Human languages are usually referred to as natural languages, and the science of studying them falls under the purview of linguistics. A common progression for natural languages is that they are considered to be first spoken, then written, and then an understanding and explanation of their grammar is attempted.
If you want to learn a language with a large number of speakers and which is spoken in many countries, the ones to choose in order of ‘usefulness’ are: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), German, Japanese, Portuguese and Hindi/Urdu.
The languages with the most speakers are:
This list includes first and second language speakers. The totals are all estimates and each source gives a different figure. If you include people who speak them as foreign languages, the total for English would increase significantly.
Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the USA after English, with around 28 million speakers. The third most spoken language is Chinese – mainly Cantonese, with over 2 million speakers. Other languages with over a million speakers include French, German, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Italian.
For English speakers the least difficult languages are probably: Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, Afrikaans, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish.
The most difficult languages for English speakers, and indeed speakers of most other languages, are Arabic, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
Languages in demand by employers
If you want to learn a language in order to improve your employment/promotion prospects then choose one that is in demand by employers. The list below gives you an idea of which languages are in demand and is based on job ads posted on recruitment sites. You can find links to the recruitment sites on the Careers using languages page.
Note: languages are shown more or less in order of popularity with employers.
- AfricaEnglish, French, Swahili, Arabic, Portuguese
- AmericasEnglish, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Japanese
- Asia-PacificEnglish, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Malay/Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese
- Western EuropeEnglish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Flemish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Finnish, Greek, Welsh, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic
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