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The future of language - Washington Post article


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The future of language - Washington Post
By Rick Noack September 24 (interesting graphics in the article) 

To some extent, Americans have an advantage over much of the world's population: The country's two most widely
spoken languages — English and Spanish — are among the most widely spoken worldwide. So, are Americans still
willing to take language classes?

The number of American students who learned a language other than English decreased by about 100,000 between
2009 and 2013, according to research by the Modern Language Association. For many, taking a class in economics
might seem more beneficial than a French course. But is it really?

The Chinese dialects combined already have more native speakers than any other language, followed by Hindi and
Urdu, which have the same linguistic origins in northern India. English comes next with 527 million native speakers.
Arabic is spoken by nearly 100 million more native speakers than Spanish, which has 389 million speakers.

Which languages will dominate the future? Predictions vary, depending on your location and purpose. But here are a
few ways to approach this question.

You want to make money in growth markets? These will be your languages. In a recent U.K.-focused report,
the British Council, a think tank, identified more than 20 growth markets and their main languages. The report features
languages spoken in the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China — that are usually perceived as the
world's biggest emerging economies, as well as more niche growth markets that are included in lists produced by
investment bank Goldman Sachs and services firm Ernst & Young.

"Spanish and Arabic score particularly highly on this indicator," the British Council report concluded for the U.K. However,
when taking into account demographic trends until 2050 as laid out by the United Nations, the result is very different.

Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and Indonesian will dominate much of the business world by 2050, followed by Spanish, Portuguese,
Arabic and Russian. If you want to get the most money out of your language course, studying one of the languages listed
above is probably a safe bet.

Of course, demographic developments are hard to predict. Moreover, the British Council only included today's growth markets,
which says little about the growth potential of other nations that are still fairly small today. Also, Arabic and Chinese, for
instance, have many dialects and local versions, which could make it harder for foreigners to communicate.

Despite all that, the chart above gives a broad look into which linguistic direction the business world is developing: away from
Europe and North America, and more toward Asia and the Middle East.

You want to speak to as many people as possible? How about Chinese, Spanish or French? German linguistic expert
Ulrich Ammon, who conducted a 15-year-long study, recently released a summary of his research. In his book, Ammon
analyzes the languages with the most native speakers and the most language learners around the world. Especially for the
latter aspect, there is little original data available, which is why Ammon does not provide predictions of exact numbers of
speakers per language.

Here's his top three of the languages you should learn if you want to use the language as often as possible, everywhere in
the world. If you do not have time, however, don't worry too much: English will continue to top all rankings in the near future,
according to Ammon.

1. Chinese.  "Although Chinese has three times more native speakers than English, it's still not as evenly spread over the
world," Ammon said. "Moreover, Chinese is only rarely used in sciences and difficult to read and write."

2. Spanish. Spanish makes up for a lack of native speakers — compared with China — by being particularly popular as a
second language, taught in schools around the world, Ammon said.

3. French. "French has lost grounds in some regions and especially in Europe in the last decades," Ammon explained.
"French, however, could gain influence again if west Africa where it is frequently spoken were to become more politically stable
and economically attractive."

A 2014 study by the investment bank Natixis even predicted that French would become the world's most widely spoken language
by 2050. The authors of the study referred to were demographic growth prospects in Africa. "French is also widespread in many
smaller countries," Ammon said. However, the study did not take into account a significant fact: Not everyone who lives in
countries where French is  spoken is actually fluent in French.

You want to visit as many countries as possible but speak just one language?

Then English is your choice