The world’s most powerful languages: which one will you learn in 2022?

Speaking multiple languages opens doors for you – to international jobs, to meeting new people and to a greater understanding of the world. Academic studies rank English as far and away the world’s most useful language.

The world's most powerful languages: which one will you learn in 2022?
Photo: Getty Images

As you’re reading this, you’ve already got that covered! But which other languages could give you an edge in terms of international opportunities? And which will be the most valuable come 2050? 

As we approach 2022 and the world continues to evolve, The Local has partnered with ESCP Business School to explore which languages could help you create a brighter future for yourself. Students at ESCP can take courses in many of the world’s most important languages, alongside their main programme.

1. Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin is the most widely spoken native language with almost one billion native speakers – more than Spanish and English combined. According to the influential Power Language Index (PLI), Mandarin ranks second only to English, both for the overall value of the language and for economic opportunities. That is also forecast to remain the case in 2050 as China’s global influence grows. 

If you speak good Mandarin, you’ll be attractive to countless employers – across industries and borders – especially while fluent non-Chinese speakers remain scarce. Don’t expect it to be easy, however. It’s a tonal language, and some words can be pronounced in four ways – each with a different meaning. Want to read and write Mandarin? With its thousands of special characters, the challenge is enormous. Overcome it and you’ll have set yourself up for an exciting 21st century career few of your peers could ever hope to match.

2. French

French is an official language in 29 countries (second only to English) and is spoken on all five continents. It’s also an official language of the United Nations (UN), NATO, and the World Trade Organization. Proficiency in French can therefore prove a major advantage in careers related to international diplomacy.

Overall, French ranks as the third most powerful language today and will drop only one place to fourth by 2050. French is also the key business language in some of the world’s fastest-growing countries and economies in Africa. Add exciting cities such as Montreal, Geneva, and Brussels to the list of places where fluent French will help you to thrive, and it’s not hard to see why French is the world’s second-most studied language.

Founded in Paris in 1819, ESCP continues to offer many business students today the opportunity to study in France and improve their French (as well as various other leading languages).

3. Spanish

Spanish is an official language in 20 countries and boasts around 470 million native speakers. It’s the dominant language in Latin America and speaking Spanish is also a real advantage in the US, where the Hispanic population could hit 100 million by around 2050.

Little wonder that it has been ranked as the leading language of study for US students and the most in-demand among US employers. Spanish is also set to leapfrog French to become the third most important language by 2050, according to the PLI.

Interested in cross-cultural learning and a career in international business? Find out more about ESCP

Students studying in a coffee shop. Photo: Getty Images

4. Arabic

Arabic has approximately 300 million native speakers. It’s one of the six official UN languages and an official language in over 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

If your first language is English (or any other Indo-European language), learning Arabic is not easy. But achieving a high standard of Arabic could bring you significant rewards, particularly through companies that do business in the Middle East. Arabic ranks fifth on the PLI and is expected to maintain that to 2050, while rising from ninth to seventh in terms of its economic value to individuals.

5. German

German lacks the global appeal of the languages above; it’s an official language in only six countries, all in Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein). But don’t underestimate its usefulness if you see your future in Europe and your primary goal in learning a language is to boost your career prospects.

Germany is the EU’s most populous country and its biggest economy. The likes of Siemens, Allianz and Bayer (not to mention a few well-known car markers) are huge employers in major industries. And research has found that learning German can have significant financial rewards. German ranks seventh in the PLI, but jumps up to third for the economic opportunities it brings – and is forecast to still hold both these positions in 2050.

6. Japanese

Not widely spoken outside Japan, Japanese still ranks as the fourth best language for economic opportunities (eighth overall). This is forecast to drop to sixth (and tenth overall) by 2050. So, who should still consider studying Japanese? People with clear ambitions in select fields – such as robotics, in which Japan is a global leader – could certainly still enhance their career outlook by doing so.

An international team meeting Japanese business leaders. Photo: Getty Images

7. Portuguese

An official language in ten countries or sovereign territories, Portuguese has more than 215 million native speakers, most of them in Brazil, and approximately 270 million total speakers. With Brazil’s development and the high number of Brazilians in Europe, Portuguese is rising in prominence. By 2050, it’s set to move up one place to eighth in the PLI – and to make a huge jump from 19th to ninth in the index for economic opportunities.

As we all look to the New Year, dedicating yourself to learning a language could have an incredibly positive influence on your life path. In addition to those above, you could also consider Russian (the world’s sixth most powerful language, but only 12th on the economic ranking), Italian (12th overall but up in eighth for its economic value), or how about Hindi? It’s forecast to be the fourth most powerful language for economic opportunities by 2050 – a remarkable rise of 12 places.

Cross-cultural learning at ESCP

If you’re looking for an international career, ESCP Business School offers a cross-cultural learning environment and the chance to live and study in three European cities in three years. There are six European campuses: Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, Turin and Warsaw.

