What are the Most Important Languages for Global Business

by Charles Channing, Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 at 7:42 am

(eCommerce, Fun & Cool, Global Marketing, Language & Translation)

Now English is the most popular languages in the world, however It is not the mother tongue for most English speakers.

Being monolingual will only get you far in the global marketplace.

You can see, in many countries, there are many widely used languages instead of one or two official languages only.

The global business is increasingly multilingual, that’s why we recommend you to  Design your website for the world market as early as possible.

When considering the choices of your target markets and languages, you might be very interested in this question:

What are the Most Important Languages for Global Business?

Actually there is no absolute right answer for this question.

However we can study on the popularity of different languages to help you make the best choices for your global business.


 Global Business Languages


—Top 11 languages with global influences

1. English

English is now the global language of business.

Although it only has about 500 million native speakers there are almost 2 billion people in the world that communicate in English on a regular basis.

More and more multinational companies are mandating English as the common corporate language.


2. Simplified Chinese

Simplified Chinese is the written form for the mandarin Chinese used in Mainland China.

With the world’s second-largest economy and over one billion native speakers, China is a huge potential market for many businessman.

Your capability to deliver your business message in simplified Chinese will grant you tons of amazing opportunities in mainland China and other Chinese communities.

Chinese is also one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world.

Many people are confused with these terms: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Cantonese, Mandarin. the following two articles can help you.

Difference between Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese
Differences Between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese

If you need to explore the Taiwan, Hongkong and Macau markets, traditional Chinese will be your choice, however, the market size is more limited.


3. French

French is another useful business language.

Why?  French was the world’s most dominant language before English stole the spotlight.

French is spoken by 68 million people worldwide and the official language of 27 nations.

It’s spoken in over 40 countries in the world, and it’s one of the most common languages found on the Internet, only second to English.

France is a key player within the eurozone, with many representatives of the country holding key positions within the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations, NATO, UNESCO and a number of other international organizations.

If you’re hoping to break into the European markets, say “oui” to French!

Also there are a large number of native French speakers residing right within North America in addition to a large number of French-speaking colonies worldwide.


4. Arabic

There are over 300 million Arabic speakers in the world, and this is definitely an “essential” language if you’re in the petroleum or defense industries.

As the economic strength of the Middle East becomes more and more apparent, the importance of Arabic language has also increased.

This is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations and is the native language of roughly 20 countries.


5. Spanish

Spanish has just as many native speakers as Arabic, and it’s also the official language in over 20 countries,

Spanish can get you around all of Central and South America (excluding Brazil and the smaller countries like Suriname), as well as Spain. It has also been a big language in the United States.

With around 5% of the world population speaking it, it has just a bit more speakers than English does.

This is a huge market which you should not ignore.


6. German

German is part of the same language family as English, and it has a long history of art, literature.

Unlike Chinese, French, Arabic or Spanish, German is not an official U.N. language. However, it is an official language in three economic powerhouses in Europe, which are Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

It’s so important when we talk about business.


7. Russian

With around 200 million native speakers, Russian is understood throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

It is estimated that there are as many as 250 million Russian speakers worldwide.

Russia’s economy continues to grow and strengthen as the nation develops further.

Most of the Russian native speakers live within the Russian borders, while other Russian speakers reside within many former soviet republics, such as Ukraine, Latvia and Kazakhstan.

As a business language, Russian is still a major player in the global arena.


8. Portuguese

Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and Portugal.

Spoken by about 200 million people world wide, Portuguese is actually the most popular language in the Southern Hemisphere and along with English, French, and Spanish, it is considered a “world language” due to its global reach.


9. Japanese

Spoken by about 120 million people, most of its speakers reside within the borders of Japan. It is considered a super difficult language to learn, it has even three alphabet systems.

Japan is, one of the worlds reigning economic powers.

As a result Japanese does hold significant influence in the realms of business and trade.


10. Cantonese (Traditional Chinese)

Despite having only 1/20th the number of the speakers, Cantonese has a much more global reach than Mandarin. Not only is it spoken in southern China and Hong Kong, but also in Chinese communities around the world.

