The 5 Essential Languages for Business

Being bilingual opens you up to a whole stream of customers. Here are the most important languages of business today.
Author, Profit First
June 07, 2012

A mere few decades ago, you needed only one language to get around in business: English. But man, oh man, do times change. The world is becoming flat, and new economic superpowers are falling into place.

Even with the explosive growth of Web technology and its ability to translate written text on the fly, you are still at a significant disadvantage if you don't speak another of the key business languages. Speaking a native language allows you to understand technical references, acronyms, inferences, plays on words, jokes, slang and so many other things that are not conveyed through the written word along. We are likely decades or more away from technology advancing enough to truly understand language at the human level. So, for now, it is up to you.

Here are the five most important languages for an entrepreneur or business professional:

Spanish. The U.S. has over 35 million Spanish speakers, and there are 425 million Spanish-speaking people worldwide. For English speakers, Spanish is considered an “easy language” to learn. Since so many people speak Spanish it is likely you will often be working with someone, in some capacity, who speaks it.

Portuguese. With Brazil becoming one of the most significant superpowers, not only in the Americas, but the entire globe, Portuguese is the language to know. Brazil has positioned itself to be fuel independent (among other things), which means its important dependencies are reduced. And as a consequence of that, more business will stay within the country. If you want in, you better speak the language.

Russian. Russia's capital, Moscow, has the highest billionaire population of any city in the world. Not too shabby for a country that went through the Soviet Union collapse in the early '90s. Russia is rich in natural gas, oil, coal, precious metals and lots of highly educated, smart. The Russian language is based on the Russian alphabet, making it much harder for native English speakers to learn. This represents an advantage, because fewer people speaking Russian means the more you'll be in demand and able to tap into that market.

Chinese (Mandarin). China's dominance in the world economy makes it an obvious source of business opportunities for decades to come. With two primary variants of Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese, mastering either language is a benefit. But, Mandarin is China’s official tongue. And according to Bloomberg it is the top language worldwide for business, besides English. Over 1 billion people speak Mandarin.

English. English remains the number-one language for business. With economic powerhouses like the U.S., England, Australia, and large parts of India, English continues to be a critical language. Since you are reading this article, I assume you are a English speaker already. But don't let this fool you into believing you have mastered the language dialects. Study the country and regions where you do business and master the unique ways English is spoken.

This is your opportunity! Pick up an additional language and you will be able to out compete your competitors. And by the way, if you are really motivated, here are three more critical languages for business: Hindi, French and Arabic.

Do you have a language I missed? Tell me which one and why in the comments below.

Mike Michalowicz is an author the founder of multiple multimillion-dollar companies. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurial topics and is the CEO of Provendus Group–a consultancy that helps companies whose growth has plateaued. You can read Mike's blog by visiting his website at MikeMichalowicz.com.

Image by OPEN Forum

Author, Profit First