As a result of the globalisation of language, the leading ten languages in the world today reach an impressive 82 % of the world’s population. English has famously been labelled the first ‘global language’ with its dominance of world business, academia, entertainment and the internet, whereas Chinese is still spoken by the largest number of individuals. Growing economies, overseas policies, and migration all influence the growth and expansion of language, and today we will be looking at the current top ten languages in the world.
As mentioned above, Chinese is still the world’s biggest language with nearly a billion native speakers. Although it hasn’t yet spread globally to the same extent as English, with the Chinese population growing, and an increasing focus on foreign investments, it could well follow in English’s footsteps in becoming a globalised language. Already there has been a big increase in people learning Chinese as a foreign language, with 750,000 people taking the Chinese Proficiency test in 2010, as opposed to 117,660 in 2005.
It is true to say that English has become the world’s first global language not wholly by chance. Having such a widespread language does bring about huge advantages to countries where it is the native tongue, and with USA being the country with by far and away the most native English speakers, it is no coincidence that the current World Superpower has managed to achieve linguistic dominance. India and China are two of the countries with the largest amount of ‘English as a foreign language’ speakers, with it being reported that there are 300 million English language learners in China alone.
With 400 million native speakers, and economic growth in Latin America, where Spanish is the ‘lingua franca’, Spanish is on the rise. The IMF recently released growth projections for the region of 3.7% in 2012, and 4.1% in 2013, with Mexico the second strongest after Portuguese speaking Brazil. Spanish is also the most popular second language in the United States, with six million learners, adding to the 45 million Hispaniphones already in the country.
Hindi and Urdu are sister languages, really only separated by their written script, with Urdu using the Arabic script, and Hindi the Devanagari. India has a complicated language structure, with the general acceptance of having a three tiered system, where students have to learn some of their local language, in combination with standardised modern Hindi, and English. According to the 2001 census, approximately half a billion people speak some form of Hindi in India, although there were also 50 different versions of the language recorded. As the Indian economy continues to grow, perhaps an increasing number of people will consider learning Hindi as a second language.
French is the official language of 25 countries, making in the most popular ‘lingua franca’ after English. Almost half of all French native speakers live in Africa, with a total of 96.2 million on the continent, and with current population growth, the IOF (l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie) believes that there may be upwards of 700 million French speakers globally by 2050.
The popularity of learning Arabic as a second language seems to be increasing rapidly, with US colleges stating that it’s the fastest growing language within their institutions. If modern communications tools are anything to go by, the fact that between 2010 and 2011 Arabic posts on Twitter grew by 2000%, the most of any language, is further evidence of its rapid growth. Arabic is the official language in 26 states, the third most of any language.
Japanese is notoriously difficult to learn, and thus there are few speakers outside the 120 million natives. With four distinct writing styles, and a whole host of dialects, it is easy to see why people are put off learning it. In addition to this the grammar is also affected by the level of formality and gender. Largely through its growing business influence and popular culture, through anime films, Japanese is growing in popularity with American students however. It is now the 5th most popular language to learn in the States, after Spanish, French, German, and Italian.
Portuguese is the most popular language in the southern hemisphere, and with Brazil developing as an international superpower, it may well begin to spread its influence further afield. With a population in excess of 190 million, Brazil is home to the majority of Portuguese speakers, with latest figures suggesting 81 % of native speakers live there. Brazil is currently the world’s sixth largest economy, and is predicted to become the fifth by the end of 2012. With such economic strength comes a massive linguistic influence, and soon many more people may be encouraged to learn Portuguese as a second language.
With the collapse of a number of economies within the EU, and unemployment rates rocketing, more and more people it seems are heading to Germany. Research recently suggested that in less than a year 22% more Italians and Greeks had become registered to work in the country. This has also lead to an increase in the study of German, with the Goethe Institut recording an increase in German language learners of 35, 20, and 14 percent respectively in Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
Korean is spoken by 80 million people in North Korea, South Korea, and China, although not a huge amount of people anywhere else. As the economy has grown and pop culture spread, however, the Korean language is growing in popularity. Oxford University recently described the Korean alphabet, or Hangeul, as excellent, based on rationality of usage, scientific quality, and originality, and it was even suggested that it would function well as a universally adopted alphabet. It is estimated that in Japan already Korean is being taught I n170 High schools and 200 Universities, and there is now a focus from the Korean authorities to spread this language further afield.
Language is continually shifting and evolving as economies grow and political landscapes shift. Although it is true that the language is a tool used by superpowers to spread their influence, it is true also that many major languages ar surviving the current assault by English, and actually growing rapidly also.