Learn a Language

The Top Languages to Learn in 2017

Fancy learning a new language this year? Whether you’re still a student or you’re just looking for a way to improve your career outlook, we’ve selected the top languages to learn in 2017.

1. Mandarin


The official language of China, Mandarin is already the most widely spoken language in the world. Per Wikipedia, 955 million people, 14.4% of the world’s population, claim it as their native tongue.  The demand for Mandarin speakers will only grow in the years to come, as China nudges the United States out of the top spot as the nation with the world’s largest GDP. Mandarin is also the second most popular language online. In a 2013 report, the British Council ranked it as one of the top 10 most important languages for the future of the UK.

For these reasons, Mandarin is definitely one of the top languages to learn in 2017.

Difficulty level: High

Mandarin is considered a difficult language for English speakers to learn. According to the United States Foreign Service Institute, it takes an average of 2,200 classroom hours for English speakers to master. Are you up for the challenge?

2. Arabic

top languages to learn 1

Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world, and it’s an official language for many of the dynamic, growing economies in the Middle East and Africa. As TheRichest.com puts it:

Because of the fast-growing market of eager consumers in the Middle East, businesses should consider making their products easily available to Arabic speakers, and enterprising businesspeople should consider taking a few lessons.

Obviously, regional instability is a concern. But that only adds to the demand for Arabic skills in intelligence and diplomacy, so it’s still one of the top languages to learn in 2017.

Arabic also made the British Council’s list of important languages for British language learners due to the potential economic and diplomatic benefits. Whether your desired career path is public sector or private sector, the Arabic-speaking world’s complicated relationship with the west ensures bright job prospects for those who can speak this challenging language.

Difficulty Level: High

As with Mandarin, the US Foreign Service Institute classifies Arabic as a difficult language. You’ll need at least 88 weeks of class time to become proficient.

3. Spanish

top languages to learn Spain

With 405 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language after Mandarin. Learning Spanish opens doors in Spain, Latin America and even the United States. According to the British Council, 34% of UK businesses said that Spanish was “useful to their organisation.”

Difficulty level: Easy

More good news about Spanish? It’s a fairly simple language for English speakers to manage. According to the US Foreign Service Institute,  it only takes around 600 hours of classroom time (less than six months) to achieve language proficiency in Spanish.

4. German

top languages to learn GermanGerman has between 89 to 110 million native speakers.  That may seem like small potatoes compared to most of the other languages on this list, but Germany is the largest economy in the European Union. As the British Council notes, it’s an incredibly important language for UK businesses:

“Germany is the UK’s most important trading partner, its second biggest export market in goods (worth £32 billion in 2012) and also its greatest source of imports. To these impressive export figures can be added those of Luxembourg and Switzerland (also in the UK’s top ten export markets) and Austria which boosts the UK’s exports by £1.5 billion.”

In fact, 45% of UK companies surveyed by the British Council rated German as “useful.”

Meanwhile, the German language is expected to benefit from Brexit alongside French. And Kiplinger notes that in 2014 there were 52,841 job postings for German speakers in Anglophone countries. Even better, these jobs tended to be well-paying.

Difficulty Level: Fairly Easy

Learning German comes fairly easily to native English speakers. That said, it’s a bit more difficult to grasp than Spanish. According to the US Foreign Service Institute, if you start today, you should be proficient after about 900 classroom hours, or a little over six months.

5.  Portuguese

Portuguese is spoken in BrazilPortuguese is spoken by around 215 million people in Portugal (naturally), Brazil and some parts of Africa. For businesses, Brazil is the main attraction.

But is Portuguese still one of the top languages to learn? Despite a deep recession, Brazil is still a big country and a big market. It’s the largest economy in Latin America, and there are some indications that recovery is on its way in the next year or so.

The British Council listed it as one of the top ten most important languages for the UK’s future, citing potential opportunities in trade, science, education, and diplomacy. Most Brazilians speak English poorly or not at all, so if you want to do business there, you’ll need to speak the language or have an excellent Portuguese translation team.

Difficulty Level: Easy 

Closely related to Spanish, Portuguese is also quite easy to learn. Expect to spend about 600 classroom hours before you’re proficient.

