Most Useful Languages

Most Spoken Languages In the World

“Language” is apparently the best and the most useful (but not the most important) means of communication among humans (and some other species, in different forms). A language can be defined as “the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication” [1]. This definition is significant in that a language doesn’t necessarily include talking, as in sign languages or non-verbal communication.

As a matter of fact, human communication is mostly non-verbal. Studies suggest that only 7% of human communication takes place through words, while 38% is formed by one’s tone of voice and the rest (55%) is totally about body language and micro-gestures, which are really slight gestured that are processed by the brain unconsciously [2].

But EcoTripSos is a travel&country facts blog, right? So what the heck am I talking about here? Let me explain…

The basic idea is that you don’t need to know a country’s language in order to communicate your daily needs to the locals. For eating or drinking something, or sleeping, the gestures one could use are easily understood worldwide, so there’s no problem with that.

However, if you want to socialize in the foreign country you’re in, if you want to discuss politics, or recite a poem for the beautiful boy/girl in front of you, you DO need a common language, that is, a language understood by both parties.

Naturally, speaking the language of the country you’re in is a big plus, but being proficient in a foreign language takes “a little” time (like years) unless this foreign language is a close relative of your native tongue. Therefore, there’s enough time for proficiency in only a few languages in one life time, considering the human life span.

In that respect, I think it is best to talk about “useful” languages, that could help travelers and businessmen get along mostly anywhere they go. But let me make my own definition of a “useful language” first. In this article, “a useful language” means a language that allows you to communicate in multiple countries with multiple ethnicities. In other words, if a language is spoken in only 1 country by hundreds of millions of people, I don’t consider it useful within the spirit of this article.

So which languages are the most useful for travelers and businessmen?

1. English

English Speaking Countries

Alright, this is no surprise. But English cannot really be skipped as the most “useful language” in the world, being the “lingua franca” of our time [3]. Thanks to the colonial success of (I will use the official name) the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since the 17th century, English is nowadays a “supranational” language that is spoken approximately by 1.5 bn (some sources say 500+ million) people including natives and foreign language speakers [4] [5]. But the exact number is quite hard to determine. There’s a long list of countries and institutions that has English as their official language, but you can take a look at the picture above to see how much of the world you can communicate with, only speaking English (and it doesn’t even include the foreign language speakers!)

2. French

French Speaking Countries

The former “lingua franca” of the mankind, French continues to be one of the most useful languages available to learn. French is spoken in 29 countries around the world by 73.8 million native speakers [6] and including the speakers of French as a foreign language, the number exceeds 330 million [7]. In the picture above can you see the map of French as an official language.

3. Arabic

Arabic Speaking Countries

You didn’t expect that one, did you? But the fact is, Arabic is the official language of 26 countries (although some dialects may be unintelligible) and approximately 450 million people speak Arabic, including the foreign language speakers, if considered a unified language [8] [9]. If you ever want to visit the Middle East and Northern Africa, Arabic might serve as a “must”.

4. Spanish

Spanish Speaking Countries

Most probably, you saw that one coming. Spoken by masses in Europe and the Americas, Spanish language is also among the most useful languages for travelers and businessmen. There are about 470 million native speakers of Spanish [10] and it is estimated that 20 million people can speak Spanish as a foreign language [11]. The best part, however, is that you can communicate with locals in 20 countries (plus the USA, partly) if you can speak Spanish. Like English and French, Spanish was mostly spread through colonization acts. Moreover, Spanish (although partially) is mutually intelligible with Portuguese, which increases the number of countries that you could communicate in.

5. Russian

Russian Speaking Countries

I don’t know if you were expecting Russian to be in the list of “the most useful languages”, but a wide range of the northern part of the world was under the influence of USSR or the Soviet Union, making Russian a seriously important language in the countries related. Russian is the official language in Russia (really?), Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova. However, due to the Soviet influence mostly, it is still and important means of communication in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Moreover, due to the Slavic roots of the language, you will most likely to encounter a lot of Russian speakers in the Balkan countries, too. With 260 million speakers (as the first and second language, foreign language not included) and numerous countries, Russian is also one of the most useful languages one could ever learn. It is also important to note that Russian is mutually intelligible with Belarusian and Ukrainian, which means there’s no problem with communication in those countries, once you learn to speak Russian.

So, those are the “most useful languages” one could learn, in terms of the width of communication area. What languages can you speak fluently? Please leave comments! 🙂  


  2. Mehrabian, Albert (1971). Silent Messages (1st ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-00910-7.
  3. David Graddol (1997). “The Future of English?” (PDF). The British Council.
  4. “Världens 100 största språk 2010” [The world’s 100 largest languages in 2010]. Nationalencyklopedin.
  5. “English Language”. Columbia University Press. 2005.
  6. Nationalencyklopedin “Världens 100 största språk 2007” [The World’s 100 Largest Languages in 2007]
  9. “World Arabic Language Day”. UNESCO. 18 December 2012.
  10. Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. (2013), Spanish (in Spanish) (17th ed.), Dallas, Texas: SIL International, “410 million as a first language, 470 million as a first and second language”
  11. Instituto Cervantes (2013)


Useful Languages / Kullanışlı Diller
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Useful Languages / Kullanışlı Diller

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