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Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

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If you are a professional, business owner or entrepreneur and you are looking for opportunities abroad, you may have already considered learning one or several languages. This will give you an edge when dealing with customers and suppliers and is one of the keys to success. However, before you start, you must ask yourself the following question: Which are the most useful languages when breaking into a new market? Below is a non-exhaustive list of the essential foreign languages with the most future in the business world.

In an increasingly connected world, in which there is increasing trade in goods, services and capital on a global level, proficiency in one or several languages is an essential requirement for international trade. Working closely with suppliers, partners and company staff abroad and being able to communicate in their native language will help you to be more influential and competitive. Admittedly, English has more than 372 million native speakers in 94 countries. It is a key language, both within the European Union and in the rest of the world. It acts as lingua franca in the business and research world, and is also one of the official languages of several international organisations. For example, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, is a good knowledge of English enough to stand out on the international scene? We’re not so sure... Start by conducting in-depth research into the market that you want to break into and your objectives before selecting the language or languages that best suit your needs.

Spanish

Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

Although Spanish is not usually considered as a language of business, it is gaining increasing importance on the international scene along with Spanish-speaking companies and start-ups. At present, Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world with over 400 million native speakers. A good command of Spanish will open doors to markets on both sides of the Atlantic. Another noteworthy fact is the presence of the Spanish speaking population in the United States, where over one quarter of the population speaks the language of Cervantes within the family circle. Furthermore, Latin America has a huge growth potential and attracts a great number of investors. It has experienced exponential growth thanks to private and public capital, such as in Chile (where we can mention the Start-up Chile initiative, for example), which is currently considered as one of the most important in the world.

French

Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

There are around 275 million native French speakers on four different continents and, according to INSEAD, an institute that is dedicated to teaching and research in the business field, French is the third language of business in the world. Due to its geographical location, its economic power and its cultural activity, French continues to be the second most studied language in the world, with around 125 million learners. A good command of French will strategically open the doors to French speaking markets in over 29 countries. Besides Europe, it is also spoken in parts of Canada and many African countries such as Congo, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Cameroon. Out of the ten African countries with the greatest economic growth in 2016, five are French speaking countries. It is also worth noting that it is one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, the International Olympic Committee and the international court system. Furthermore, 19% of global trade takes place in French speaking countries and it has a significant presence on the Internet, being the third most spoken language on the web. In short, French is one of the essential languages as a language of diplomacy and commercial trade.

Chinese

Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

China is the destination par excellence for entrepreneurs who want to create their start-up, not only thanks to its economic growth, but also due to the multiple opportunities offered by the country and the low cost of its workforce. While English continues to be the language of business on an international level, it is worth learning a few words in Chinese to increase your probability of success in the second economic power in the world. With over 955 native speakers, Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world and it is the official language of five large economic powers. Although we tend to talk about Chinese in the singular, we must remember that this language has seven oral variations. In Taiwan, for example, Mandarin is the most widely spoken language, as it is in China, but in Taiwan the traditional signs are used in the written language while they have not been used for the past 50 years in China. If your target market is Hong Kong, you will have to focus on Cantonese in the case of the spoken language and traditional Chinese for the written language. Foreign investors tend to use a translator for their official documents and an interpreter for their business meetings. This is a perfectly understandable approach, as Chinese is a tonal language with highly complicated oral nuances for those who have only heard and spoken non-tonal languages. Nevertheless, in order to maintain a close relationship with employees, local partners and consumers, it is advisable to learn the basics of the language, in order to greet, say goodbye and interact in daily life.

Portuguese

Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

Portugal has once again become an attractive destination for foreign entrepreneurs, and it is gradually recovering from the crisis that struck a few years ago. However, as you well know, Portugal is not the only Portuguese speaking country or the greatest Portuguese speaking market in the world. Spoken by over 215 million people, Portuguese is present on three continents. Despite the recent economic recession, Brazil is a privileged country in terms of business. The first economic power in Latin America, Brazil continues to have an immense and young market to tap into, offering several commercial opportunities. Knowing Portuguese also opens up opportunities to emerging countries in Africa such as Angola (which has been a member of OPEC since 2007 and is one of the greatest oil exporters on a global level) and Mozambique. The dynamism of Portuguese speaking areas and exchanges between their members have been facilitated by the recent adoption of a joint orthographic reform. The importance and development of the language of Camões go hand in hand with the growth of the countries where it is spoken. In fact, UNESCO mentions Portuguese as one of the largest growing languages in the world, accounting for its huge popularity in the world of business and international relations.

Arabic

Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

Portugal has once again become an attractive destination for foreign entrepreneurs, and it is gradually recovering from the crisis that struck a few years ago. However, as you well know, Portugal is not the only Portuguese speaking country or the greatest Portuguese speaking market in the world. Spoken by over 215 million people, Portuguese is present on three continents. Despite the recent economic recession, Brazil is a privileged country in terms of business. The first economic power in Latin America, Brazil continues to have an immense and young market to tap into, offering several commercial opportunities. Knowing Portuguese also opens up opportunities to emerging countries in Africa such as Angola (which has been a member of OPEC since 2007 and is one of the greatest oil exporters on a global level) and Mozambique. The dynamism of Portuguese speaking areas and exchanges between their members have been facilitated by the recent adoption of a joint orthographic reform. The importance and development of the language of Camões go hand in hand with the growth of the countries where it is spoken. In fact, UNESCO mentions Portuguese as one of the largest growing languages in the world, accounting for its huge popularity in the world of business and international relations.

Arabic

Six essential languages for professionals and entrepreneurs

With over 210 million speakers and 95 million natives, German is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It is also the second language of 80 million people who live outside of the German speaking countries. Besides Germany, the language of Goethe is spoken in several EU countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg. We must remember that Germany is not only the first economic power in Europe, but it is also one of the main economic and commercial operators on a global level. It is obvious that German is an essential tool for foreign entrepreneurs who want to break into the German market or that of another country in the region. It is also worth noting that German is an important language in the field of research and science, particularly the social and human sciences.

José Gambín's picture
José Gambín
José Gambín holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.