6. Russian

Why would Russian be one of the top languages to learn in 2017? First off, with 155 million native speakers it’s the eighth most common language in the world. Plus, its already formidable economy is on track to beat Germany’s by 2030. As TheRichest.com puts it,

“Russia is full of very wealthy people hungry for new arenas in which to do business. There are some great opportunities available for companies looking to expand to this affluent part of the world, but many Russian businesspeople do not speak good English. Because they don’t know much English, most may only do business with others who are Russian-speaking.”

There’s no doubt that Russia has been flexing its muscles in world affairs as of late.  And while the Russian economy contracted in 2016, it’s expected to recover in 2017. Whether you consider Russia a potential friend, foe or something in between, Russian language skills are likely to remain useful and in demand.

The British Council notes that Russia contains extensive potential opportunities for British organisations in areas like trade, diplomacy, and education, but called the business climate there “difficult.” Being able to speak the language is a tremendous advantage!

Difficulty Level: Medium

Russian is quite different from English, and as such it’s more challenging for English speakers to learn. Expect to spend 44 weeks or around 1100 hours in the classroom.

7. French

top languages to learn FrenchFrench is spoken by about 74 million people in France and former French territories around the world. While it’s not as prevalent globally as it once was, there’s no question that France is and will remain one of the United Kingdom’s most important trade partners. French language skills are both necessary and important for businesses here, and it remains one of the top languages to learn.

In fact, according to the British Council, 49 percent of UK businesses are looking for employees who can speak French.

Post-Brexit, we can expect the European Union to begin using French more often, even if English remains an official EU  language.

And the French-speaking world also includes Africa, which is growing rapidly and rich in natural resources.  The top 5 fastest-growing African economies include Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Cote D’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. French is an official language in 3 of them.

In fact, according to Forbes.com, there will be  750 million French speakers in the world by 2050. It might even overtake English and Mandarin!

Difficulty Level:  Easy

Like Spanish and Portuguese, French comes easily to native English speakers.

8. Japanese

Japanese boasts 125 million speakers located primarily in Japan, which happens to be the third largest economy in the world. The British Council calls Japan “a significant contributor to UK prosperity – both as an export market and as a major investor” and  notes that Japan provides a wealth of opportunities, especially in terms science and technology.

As TheRichest.com points out, there’s also the fact that Japan is in the process of building our future robot overlords, so maybe we all need to get with the program:

According to Wikipedia, “Japan employs over a quarter of a million industrial robot workers. In the next 15 years, Japan estimates that number to jump to over one million and they expect revenue for robotics to be near $70 billion by 2025.” Robotics or anything else, revenue of that size might be something to consider being a part of.

Difficulty Level: High

Learning Japanese takes a certain amount of persistence and time, over a year and a half or 2,200 classroom hours to be exact. However, if you can stay the course and master the language, it will definitely help you stand out from the pack.

9. Hindi


Why would Hindi be one of the top languages to learn in 2017? Hindi is the fourth most-spoken language in the world, with 260 million native speakers. India now has the 7th largest GDP  in the world, and the world’s fastest-growing big economy. And while many people in India do speak English, people often prefer to communicate in their native language when possible.

So, while learning Hindi may not be essential for doing business in India, it does give you an edge.

Difficulty Level: Medium 

Hindi is not the hardest language to learn . . .but it’s certainly not one of the easiest. The US Foreign Service consdiers it to be about as hard as Russian. Expect 44 weeks in the classroom  or 1100 hours to become proficient.

Of course, economic factors are only part of the story. People learn languages for all sorts of reasons, and all language learning is beneficial in one way or another.

What languages would you like to pick up? Leave us a comment below… we’d love to hear from you.

This post was originally published in 2015, and has been updated with new research and information. 


45 replies
    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Difficulty is based on a number of factors, in this case Russian is nice enough to be medium. It uses an alphabet, where sounds match the letters, and grammar is relatively regular.

      For comparison, Mandarin Chinese which doesn’t use an alphabet, and is tonal to boot.

      Mandarin is hard, Spanish is easy (Latin alphabet, relatively similar to English, etc), and Russian is in the middle. So medium.

      And in my experience I’d agree with that. Tonal languages are fun and all but the time I put into my Vietnamese is nowhere near that of my Spanish yet my Spanish is so much more advanced than my Vietnamese. Ukrainian is in the middle, it took a decent amount of time in the beginning adjusting to a new alphabet but the sounds are consistent so I get pretty good results for my time.

      Nothing near Spanish of course, or the super easy languages like German and Dutch (water, wasser, man, mann, they’re the sort of languages which you can learn in your sleep), but far, far easier than Vietnamese or Cantonese.

