The Most Powerful Languages in the World

Article 232

From the ALUMNI Editing Room

Published by Babel University Professional School of Translation ALUMNI Association


The Most Powerful Languages in the World

By Tomoki Hotta

Vice Chancellor, Babel University Professional School of Translation


There are approximately 200 countries, 7.7 billion people, and a total of 7000 languages in the world. However, most prominent theories state that over 3000 languages with disappear in the next generations.


Ranking of native speakers and second language (official language) speakers

  1. Chinese: 1.51 billion people (native speakers: 899 million; second language speakers: 178 million)
  2. English 840 million people (native speakers: 330 million; second language speakers: 510 million)
  3. Spanish: 570 million people (native speakers: 500 million; second language speakers: 70 million)
  4. Hindu: 490 million people (native speakers: 370 million; second language speakers: 120 million)
  5. Arabic: 422 million people (native speakers: 290 million; second language speakers: 132 million)
  6. Malay: 281 million people (native speakers: 77 million; second language speakers: 204 million)
  7. Russian: 275 million people (native speakers: 160 million; second language speakers: 115 million)
  8. French: 272 million people (native speakers: 80 million; second language speakers: 192 million)
  9. Portuguese: 262 million people (native speakers: 230 million; second language speakers: 2 million)
  10. Bengali: 245 million people (native speakers: 226 million; second language speakers: 19 million)
  11. German: 185 million people
  12. Japanese: 130 million people


The ranking for the most popular languages in the world is:

  1. English: 1.5 billion people
  2. Chinese: 1.1 billion people

The ranking is reversed for English and Chinese, while both French and German rise in the ranks respectively at 5th with 370 million and 10th place.


The language ranking for people learning foreign languages are:

  1. English (approximately 1.5 billion people)
  2. French (approximately 82 million people)
  3. Chinese (approximately 30 million people)
  4. Spanish and German (both at approximately 14.5 million people)
  5. Italian (approximately 8 million people)
  6. Japanese (approximately 3.99 million people)

Although Japan’s language policies are poor and use of the Japanese language is declining each year, the fact that 4 million people are still learning Japanese is heartening.

On the other hand, do you know which languages were announced to be the most powerful languages by the World Economic Forum in 2016?

This ranking was based on the following criteria:

  1. Geographical capability – how much and where the language can be spoken
  2. Economic power – GDP, total export value, etc.
  3. Communication ability
  4. Knowledge and media power- amount of information on the Internet in that language
  5. Diplomatic power

The worlds most powerful languages were ranked based on the above five criteria.

  • points are the highest rating, and the rank is indicated within the parentheses. Larger numbers are negative points, and conversely lower numbers are positive. The evaluation specific weight of each item is about 22.5% from 1) to 4), and 10% from 5).

Below are the top languages in the world:

  1. English at 0.889 (1・1・1・1・1)
  2. Chinese at 0.411 (6・2・2・3・6)
  3. French at 0.337 (2・6・5・5・1)
  4. Spanish at 0.329 (3・5・3・7・3)
  5. Arabic at 0.273 (4・9・6・18・4)
  6. Russian at 0.244 (5・12・10・9・5)
  7. German at 0.191 (8・3・7・4・8)
  8. Japanese at 0.133 (27・4・22・6・7)
  9. Portuguese at 0.119 (7・19・13・12・9)
  10. Hindu at 0.117 (13・16・8・2・10)

Finally, here’s how the rankings are expected to change by the year 2050. The up and down located in the parentheses represent the increase or decrease in the number of points for each language.

  1. English at 0.877 (up)
  2. Chinese at 0.515 (down)
  3. Spanish at 0.345 (up)
  4. French at 0.325 (down)
  5. Arabic at 0.295 (up)
  6. Russian at 0.242 (down)
  7. German at 0.155 (down)
  8. Portuguese at 0.149
  9. Hindu at 0.138 (up)
  10. Japanese at 0.110 (down)


English remains in first place. Although its points decrease slightly, there is still quite a gap between English and Chinese, which ranks 2nd. Points for Chinese do increase though from 0.411 to 0.515.


Spanish, which previously ranked 4th, rises to 3rd place, while the 5th place Arabic stays in the same place although its points increase. Unfortunately, Japanese drops from 8th place to 10th.

Japan’s decrease, which cannot be attributed solely to population decline, must be stopped now. While I won’t discuss this point further in this article, I wonder when administrators will appear in Japan that can solve the austerity budget trap led by the Japanese Ministry of Finance.


I would recommend one thing to those of you in the translation business. Many of you are focused on translation between Japanese and English, but if you can, it would be beneficial to learn another influential language besides English. If you can develop your translation business by being able to work in Japanese, English, and other prominent language, your work potential will greatly expand. Trilingual translators say that if you have learned to translate between languages that are vastly different structurally – like Japanese and English – translating another language will be much easier. It’s important to look at yourself as a translator and decide what you need to learn for the future.


Note: All data used in this article is an overall summary of recent data to show trends and does not reflect most recent data.