Academic Program » Choosing a World Language

Choosing a World Language

In 1997, George Weber published a comprehensive academic study entitled, Top Languages: The World's 10 Most Influential Languages, in the journal Language Today (Volume 2, December 1997). His criteria were not solely the numbers of native speakers. He also included the number of secondary speakers; the economic power of the countries using the language; the number of major academic and political areas in which the language is used; the number of countries using the language, and their respective population; and the linguistic prestige associated with the mastery of the language. In 2008, Weber reassessed his article, and concluded that his findings were still correct since “the situation among the top ten remains unchanged.”

The following chart compares the influence of different world languages. The order of the languages is based on Weber’s list.

 

Language Rank (Weber)

Native

Speakers*

Learning

Language*

Enrollment US Colleges**

Countries

Spoken in

GDP Rank

Export/ Import***

Bloomberg Rank****

Difficulty Level

Critical Language?

English

527

1,500

 

101

1

 

1

 

 

French / Français

148

120

197,757

51

6

12/19

3

I

 

Spanish / Español

470

14.5

790,756

31

14

2/3

5

I

 

Russian / Русский

254

 

21,962

16

13

29/20

6

IV

Yes

Arabic / العربية

357

 

32,286

60

20

20/8

4

V

Yes

Chinese / 普通话

1,390

30

61,055

33

2

3/1

2

V

Yes

German / Deutsch

132

14.5

86,700

18

4

6/5

9

II

 

Japanese / 日本語

123

3

66,740

1

3

4/4

8

V

Yes

Portuguese / Português

262

 

12,415

12

9

9/16

7

I

Yes

Hindi / हिन्दी

537

 

1,800

 

7

18/10

NA

IV

Yes

 


*in millions in 2015, best estimates from various sources

**based on world language enrollments in 2013 in U.S. Colleges

***based on exports/imports with US in 2014—top 30 countries

****rank of the most useful world languages for business

Notes:

  • In the data above, the Spanish language economic focus is for Mexico.
  • In the data above, the Arabic language economic focus is for Saudi Arabia.
  • Portuguese is significant in large measure because it is the language of Brazil.
  • Hindi is the largest native language in India and is spoken by approximately 42% of the total population.
 

The following table summarizes the time that it takes to learn a world language in college based on the difficulty involved in learning the language.

All of the world languages offered by Global Village Middle School play a significant role on the world stage. For students beginning in sixth grade, we recommend that they take a Category I language so that they have the time in middle school and high school to develop significant proficiency.