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The Most Popular Second Languages

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Learning a second – or even a third or fourth – language can be an invaluable life skill.

In the UK, for example, learning a language is part of the curriculum, but only for a few years of a young person’s life, with no obligation to continue this education. However, across many other countries in the world a significant number of the population are found to be bilingual; take Latvia, where it’s believed that 95% of residents speak more than one language.

Where you live, your personal heritage and your education can all play a part in the number of languages you can understand, but there are huge advantages to learning a second language, even in adulthood.

Language-learning can open up a world of travel and employment opportunities, and it’s a fantastic way to exercise your cognitive ability.

On a business level, having access to a bilingual or multilingual workforce can help you to reach a wider, more international audience to expand your operations.

But which second languages are people most likely to have knowledge of? Of course, it depends where in the world they originate from, but there are five languages that stand out among the most popular second languages.

1. English

English is the world’s most popular second language, with people across all five continents speaking it – French is the only other language to be spoken so widely in a geographical sense.

Some 1.5 billion people across the globe are able to speak English, but only 400 million of these individuals would call English their first language, meaning it’s been adopted as a second language by more than one billion people.

The reason why English is spoken so widely is largely a legacy of the British Empire, with the global influence of the United States also playing a key role in the popularity of the language.

Today, English is the global language of the online world and the media industry, plus it’s one of the most important business languages of all; being able to communicate with your audience in English can help you to access customers and opportunities anywhere in the world.

2. Hindi

Hindi is the world’s second most popular second language, with 295 million speakers adopting it on top of their mother tongue.

Hindi is the primary language of Bollywood, with some 1.2 billion people in the target market for films produced in Hindi, presenting the industry with a huge global opportunity.

What’s more, the Hindi language has many similarities with Urdu, so the ability to converse in Hindi can open up communication opportunities across India and the country’s diaspora around the world.

3. French

At numéro trois on our list is French, which boasts approximately 200 million second language speakers.

French is of course the official second language of Canada, and is one of the most widely taught languages in schools across the globe. This is partly because learning French can be a good starting point for picking up other Romance languages, including Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, as many of their words share common roots.

4. Mandarin

The number of people speaking Mandarin Chinese as a second language varies worldwide, but it’s actually the most widely spoken language of all. It’s the main second language in Australia and it’s one of the most popular languages for English online language learners to focus on.

With its complex syntax rules, Chinese characters and the chance to learn a whole new vocabulary, learning Mandarin presents an opportunity to stretch your cognitive ability, and opens you up to 8,000 years of rich heritage and culture.

The economic success of China is an obvious draw for learning this language, opening individuals and businesses up to a wealth of opportunities across the globe.

5. Latin American languages

Spanish and Portuguese, the two main languages of Latin America, are widely adopted second languages too. For example, in Brazil where Portuguese is the official language, Spanish – which has some 450 million speakers globally – is the most common second language; in Latin America’s Spanish-speaking countries, the situation is vice versa.

English and French are also learnt widely throughout this region, making it incredibly multilingual, and presenting huge global opportunities to businesses.

Language Connect: a business built on second languages

At Language Connect, our team of experienced translators and interpreters comprises bi- and polylinguists; some may be fluent in English and Spanish, some in French and Arabic, and others in Tagalog and Filipino. We service over 160 languages in all manner of combinations.

Wherever in the world the people you want to reach are, we can match you with the right linguist to help your business to meet its goals – and that’s all thanks to the practice of people learning second languages.

Find out more about the translation services available at Language Connect.

Language Connect delivers fast, accurate language translation services 24 hours a day