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What are the most commonly spoken languages in the world? And which are the most in-demand?

The most widely spoken languages are not always the most lucrative for translators from a professional point of view. Historical events, the economy and contemporary socio-political situations should be taken into account when it comes to choosing the languages on which to base your professional translation career.

Below is a brief overview of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, as well as those that could potentially be the most lucrative for translators starting out in the business.

The most widely spoken languages in the world

When thinking about the most popular languages in the world, Europeans tend to suffer from a bit of Eurocentrism. For European Union citizens, it’s sometimes difficult to guess which languages are most commonly spoken after English. In fact, people often mistakenly assume that Spanish and French follow English as the most widely spoken languages in the world.

European languages have spread throughout the world due to wide-sweeping colonial processes that have redefined world politics since the sixteenth century, but there are also a number of very highly populated places that speak non-European languages.

In fact, Chinese Mandarin is the language with the largest number of native speakers, followed by EnglishSpanish, Hindi-Urdi and finally, Arabic.

What languages does a translator need to know?

Those intending to start their professional translation career will need to know one or two of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, with a particular focus on languages spoken in countries with a strong or expanding economy, such as the United Arab Emirates or China.

The reason is simple: the greater a country’s economic power, the greater the number of international relations it will build with other countries in diplomatic, economic, trade and cultural spheres. Those thinking of becoming a professional translator should therefore consider studying Chinese Mandarin, given that future trade and cultural relations between China and Italy are continuing to grow, or are at least set to plateau at a very high level.

It’s always advisable to specialise in a language that is fairly distant from your mother tongue, since a translator able to work with difficult and little-studied languages will end up receiving more job opportunities and will be able to demand higher rates.

The most studied languages in the European Union are English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Italian. Assuming that a translator knows at least one lingua franca, such as English, it might be a good idea to choose a non-European language in order to improve one’s professional profile.

What are the most important languages in the world? The answer is complex

Translators knows perfectly well that, apart from lingua francas, which can be more or less effectively applied to all areas, knowledge of certain languages is absolutely fundamental for specific sectors. For example, specialising in the food and wine sector without knowing French is practically impossible, while it’s probably not essential to know Russian.

That being said, given the importance of Russia’s literary production, those translating from Russian can also benefit from trying their hand at literary, diplomatic and trade sector texts.

You should therefore take time to choose which language to specialise in, and the decision should only be made after carefully considering your strengths and interests.

Redazione Eurotrad

June 24, 2019

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