But with an estimated 7,139 languages spoken around the world today, finding the right one for you can be tricky. Should you choose a language that can provide you with greater earning potential or stick to one that is easy for English speakers to pick up? Or perhaps you should make your decision based on the countries you’d most like to visit?
To help you make up your mind, we’ve put together a list of the 10 most useful languages to learn in 2023.
1. Mandarin Chinese
With more than a billion Mandarin Chinese speakers on the planet, it takes the top spot on our list. China’s status as one of the world’s most influential superpowers also means that learning its most commonly spoken language is invaluable in a global job market. This value is even greater if you work in a field that depends on trade with other nations, as China has been the world’s largest exporter of goods since 2009.
While Mandarin Chinese appears vastly different from English, learning the language may not be as difficult as you first imagine. It has a relatively simple grammatical structure, so you won’t need to learn complex cases, tenses, or gender rules.
As the second most commonly spoken language in the world, Spanish has 471 million speakers and is the official language of countries such as Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and Mexico.
With so many of these countries located in South and Central America, learning Spanish could be especially useful for adventurous travelers keen to venture off the beaten path. If you were to visit these regions, understanding the language could provide you with a far more authentic experience than relying on English. For example, it could enable you to chat with locals about their culture or to visit areas that most tourists don’t get to see.
Even if you plan on staying closer to home, becoming proficient in Spanish could also help you better communicate with the millions of native speakers who have settled in the US.
As the official—or co-official—language of fast-growing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco, Arabic is a wise choice for learners who want to live or work in regions that are set to thrive in the coming years. Speaking Arabic could be especially useful if you work in the real estate, energy, or construction sectors, as many Arabic-speaking countries are leaders in these industries.
If you’re planning to learn more than one language, having a working knowledge of Arabic could also help with your studies of other dialects. Arabic began as a nomadic language, and its speakers moved around many parts of the world. It has numerous similarities with other languages, especially Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish.
French may seem like an obvious choice for many of us when we’re considering learning a new language. It is, after all, the language of love. And who hasn’t dreamed of visiting Paris at some point in their life?
But with more than 275 million speakers across all 5 continents, there are other more practical advantages to learning the language. Much of the French-speaking world is located in Africa, and speaking the language could give you a competitive edge if you’d like to live or work in the fastest-growing continent in the world.
And if you’re an English speaker, you may find French an easy language to acquire as the two share a common alphabet and a great deal of vocabulary.
With Russia being the largest country in the world by area, it’s unsurprising that learning its language can open up a wealth of possibilities.
If you enjoy traveling for cultural purposes, you may also be interested to learn that Russia has 30 World Heritage Sites listed on UNESCO. These include The Kremlin and Red Square and the historic center of Saint Petersburg.
Russian does have a reputation for being one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to master. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re up for a challenge.
The Russian language is also known for its especially colorful swear words, which is likely a reflection of the passionate and expressive nature of the language itself.
Italian is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful—or at least one of the sexiest—languages in the world. With approximately 63 million speakers, it also has countless art, business, and cultural applications.
Learning Italian could be especially useful if you’re planning a career in academia. Some of the most influential texts in history were originally written in Italian, such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Petrarch’s sonnets.
And if you’re a lover of fine food, having a firm grasp of the Italian language could help you better understand what is in some of your favorite gourmet dishes. For example, you could learn that “tira mi su” is translated as “pick me up” in English, which is a reference to the energy boost received from the shot of espresso added into the popular dessert.
Learning the Italian language is also an excellent way to improve communication with other members of your community. According to the latest census data, more than 16 million Americans report having Italian ancestry.
With the highest GDP in Europe, there’s no denying that Germany is a powerful economic force on the continent. On a more global stage, some of the world’s most successful corporations have their roots in the country. Siemens, Volkswagen, and Adidas are all headquartered in Germany.
Therefore, knowing how to speak the language can be a valuable asset for professionals who work with clients in the region. German is also an official language of the European Union, which makes it a good choice if you want to pursue a career in politics or diplomacy.
English speakers may also be at an advantage when learning the language. The two share many pieces of similar vocabulary, with words such as computer, email, and flip-flop sounding the same in both languages.
As the 6th most widely spoken language in the world, Portuguese is the fastest-growing European language after English. It is also the native language of more than 200 million people, with its speakers living in countries such as Brazil, Angola, Portugal, and Mozambique.
Likewise, it is an official language of several governing bodies such as the Union of South American Nations and the European Union. It goes without saying that fluency in Portuguese is a huge asset for professionals wishing to work in international relations.
For those interested in travel, speaking Portuguese could also be a gateway to some of the most breathtaking destinations in the world, such as Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro or the beaches of Mozambique.
With Hindi being the official language of India since 1950 and the fourth most widely spoken language in the world, it’s the most logical language to learn if you have a strong interest in Indian commerce or culture.
One of the most attractive features of learning Hindi is that each of the letters in its alphabet has its own distinctive sound, which means its words are pronounced as they are written.
The language is also typically easier for English speakers to pick up. A number of common English words have their origins in Hindi, such as shampoo, bungalow, and bandana.
When deciding on a language to learn, you should consider which countries are robust enough to withstand upheavals in the global economy. Learning the languages spoken in these regions could provide a boost to your career in years, or even decades, to come. According to data from the Bank of Korea, South Korea’s economy grew by its fastest rate in 11 years in 2021 despite the global pandemic thanks to a booming export industry.
If immersing yourself in another country’s culture is at the top of your agenda, the Korean people have a reputation as being one of the most friendly and welcoming in the world.
Following the release of hit shows such as Squid Game and Hellbound and the rise in popularity of K-Pop, gaining a deeper understanding of Korean culture could also be a compelling reason to learn Korean for many language students.
Understanding how each of these languages could enrich your professional or personal life can better equip you to determine the next step in your education. Alternatively, you may prefer to learn a language that isn’t on our list. Either way, learning a new language is always a good choice to make.
If you’re feeling nervous about the prospect of learning a new tongue, remember the process may be simpler than you think. With dozens of top-notch apps to help you with your education, you can learn at a pace that suits you. Bonne chance!