Updated: Aug 5, 2021
What are the top 10 languages of the future, and why? Which languages lead to top paying jobs? One of our language experts takes a look at the facts.
“Everyone speaks English”, so the saying goes — except it’s not totally accurate. It is estimated that over 70% of the world’s population does not speak English.
With the UK preparing to leave the European Union and considering emerging economies such as China, Brazil and The Middle East, it might be time to look towards the advantages of multilingualism.
The good, the bad, the ugly
Do you remember The Government’s Brexit White paper? Translated into 22 languages, impressed mostly with the strange, outdated and even made up words. The German version — that is, the country with the largest population and most economic power in Europe — was most notable, with the choice of words being referred to by a reader as giving a “very mythical feeling”.
According to RMS Recruitment, “only 25% of British adults speak a second language”, as compared to over half of Europeans who speak a second language, and 90% in many countries like Sweden, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. (source)
The Guardian has stated that “the economic cost of the UK’s linguistic underperformance — in terms of lost trade and investment – has been estimated at up to £48bn per year, or 3.5% of GDP.” (source), with job recruiters further indicating that seven out of ten businesses value language skills in their employees, and that speaking a foreign language could land you some of the highest paid jobs.
But here’s the thing: “more than half (58%) of UK adults wish they hadn’t let the language skills they learned at school slip, 77% agree that language skills increase employability and just over half (53%) regret not having made the most of studying languages when they had the chance” (The Guardian). It instantly reminds me of many of my English friends, who, upon meeting, feel the need to ask how many languages I speak and then apologise for not speaking any foreign languages. So why not start learning?
What languages does the UK really need?
In 2017, the British Council published a list of ten languages which will be of “crucial importance for the UK’s prosperity, security and influence in the world in the years ahead”.
The study considered economic factors, such as current UK exports, but also future trade priorities, non-market factors: the public’s language interest and outward and inward tourism, and other balancing factors, like the levels of English proficiency in other countries. It concluded that the following would meet UK’s language needs.
Top 10 Languages of the Future
Over 400 million people speak Spanish, making it the world's most spoken language after Mandarin Chinese.
With a combined population of over 221 million people, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have all been identified by the Confederation of British Industry as upcoming economies.
Fun Fact: The first text in Spanish was written over 1000 years ago!
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with 800 million speakers.
It is one of the priority languages for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and additional diplomatic posts are being created in China.
Fun fact: Chinese verbs are not modified for tense like they are for English, and Chinese nouns have the same form for singular and plural.
The official language of many international organisations, 70 million people speak French as their first language, with 100-200 million speaking it as a second language.
French is the language most sought after by those employers looking for language skills (49 per cent).
Fun Fact: The French word "amour" ("love") is very interesting as it's masculine in the singular ("amour fou") and feminine in the plural ("belles amours").
Arabic has 230 million native speakers and a further 100–200 million people across northern Africa and western Asia, as a second language.
Arabic has emerged as one of the priority languages for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is their intention to increase the number of diplomats trained in Arabic by 40 per cent.
Fun Fact: There are about 11 words for “love” in Arabic, each describing specific stages of the process of falling in love.
Germany is the UK’s most important trading partner. With over 110 million native speakers, German is the tenth most widely spoken language in the world.
Fun fact: Made obsolete in 2013, the German language once had a 63 letter word: rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, meaning ‘the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef’.
Italy is the fourth most popular destination for UK tourists. It has approximately 70 million first language speakers.
Fun fact: Italian is the official language of classical music.
Dutch is spoken not only in the Netherlands, but it is also the official language of Flanders, the neighbouring northern provinces of Belgium, with 23 million speakers.
The Netherlands is the second most important non-English speaking goods export market for the UK after Germany, with recruiters pointing out that Dutch is in high demand.
Fun fact: The Dutch call their language Nederlands. They call German Duits.
Portuguese has 180 million speakers, 90% of them in Brazil. Brazil is also the seventh largest economy in the world and has been identified by the UK government as a priority country for international education.
Fun fact: Portuguese is the fastest growing European language in the world, behind English.
Japan is the world’s third largest economy, contributing significantly to the UK’s prosperity. It has over 120 million speakers.
Fun fact: The Japanese word for Japan means “Land of the Rising Sun”.
The UK’s international education strategy identifies Russia as a key target market for recruiting international students. It has approximately 150 million speakers, and is spoken as a second language by over 120 million people in Russia and neighbouring countries.
Fun fact: In Russian, the verb “to be” only exists in the past and future tense.
Bonus! Top 10 paying jobs
If you needed another incentive to finally start learning a foreign language, Adzuna has published a nifty list of the top 10 languages that will land you that big paycheck!
Here is a summary of their findings (up-to-date as of 2 May 2019 — and please note that Titanium Tutors has not been able to verify these statistics first hand):
Read more about learning languages:
Blog Post Crafted by Daniela
Daniela holds a BA in Drama from the University of Bucharest. Fascinated by film, she moved to London in 2015 to study Acting for Screen at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Since graduating, she has been dividing her time between acting and tutoring. With a passion for languages, Daniela speaks Romanian, Dutch and English, and hopes to soon add Spanish and Italian to the list. Outside of work, Daniela can be found climbing, dancing, running, and (when she manages to stay still) at the cinema, devouring the latest movies — although she’s mainly there for the candy.