The 8 Best Languages to Learn for International Business

Learn these top languages for global business and why they are essential.

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By Barney Meekin · January 25, 2024 · 7 minute read

Job hunting is daunting — especially when you’re straight out of college. You have your degree but no work experience. And then comes the dawning realization that all the other people applying for the jobs you want have degrees too. But many of them have something you don’t have: A long list of work experience on their resumes.

As a recent graduate, you can’t compete with years of experience. But there is one thing you can do to stand out — learn a new language. Globalization shows no signs of slowing down and business is becoming more and more international. That means language skills are more valuable than ever before.

Adding languages to your resume is a surefire way to make yourself more appealing to employers. Because companies want employees who can help them break into new markets or reach more customers.

In this article, you’ll learn about the eight best languages to learn for international business. These are the languages that can lead to more opportunities, success, and revenue for your business.

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How learning a foreign language can help you in business

Learning a foreign language opens up so many new opportunities you wouldn't have if you stayed within your country. Let’s say you come across an exciting product that your customers would love. But it’s made overseas and you have no way to connect with the manufacturer. Without language skills, say goodbye to that opportunity (and those profits). But if you speak their language, you have fewer barriers to getting that product. And making more sales.

Learning a new language can directly improve your bottom line through these kinds of opportunities.

What level of language do you need for business?

Common business skills like pitching, negotiating, and dealing with accountants aren’t even easy in your native language. Try doing them in a 2nd or 3rd language and you’ll realize there’s a minimum level of proficiency you need in business. There’s no standard level for business. But unless you’re at least B2 on the CEFR, you might struggle.

So if you want to break into a foreign market and make the most of your opportunities, it’s time to get studying.

The best 8 languages to learn for business

Don’t worry, we didn’t just pull these languages out of a hat. These eight languages are the official languages of the top 10 countries in terms of nominal GDP in 2023. In other words, they’re the main languages of the world’s biggest economies. If you’re looking for business opportunities, these prosperous countries are good places to start.

Remember this is just a general list of useful languages for international business. The language you should learn entirely depends on your business goals. If you spot an opportunity in Thailand, you need Thai. But if you’re still in the discovery phase, this list is a good place to get some ideas.

1. English

Top of the list — no surprises here — is English. It’s the main language of three of the top 10 largest economies in the world: The USA #1, the UK #6, and Canada #9. Sitting just outside the top ten is Australia at #13 too. But if that's all we said about English we’d be underselling its importance.

English is the lingua franca — and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. You can do business all over the world in English. An estimated 1.5 billion people speak English as a first or foreign language.

The business opportunities are endless when you speak English well.

But if you’re lucky enough to already speak English, don’t get complacent. By adding one or more languages from this list to your resume, you can become a huge success in international business. (Check out our article on how to add language skills to resume to know more!)

2.Mandarin Chinese

If you want to go far in the business world, look no further than Mandarin Chinese. China is the 2nd largest economy in the world. And although economic growth has slowed somewhat, China could still become the largest economy in the world in the near future. With 1.4 billion native speakers around the world, there are a lot of potential customers or partners for your business.

Learning Mandarin also gives you a road into Taiwan, the biggest microchip manufacturer in the world. Mandarin is going to be even more important in the future as the world gets more and more reliant on Taiwanese microchips.

3. Japanese

Japan’s economy has been stagnant for a while now, but there are still lots of chances to make money there. It’s still the 3rd largest economy in the world thanks to its world-class manufacturing. By learning Japanese you can access the huge vehicle industry and the increasingly high-tech robotics industry.

Learning Japanese will also give you more employment opportunities. As Japan’s population declines, demand for young immigrant workers rises. If there’s anything negative about learning Japanese is that it’s only spoken in Japan. So unless you have specific business goals in Japan, other languages on this list will be more useful.

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4. German

Next on the list is German. It's the 4th biggest economy in the world and the largest in Europe. It’s also an official language of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Germany is the largest manufacturer in Europe and is famous for its vehicle, machinery, and pharmaceutical industries.

Germany is bursting with business opportunities. If you’ve got the right idea and the German skills to back it up, you can make it big there. And don’t forget you’ll also get access to those other central European markets.

5. Hindi

With the biggest population in the world, there’s no better place to look for potential customers than India. It’s also the 5th biggest economy in the world and one of the fastest growing. To break into India a combination of English and Hindi will mean you can communicate with most of the country. Which is a whopping 1.4+ billion people. You’re sure to find someone to do business with there.

6. French

French isn't the lingua franca anymore, but understanding it gives you access to two of the biggest economies in the world: France and Canada. It’s also useful in some of the fastest growing economies in the world like Morocco. In total people in more than 25 countries use French. So you’re bound to find some business opportunities.

France is famous for its aerospace industry (being the home of giant companies like Airbus), nuclear power, and vehicle manufacturing. If you’re interested in any of these industries, French is the language for you.

7. Italian

Another European giant is Italy. It has the 8th biggest economy in the world, the 3rd in Europe, and the 2nd biggest manufacturer in the EU. Italian corporations make high-quality wine, designer goods, vehicles, and machinery. Mastering Italian can open up doors for you in these industries.

8. Portuguese

Brazil has the biggest economy in South America and one of the fastest growing in the world. Getting to grips with Portuguese can give you opportunities in Brazil’s agriculture, mining, and manufacturing industries. And if you have any previous knowledge of Spanish or Italian, it isn’t too difficult to learn.

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