When thinking about the future, language might not be the first subject that comes to mind for you. But when imagining what the world might look like 10, 20, or even 30 years from now, it is a factor we should probably consider. With shifting political landscapes, and even our environment changing beneath our feet, the world is going to appear very different. What languages might be the ones to usurp English from its unofficial lingua franca crown to guide us through whatever is to come?
Logic tells us that a language that is already the most widely spoken on the planet might have a stake in whatever the future holds. 1.2 billion, or 16% of the world’s population speaks Mandarin, and China’s growing importance on the world stage means people are belatedly noticing what a useful language Mandarin is going to be.
With forging international trade ties and the world’s largest GDP, enormous developments in the fields of science and technology, and better relations globally overall, China might very well become the Superpower so many analysts and critical thinkers have long predicted. It’s no wonder then that Mandarin constantly tops popularity polls for language learners, or that so many more students are studying the language in our schools.
Spanish, like Mandarin, already has a huge global presence, with more than 330 speakers worldwide. Argentina and Mexico are two of the G20’s largest economies, and markets have spoken about the shift to business conducted in Spanish for many years. It should come as no surprise then that Spanish is considered by many to be one of the critical languages of our future.
There are already 20 countries around the world with Spanish already as an official language, including much of the coast of South America, as well as Spain. Spanish is also spoken unofficially in many states of North America, a number of countries in Africa, Andorra, and even in the Philippines. Spanish constantly tops the most popular language for students in schools as well as adults taking language classes. At least the language of the future might be one so many of us already know!
There are around 420 million native speakers of Arabic throughout the world, and an additional 100 million that speak it as a second language. Over 22 countries have Arabic as an official language, and our shifting political climate means that Arabic is an important language for us to understand to ensure better relations.
Since oil is such a critical part of our existence, our dwindling supplies means Arabic might have to be the language we know, to broker deals, negotiate, make trades that are to everyone’s advantage, and so on. And with business generally booming in places like Doha and Qatar, a future that is spoken entirely in Arabic is not one hard to imagine.
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There are some French speakers in this world who are convinced that French might one day be lost, but there is plenty of evidence that suggests the opposite! With 370 million speakers worldwide, and 29 countries that use French as an official language, French is already firmly established as a global language.
French has the world’s sixth largest economy, and aside from those 29 official countries is spoken through numerous more as well. Could French be the language of our future? A lot of people seem to think so!
Perhaps not a popular choice for everybody, but still a valid addition to this list of potential languages of the future. 150 million people speak Russian as a native language, and a further 110 million worldwide use it as a second. The size of the Russian Federation across parts of Europe and Asia means that it sits in an ideal position for business and trade. Surely, then, this already means Russian has a solid future ahead of it?
There are other alternatives, of course, with analysts and linguistic experts pointing to languages such as Portuguese, Hindi, German, and Japanese all as important future language contenders. English might even keep its dominance in the world, with English spoken as an official or primary language in around 50 countries, and numerous more using it unofficially besides. We are interested to see what the future holds for all of our languages; which ones will become most important to you?