Dear R W McCauley,
As you stated, there are several ways to determine what is the best
language to learn. You mentioned several indicators:
- How widely is the language is use
- Most similar to other languages
- Spoken in major economic powers
Wide usage of the language
In the United States, 28 million people speak Spanish as their mother
tongue. Others speak a variety of languages (2 Million speak Chinese,
1.6 million speak French, incl. Cajun, and 1.3 million speak German;
1.2 million speak Tagalog and 1 million speak Vietnamese), as you can
see in the US census:
However, the United States is not representative of the rest of the
world, where English takes hardly first place:
The site Krysstal has some statistics that would help you divide the
languages into groups, including charcter type:
"The 30 Most Spoken Languages of the World"
The top 10 are:
Mandarin Chinese, with 885 million speakers; Spanish, with 332 million
speakers; English with 322 million speakers; Arabic with 235 million
speakers; Bengali with 189 million speakers; Hindi with 182 million
speakers; Portuguese with 170 million speakers; Russian with 170
million speakers; Japanese with 125 million speakers; and German with
98 million speakers.
To conclude this part - it is best - demography wise - to learn
Spanish (most widely spoken after English in the US), after which,
Mandarin or Arabic would probably come.
However, and here we get to the part about the similarity of
langauges: both these two have unique alphabet (which you'll have to
learn), as well as non-European grammar.
Most similar to other languages
Several languages are known to share their roots with similar
languages of the same family, making it easier for those who
understand one language, to understand others:
Hindi - whereas many words are shared with other Hindu-Iranian languages
Russian - whereas many roots, grammatical forms and words are shared
with other Slavic languages
German - shares with other Germanic languages (incl. English): Dutch,
Scandinavian languages, etc.
Spanish - shares with the other Romanic languages (Romanian, Italian,
Major economic powers
The G-8 (Group of Eight) member nations are:
Canada, where English and French are spoken (as well as Native
French Republic, where French, as well as several local languages, is spoken.
Federal Republic of Germany, where German, as well as some
local/minority languages, is spoken.
Republic of Italy, where Italian, as well as some local/minority
languages, is spoken.
Japan, where Japanese is spoken.
Russian Federation, where the main spoken language is Russian.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where English is
the main language (alongside some local/minority languages)
United States of America, where English is the main language, and
whose language construction is discussed seperatedly .
European Union - Official languages:
(SOURCE: New EU languages: The new official languages of the European
It seems that if economic powers are considered, French might be the
best language to learn, alongside English (as well as Japanese or
Is that an Answer?
In my opinion, all the indicators you've mentioned help us to
understand which languages have importance in the world, because of
their expansion, or because they are a Lingua Franca, but does not
explain, which language is the "best" to learn.
"Best" is not only a matter of efficiency. It is also a matter of
other components: which language is the one where you could
communicate with a culture that fascinates you? Which is the one where
you could help the most people? Which is the one, where there is a
shortage of translators (for example: The US Government sought
Vietnamese speakers in the 1960s, eventhough this is not a common
language); which one is connected with your heritage, your culture and
your identity? And if it is only a business question - where you want
to make your business and with whom?
These are not easy questions at all.
Here are several advices:
"Frankly, the question can't be answered. That is, there's no single best
language, in economic terms, for a speaker of English to learn. Obviously,
English fills that slot for those who *don't* speak English. But once you
get past that fact, the choice of another language depends on the
individual's circumstances -- on whether the individual's business
interactions involve speakers of Japanese, Mandarin, German, French, Hindi,
or something else.
If I myself were trying to work out a language learning plan and had no
information about my future business career to help me, I'd first learn
French or German or Spanish -- because they are so much like English, and
would strengthen my language learning skills without undue effort -- and
then I'd move on to Japanese or Mandarin or some other language from a
family unrelated to English. However, that's just "hypotheticalizing"; it
might be useless in your particular circumstances.
In today's global society, what matters is perhaps not so much which
foreign language people learn but that they learn *some* foreign language."
(SOURCE: Re: What's the best language to learn?
A "study also showed that nearly a third (29.1 percent) of people
surveyed felt that knowing French would help or would have helped
their career or business prospects. 18.1 percent of respondents said
German would be helpful, and 10 percent said Spanish would be the
best language to learn. Welsh was seventh on the list of useful
languages, ahead of Chinese and Russian. Only 37 percent said a
language would not have helped them in their business or working
life." (SOURCE: GENDER GAP OPENS UP ON LANGUAGE SKILLS, <
Finally, my own opinion. I vote for German (similar to English),
Mandarin (most widely spoken), or French (still a second language in
many international settings).
eu "official languages"
similar roots languages
I hope this answered your question. Please contact me if you need any
clarification before you rate this answer.