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What is the most useful second language in business?

A second language is always helpful in life and can be crucial in business. But next to English what is the second most valuable language to learn? What could help progress a career or what language would be the most useful to learn?

English is truly a global language, a common ground in a lingual minefield. It is often a pre requisite for employment globally and its usefulness in both a business and social environment is unrivalled. 

A second language is always helpful in life and can be crucial in business. But next to English what is the second most valuable language to learn? What could help progress a career or what language would be the most useful to learn?

Is it worth specifying in a niche language like German if you are interested in let’s say… engineering? Or would a path of a far more flexible ‘auxiliary’ language (A language used to communicate between speakers of two different native languages) like Spanish be more fruitful?

Traditionally European vocabularies have dominated global speech. English, French and Spanish are widely regarded as the three most important auxiliary languages due to their widespread nature.

Spanish

The second most widely spoken native language in the world; Like French and English, Spanish, from a small base, has its colonial roots to credit for its expansion. Holding particular presence in the Americas, Spanish is regarded as the most commonly understood language in the western hemisphere; Surpassing English due to its almost unrivalled use in South America.

It has been cited by linguists as a ‘growth language’ do to the financial progression and population increase in Spanish speaking countries, as well it’s English speaking neighbours- Predominantly the USA which has roughly a 1 in 4 Hispanic birth rate. 

Opportunities-The sheer amount of Spanish speakers with no second language means jobs in translation from Spanish in South America are still sort after.  South America’s unofficial position as food production capital of the west means employment in management and sales of agriculture produce is also in high demand.

Geoffrey Wood, professor of International business at Warwick University said.
“The South American countries are particularly firm with Spanish as they have had no need to learn other languages. They are surrounded by other Spanish speaking nations and maybe one Portuguese one… It means English is not very widely spoken yet.”

French

For many years, a direct contender for the international language crown. Its once sprawling empire has meant French is an official language in 29 countries and spoken by 220 million people.

Africa has the largest population of French speakers in the world, with a mixture of first and second language speaking countries as well as broad understanding across most of the Sahara region. 

Opportunity-The sub-Saharan region is particularly blessed with a rich mixture of minerals and is being quickly exploited. Employment in Engineering, geology, security and logistics usually require a basic command of French. 

Portuguese

Distributed sporadically across the globe, Portuguese is also rising on the power of an expanding nation. Due to the economic progression of Brazil and resource rich African countries like Angola, Portuguese has begun to grow to prominence once again. It’s worth considering for those already holding Spanish language skills, due to its close relation and similar lingual base.
Russian 

Owing much of its lingual distribution to its vast geographical size and eventual political domination via the Soviet Union. Russian is a widely understood language of Eastern Europe and central Asia. By landmass it would be by far the most spoken language; however the areas previously under ‘Russian influence’ are often sparsely populated.  It is often used as auxiliary language between Baltic, Balkan, Caucasus and central Asian countries.

Russian

Russian is a language beginning to suffer from the rise of English; the younger generation outside Russia are now learning English instead of the formally state-educated Russian.  However with 150 million native speakers it is still an incredibly useful tool in the Slavic world, particularly with those born before 1990 and educated under the Iron Curtain.

Opportunities-Moscow is still an economic power hub and with the rise of many Baltic and Balkan states to the EU jobs are plentiful in translation and traditional ‘city jobs’. It’s also worth considering the vast oil and gas resources Russia holds for jobs in mining, engineering and refinery.

Chinese

A complex ‘language’ with variants in dialect and formats that many linguists argue its classification. Mandarin, the most popular format of Chinese has nearly a billion native speakers; it is the most widely spoken first language in the world. However its complex nature and difficult writing style has meant it is almost exclusively spoken within the Chinese mainland or immigrant communities around the world. Secondary language speakers usually have business interests or personal connections with the language. With the rise of Chinese power economists believe that this may change and many people will begin to learn the language to compete in a Chinese run job market.

China is the centre of opportunity. Job sectors vary from architecture to media to sales any anything else the thriving country needs. 

Atiyah Wazir-Meadows, editor of the graduate career guide site EuroGraduate said. 
 “…China is driving global advancement and setting the pace in many thriving sectors, so other countries should be changing their views on languages in order to do business…”

Arabic
Descended from one the oldest languages, ‘Modern Standard Arabic’ is a standardized form of the widely varied language. Spoken officially in 27 states across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, dialects and pronunciation vary hugely. Often those who can read and write Arabic have difficulties understanding spoken variations of it.

 Opportunities-Those who can speak Arabic, with a European mother tongue, (usually English) could find lucrative employment opportunities in  boom states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Professions in oil, media, engineering and education are widely available for the bi-lingual.

German & Japanese

Two languages not normally grouped together but their nations do share many traits. Japan and Germany are two of the best educated nations in the world and both have a thriving engineering and automotive industry, they are business hubs of their respected continents and both are becoming highly educated in the English language. Those interested in work in this field could find better prospects learning the language, and would have the key to the world’s 3rd and 4th largest economies.

Dr Heather Marsden from the University of York comments that former York students, who are now working as translators and interpreters, recently reported that there is currently a European shortage of native English speakers who can translate from German. Although German may be falling in popularity in terms of what UK students choose, it seems that there are job prospects out there.

As English edges towards a global ‘lingua franca’ many professionals in the language world foresee varying outlooks for language trends.  The question was posed whether the rise in English as an ‘unofficial second language’ could be detrimental to nations with a natural aptitude and educational focus in English?

“Language attrition definitely takes place when individuals move to an environment where they no longer use their native language much. But I haven't heard of attrition taking place within the country where the particular language is spoken as the language of the mass media, government, education etc…”

People still speak Dutch/Swedish/German on the streets and education still takes place in those languages.” Dr Heather Marsden
Warwick’s Professor Geoffrey Wood also emphasised:

“Languages are resilient, if you look at smaller more obscure language like Hungarian [that] has resisted influence from other nations. They’ve spread into other countries and can be found in pockets in Ukraine, Romania [and] Serbia….”

What seems to be universally agreed, even with the rise of powerful international languages bringing political and financial change, a second language is almost universally a benefit for those willing to put in the work to learn and reap the rewards.

For more information from language learning specialists visit http://pearsonpte.com/Pages/Home.aspx

  • Date published: 19th November 2015
  • Written by: Daniel Young

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