When we talk about the writing systems of Traditional Chinese, it should be consider another language different from simplified Chinese.

Taiwan is the place where people speaking mandarin but use the traditional Chinese.


11. Italian

In the European Union it has 65 million speakers but if you count the numerous regions abroad where it is spoken as a second language then the number gets closer to 90 million. Also please note it is the official language of the Vatican and carries considerable weight in the worlds of music (particularly opera), international sports, and design/fashion.


Regional Influential Business Languages


  • 1. Dutch/Africaans

With a total of around 50 million speakers, the mutually intelligible languages of Dutch and Africaans (Africaans is a daughter language spoken in South Africa that formed out of Dutch dialects) find significant usage everywhere from Europe to South America to Indonesia.

  • 2. Korean

Although it is spoken by almost 80 million people in North Korea, South Korea, and China, it has not achieved a significant level of influence beyond the borders of the Korean Peninsula.

  • 3. Swahili

Used extensively along the east coast of Africa as the language of trade, Swahili has upwards of 100 million speakers (only a small portion are native) and is the official language of several countries. It’s influence is steadily growing and many major international news outlets now feature Swahili language broadcasts.

  • 4. Hindi/Urdu

These sister languages are very closely related and really only differ in their writing system. Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, is written using Arabic script while Hindi, the official language of India, is written in Devanagari script. Although neither has significant influence outside of the Indian Subcontinent, they have a combined total of over 200 million native speakers and hundreds of millions more that speak them as a second language.

  • 5. Bengali

With over 200 million speakers, Bengali is the sixth most spoken language in the world. The only reason it is so far behind the other 5 (who rank much higher on this list) is because it is primarily spoken in only one very small geographical region – the extremely densely populated country of Bangladesh.

  • 6. Punjabi

With approximately 90 million speakers Punjabi is the 10th most spoken language in the world and although it is the primary language of the Indian state of Punjab most of its 90 million speakers reside in Pakistan. As far as having global influence, Punjabi hardly compares to some of the other languages on this list but with so many speakers it was bound to end up here somewhere.

  • 7. Malay (Malay / Indonesian)

In Malaysia it’s known as Malaysian (Malay) while in Indonesia it is known as Indonesian. Although the nomenclature can get a bit confusing, Malay as a whole is spoken in numerous countries throughout the region accounting for hundreds of millions of speakers.

  • 8. Farsi (Persian)

With over a hundred million speakers, Farsi holds official status in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan and has a long history of being regarded as a “prestigious cultural language” throughout Central Asia.

  • 9. Tamil

Spoken primarily in several southern Indian states, Tamil also holds official language status in Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is one the oldest languages still in use today and has around 80 million total speakers.

  • 10. Turkish

As the language of the most dominant power in the Middle East and one of the largest economies in the world, Turkish is spoken by 83 million people primarily in Turkey but also in various regions around Central Asia.

  • 11. Vietnamese

Spoken by roughly 90 million people, Vietnamese doesn’t rank any higher due to the fact that it is used almost exclusively in Vietnam. The language has, however, begun to propagate beyond the country’s borders as immigrants take it with them to Europe and America.

  • 12. Polish

As the second most widely spoken Slavic language after Russian, Polish speakers stand at about 46 million strong. Although there are numerous communities of Polish speakers living abroad, Polish is not nearly as influential a language as some of its other European counterparts.

  • 13. Javanese

Not to be confused with Japanese, Javanese is also the primary language of an eastern Asian island. Java, found in Indonesia, is the worlds most populous island which gives Javanese a total number of native speakers numbering close to 90 million.

  • 14. Thai

While it is technically spoken by around 25 million people, the official language of Thailand has a number of mutually intelligible dialects that brings the total number of speakers to around 60 million.


I wish this guide could help you quickly find out the most influential languages and biggest markets in the world.

However, your specific target markets determines what languages you might need to localize, I understand you might want to further choose some more other languages for certain markets.

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