    • Stephanie
      Stephanie says:

      The level for Urdu would be Medium, just like Hindi. From what I understand, the languages are very similar, except they use different alphabets and have slightly different vocabularies.

    • Tlalush
      Tlalush says:

      I also found that funny for German. I have been living in Germany for 4 months, came here with basic German. I can get around but being in a big group and discussing technical Issues is hard. I would like to learn Spanish next

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      For a native English speaker? Absolutely. And if you know your Shakespeare as well then German, Dutch, all those Germanic languages (like English) will be pretty easy to learn. Germanic base, similar grammar and vocabulary, etc.

      Der Mann trinkt Wasser.

      What does that look like? Say it out loud, pretend you have a lisp, slur a little if that helps. If you can’t read “the man drinks water” then you’re just not trying. Or aren’t thinking properly, focusing too much on how it’s all weird and hard.

      De man die luistert naar muziek. A Google Translate goodie.

      How about that? Die, De, Der, la, Le, el, you should figure out pretty quickly that these are all variants of “the”. If you were guessing then “a” or “an” or “and” would also work, all those small joining words which we use and Germanic and Romance languages do as well. Next one is easy, man, man, we didn’t try to change that one too much. 😛

      So “the man” something.

      Let’s skip to the end. Muziek. Another hard one. 😛

      Say it out loud if you really have to, it’s “music” of course.

      So “the man die luistert naar music”. Can you figure it out from here?

      Germanic languages you can learn in your sleep, because English is also a Germanic language and we didn’t change too much. Romance languages are mildly harder, but we’ve ripped off enough vocabulary to make them pretty easy as well. Germanic and Romance languages use the Latin alphabet courtesy the Romans so that shouldn’t throw you, they’re some of the easiest spoken languages you can learn outside of something like Esperanto.

      Match the words you know then work it out from context. The man luistert naar music, the man listens to music. Fluency takes a little longer of course but hitting conversational really doesn’t take long at all.

      Now if you aren’t a native English speaker then these ratings won’t apply, if you’re a native French speaker for instance then Spanish will be super easy and German will be easy. Though I’d still rate Russian as medium and Mandarin as hard for native Francophones as none of the reasoning changes.

      • cwasims
        cwasims says:

        I would disagree with your comments about German. Yes, gaining a basic understanding may be easy given some similarities to English vocabulary, but truly mastering German takes far more skill than for most Romance languages. German’s case system is completely foreign to an English speaker, and the fact that the gender of every noun is essentially unrelated to any attribute of said noun (with a few exceptions) makes for a lot of memorization. I would without a doubt rate Spanish or French as easier than German, for a native English speaker.

        • Liam
          Liam says:

          Well German is related to English more than French is and even comes from the same language family as German and Dutch. It’s the Norman invasion that changed the language to make it like French. For example. Not all plural words end with s like roof and rooves as that’s from old English. Take a look at old English and it’ll be super similar to German. Also German isn’t as hard as you think it, just stop saying it looks hard because it doesn’t look like English well neither does French nor Spanish. Plus Germany is way more modern than France and particularly Spain as it is safer and more modern. Look all I’m trying to say is that it will be hard if you tell yourself that.

          • kalfed
            kalfed says:

            Just because old English looks familiar to German does not mean you can compare their difficulty. In my opinion, if your mother tongue is only weakly inflected (like English), it will be a lot harder for you to learn a highly inflected language, like Latin, German or Spanish. I do not talk about the very basic stuff and simple sentences like “Er trinkt Saft”. I mean to correctly apply the rules of grammar and form correct and rather complex sentences like ” Nur ich wusste, warum dieser Mann nie mehr ein Schachbrett berühren würde, indes die anderen ein wenig verwirrt zurückblieben mit dem ungewissen Gefühl, mit knapper Not etwas Unbehaglichem und Gefährlichen entgangen zu sein.”
            Of course understanding the German cases will be easy for someone who has some talent for languages. But this applies to every language and the way you approach it. A lot of students in my old class (my mother tongue is German) struggled very hard with latin, although it should supposedly be easy for a native German speaker.

  1. Murad
    Murad says:

    Good article. Thanks a lot. How about turkish? Don’t you think it may be some geopolitical spot. Most of textile from there and it is a good and cheap place for tourism like in Georgia. So i agree with article and i would like to learn arabic, german and mandarin.

