Which foreign languages are most useful?

booktranslations_v1

The picture above (from the WEF site) gives one answer in terms of the most influential languages as reflected by book translations.  There seem to be definite nodes at English, French and Russian, then less clear ones at Dutch, German and Chinese.  But it is hard to give an exact interpretation of this figure, or indeed the other ones displayed at the same place.

Otherwise, the Internet reveals a number of attempts at weighting-and-ranking:

BRITISH COUNCIL

A British Council report on Languages for the Future dating from 2013 takes account of 1. current UK export trade 2. the language needs of UK business 3. UK government trade priorities 4. emerging high growth markets 5. diplomatic and security priorities 6. the public’s language interests 7. outward visitor destinations 8. UK government’s International Education Strategy priorities 9. levels of English proficiency in other countries 10. the prevalence of different languages on the internet and their table of English proficiency by country is quite interesting:

engprof

From the point of view of importance to Britain, they give a ranking of:

britcosum

This may well be the answer from the British perspective!

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

A further study (2016) from the WEF considers languages under the criteria of 1. Geography: The ability to travel 2. Economy: The ability to participate in an economy 3. Communication: The ability to engage in dialogue 4. Knowledge and media: The ability to consume knowledge and media 5. Diplomacy: The ability to engage in international relations and comes up with the following results:

powerlang

LIST 25

List25 gives a list of the world’s 25 most influential languages as of 2014, where the rankings are not just done according to how many people speak the language. Of course this is taken into consideration but so is how many people speak it as a second language, its impact on global commerce and trade, and its lingua franca status around the world.

They have some nice maps, for instance for French:

french

and come up with a ranking of 1. English 2. French 3. Spanish 4. Arabic 5. Mandarin 6. Russian 7. Portuguese 8. German 9. Japanese 10. Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) 11.  Malay…

CBI

Meanwhile, the CBI Skills Survey for 2017 gives the following:

skillsurvey

So, English is clearly the most important/useful/influential language of all times and peoples, and we will set it aside in what follows.

Using the British Council rankings as a starting point, we can summarise the results as below, where languages outside the British Council list are ranked by number of occurrences and then average ranking where listed:

britco1

Or we can apply the same procedure for all of the languages that occur more than once without privileging the British Council rankings, so that we rank first by number of occurrences and then average ranking where listed:

britco2

So, the world’s second most important language might be French, Spanish or Mandarin.  In fact, the top 5 for the British Council and the combined ranking have the same laguages, if not quite in the same order:  French, Spanish and German (the languages most widely taught in British schools) together with Mandarin and Arabic (rarer and more challenging, one might say).

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