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10 most “useful” languages according to the World Economic Forum

Most useful languages

First of all, it is important to highlight the difference between the most spoken languages in the world and those more likely to provide career and job opportunities, since the economic and strategic weight of a language depends on many factors, not only on how many people speak it.

Top 10 languages in the world by number of native speakers

* The top 10  languages in the world by number of speakers are: 1. Mandarin Chinese 2. Spanish 3. English 4. Hindi 5. Arabic 6.French 7. Portuguese 8. Bengali 9. Russian and 10. Indonesian.

The Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) prepared by the World Economic Forum (WEF) establishes , among other things, the link between the Power Language Index (PLI) and the competitiveness of a country or region.

From a merely utilitarian viewpoint, today we’ll have a look at the most “useful” or, if you like, “profitable” languages in terms of job prospects and future income that they may yield.

Needless to say, there are a number of reasons why you may want to study a language, many of them even more important than the working future or economic return. Of course, we all have our personal goals and preferences. Nonetheless, in this post I’m going to focus on the most practical side.

Not surprisingly, as Latin language or French did before , the English language takes the lead (see the ranking below) as the world’s lingua franca. But… Who knows? If current growth trends continue, Spanish may well take first place within the next decades, since, as it seems, Mandarin Chinese has proved too difficult to learn for non-native speakers. In the current scenario, though, the truth is that four out of the ten more competitive economies in the world have English as an official language and, except for Japan, the other listed countries have an acceptable level of English.

10 most competitive economies

The most competitive economies, according to the World Economic Forum are: 1. United States, 2. China 3. Japan 4. Germany 5. United Kingdom 6. France 7. India 8. Italy 9. Brazil and 10.  Canada.

The EU paradox

languages EU

An important fact which we should not neglect is that, after Brexit, even though English is co-official in Ireland and Malta and it is an official language of the EU, no European country will be represented by English as  its official language in the Community institutions and bodies —the language representing Ireland in the EU is Irish Gaelic. Taking into account that the European Union —where French and German seem to play a major role— is one of the three world’s biggest economies (according to some specialists, the first one in many aspects), Brexit might change the balance of power in the Old Continent,  at least as far as languages are concerned.


According to the Power Language Index (PLI) produced by the World Economic Forum, the 10 most useful languages in terms of competitiveness are:

Language Score Native (MM) Geography Communication Media Diplomacy
1 English 0,89 446 1 1 1 1
2 Mandarin 0,44 960 6 2 3 6
3 French 0,34 80 2 5 5 1
4 Spanish 0,33 470 3 3 7 3
5 Arabic 0,27 295 4 6 18 4
6 Russian 0,24 150 5 10 9 5
7 German 0,19 92,5 8 7 4 8
8 Japanese 0,13 125 27 22 6 7
9 Portuguese 0,12 215 7 13 12 9
10 Hindi 0,12 310 14 8 2 10

The Power Language Index (PLI) uses 20 indicators to measure the influence on language, such as number of speakers, geographical coverage, the percentage of world GDP it accounts for, or cultural influence (notably through the diplomatic and media use).

Not without reason, some would argue that the commercial significance of a language depends strongly on where you are (e.g. if you are in Australia, German may be virtually useless from a business perspective, but Japanese will be central, as they are a major trading partner), or that Spanish is now more powerful than French and has much better prospects as a language on a global basis. Anyway, when you take a closer look at the benchmark, you realise that Spanish is hard on its heels. Be that as it may, these are the conclusions drawn by the WEF.


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