ESCP attracts students from across the world, many of whom speak several languages and are eager to learn even more. Alongside their main programme (which is taught in English with some courses in Spanish, French or German), students on the Bachelor in Management (BSc) will study up to two additional languages from Chinese Mandarin, Spanish, French, German and Italian.

These language courses help students to fully adapt to the country they’re studying in, as well as brightening their career prospects. Students can gain a good understanding of business language in German, Spanish or French, including technical vocabulary not covered in a typical language course. And while you need to speak English to enter the BSc, students also enhance their abilities and vocabulary in the world’s number one language at ESCP, making them even better-suited to working in international environments.

Take this four-minute quiz to see if the Bachelor in Management (BSc) could be right for you, or perhaps a young friend or relative. 

Want to study business and improve your language skills? Find out more about ESCP Business School and its Bachelor in Management (BSc)

Member comments

  1. English won the competition for a global language. The rest will wither on the vine and go the way of Welsh and so many others. English is now taught as the primary second language in every EU country bar those that have it as a first language. It’s also the primary second language taught in China and Russia. The idea that French could now supplant English as the World’s common language is an idea Canute himself would be proud of.

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EBAU: What you need to know about Spain’s university entrance exams

High school students in Spain who want to go to university need to take the EBAU entrance exam, or ‘la selectividad’ as it’s known. This is what it consists of and the changes authorities are looking to implement.

EBAU: What you need to know about Spain's university entrance exams

Depending where you’re from, the Spanish university entrance process could be a little different from in your home country. In Spain, most students take the EBAU entrance exam, or la selectividad as it’s usually referred to.

The EBAU is pretty different from taking SATs in the U.S, for example, or A-Levels in the UK. The system has also gone through some changes in recent years, and will be altered again for the 2024/25 academic school year.

What is the Selectividad?

The Bachillerato Evaluation for University Entrance (EBAU), is a series of exams taken by bachillerato students (literally meaning ‘baccalaureate’, the final two years of high school in Spain, similar to A-Levels in the UK) to test the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in their post-compulsory education.

As students can leave school at 16 years old in Spain, most students taking the EBAU are between 16-18 years old and their main objective is to gain access to university.

Is it the same everywhere?

Not exactly. There are some slight differences in terms of how long the EBAU exam period is, but it’s usually just a matter of days and most regions do it over 3 or 4 days.

Equally, for regions where there’s a ‘co-official’ language, such as Galicia, Valencia, Catalonia and the Basque Country, there’re also extra exam sections testing them.

How is it structured?

The EBAU is split into two parts: general and specific, sometimes referred to as obligatoria and voluntaria.

The general phase is made up of four or five different exams, depending on the region, and tests students’ knowledge and understanding of three or four compulsory subjects as well as one specialist subject taken in the second year of bachillerato.

This part includes sections on Spanish language and literature, the history of Spain, a foreign language (usually one of English, French, German, Italian or Portuguese, depending on the languages offered in each region) plus any regional languages in said region, such as Catalan or Basque, if applicable, and then a section based on the student’s module choice from one of arts, humanities and social sciences, mathematics and science.

The specific part of the EBAU allows students to choose any of the subjects they have studied during their bachillerato, up to a maximum of four (except in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Navarre, where a maximum of three subjects are allowed).

The specific section of the exam is an opportunity for students to increase their marks, and they can choose their best subjects regardless of the bachillerato pathway they have chosen.

READ ALSO: Selectividad: The changes to high school exams in Spain

Marking and grades

The EBAU is graded differently depending on the section. In the general part, each of the exams is marked from 0-10 to three decimal places.

The final mark is the average of these scores. In order to pass this phase, the minimum mark must be equal to or higher than 4/10.

For the specific section, each of the subjects is also graded from 0-10, but in this case only two decimal places are added. To pass, you must have a score equal to or higher than five.

In the EBAU, the marks obtained during the bachillerato course (60 percent) and the general phase (40 percent) are added together for a total score of 10. The exams for the specific modules are graded separately, depending on the pathway and chosen degree course. As such, it is possible to reach a maximum score of 14 points overall.

Changes coming up

The Spanish government announced some changes to the EBAU process last year. Though they were initially slated to come into force for the 2023/24 school year, this has since been pushed back by a year.

READ ALSO: Spanish government to create new university entrance exams

The key changes are as follows:

More comprehensive exams

The exam questions will be more comprehensive and students will be forced to think more critically. There will be fewer questions where they’ll simply have to memorise an answer and write it down word-for-word. For this reason, there will be fewer multiple-choice or fill-in-the-gap questions too.

More time for exams

With the new university entrance tests from the 2024-25 school year, students will have more time to take each exam. Until now students had 90 minutes, however, with the new ones an extra 15 minutes will be added, taking it to a total of 105 minutes.

History or philosophy?

When the new changes come into force, students will be able to choose between doing an exam on the history of Spain or the history of philosophy, giving them a greater choice.

Exam reviews

Another of the changes proposed is that students will have the right to a third remarking if they disagree with the result they receive. If the student disagrees with the grade obtained for an exercise, up until now they could only request a second review.