses in the world, you will understand why many people tout the importance of learning the language.
French may have a small number of native speakers at approximately 77 million speakers, yet it has strong results in geography and diplomacy, making it the third most powerful language in the world.
French is considered a romantic language and descended from Vulgar Latin. It's the official language in 29 countries across different continents and is also one of the six official languages of the USA.
French is spoken fluently by approximately 235 million speakers, and it is common for people to choose French when picking a foreign language to learn.
The Spanish language comes fourth in the Power Language Index. It has over 450 million native speakers and over 500 million speakers in general.
Spanish is a beautiful language and it is spoken across several continents, including Central and South America, Spain, and by some people in the USA. In fact, it is one of the six official languages in the USA.
At least 20 countries claim Spanish as their official language, meaning you could be able to transverse the globe and find some native Spanish speakers.
Just like French, Spanish is considered by many a romantic language.
The Russian language, being the fifth most powerful language in the world, may come as a surprise to some people. However, it is the official language in more than 30 territories. Of the Eurasian languages, Russian is the most geographically widespread.
Russian has at least 154 million native speakers and more than 250 million speakers in general. It is derived from Old East Slavic and bears strong similarities with other languages like Ukrainian and Belorussian.
Russian is part of the top 5 most spoken languages in the world.
Closing the Top 10 Most Powerful Languages
The other languages that make up the top 10 most powerful languages are:
Except for French, the nine languages mentioned in this article plus Bengali make up the top 10 most common languages in the world.