  2. Vladimir Adoshev
    Vladimir Adoshev says:

    Russian is a very difficult language, furthermore the politics is very unstable and unpredictable. I mean, would you really recognise Russian as a serious partner? I wouldn’t (I’m a native Russian who fled to Germany for a good life)… furthermore, it’s much more easy for Chinese to master the English language as for the western people to master Chinese…i think it quite obvious

    • 桐

      Well yes, since every Chinese character is different, and you sort of have to memorize all characters – I’m a native Chinese speaker and I still have problems with writing out words.

    • Max
      Max says:

      The last sentence makes me chuckle. Mandarin is my native tongue and first language, but I’m more proficient in my second language, English. But you can’t blame me, I’ve stayed in US for my whole life.

  3. Alejandro Maria del Mar
    Alejandro Maria del Mar says:

    I think it’s useful to compare the difficulty but I think the timescale is very unrealistic.. You’ll be speaking Spanish fluently in less than 6 months is unlikely

  4. Aries
    Aries says:

    Hey . Im very glad to see ur website . Im from Iran and I =m learning English and wanna to learn French . It really helps me to realize the chart of the best languages to learn . thank u alot .

  5. hamed
    hamed says:

    Hi, I dont think if french is easier than german because as I heard french grammer is so complicated and different from english.anyway mandarin is hard but is the mother language of the buisiness in the world recently. Im gonna study in kang fu . Wow…. hoooo

  6. Ayumi
    Ayumi says:

    I just want to fill in on something. As I am learning Japanese, I read “Learning Japanese takes a certain amount of persistence and time, over a year and a half or 2,200 classroom hours to be exact.”

    It says “over a year and a half” and of course the amount of time differs from person to person. But if someone masters Japanese in only a year and a half, it must be some kind of genius. I would say that it takes at least 3 years to be able to speak it somehow “fluently”, and at least 5-7 years to come close to speaking it as a Japanese person does.

    • Katrina
      Katrina says:

      I’d say you’re looking at more of a 10 year time frame for native-like fluency. That, or more. Japanese is often listed as one of the hardest (if not *the* hardest) language for native English speakers to become fluent in.

    • Stephanie
      Stephanie says:

      Look at the number of hours, not the number of years. It’s over a year and a half of full-time language learning. Spend most of the day in the classroom and then do assignments for homework. Basically cramming/immersion so they can start working as quickly as possible. And remember, this is “Minimum Professional Proficiency”, a 3 on a scale of 0-5, which probably means around a B2 (upper intermediate) level. If you want to get to C1 or C2, you will need a lot more hours/years.

  7. caroline
    caroline says:

    Having learnt a few languages. I have to say that to speak Mandarin or any other tonal language requires one to live in a country that speak a tonal language the tones alone are very difficult for most people to hear the difference. Languages that use tones: Mandarin, Cantonese, hakka, hokkien and all other Chinese dialects, Thai, Burmese, ect… The people of these countries have been learning English for a lifetime. But English people in general do not learn languages! Arabic is very difficult and to write is more difficult than Chinese in my opinion.


    I’m learning Spanish and Chinese to become a foreign language medical interpreter and Haitian Creole “Kreyol” (which shares a lot of words with French, along with SPANISH, African and Taino) for volunteer work.

  9. Charles N
    Charles N says:

    The question could be: what languages (first and second) are spoken by the people you are likely to come into contact with? We could look at this by looking at what are the most common second languages spoken by the speakers of the most common native languages. Or by asking what is the most common language spoken by people who don’t speak English.

    Secondly, will you relate to these people on an individual or group basis?

    For example, if you are relating mostly to Germans and on an individual basis, your need to learn German is minimal, as most of them will speak English.

    If you are relating to Italian speakers on a group basis, then Spanish would be valuable.

    Ofcourse, if you need to get to grips with a culture, then learning its language will give you unprecedented insight.

  10. Carlos
    Carlos says:

    I speak 5 languages due to have lived in several countries in Europe and speak some of the languages above fluently and I am Portuguese and I must disagree with some of the timeframes they gave to become proficient! Both in the case of French and German, its simply impossible to someone who speak english natively to learn in 6 months to speak it fluently German! NOT POSSIBLE and the french with all those verbs… this times do not correspond to reality, at all.

    • Alison Kroulek
      Alison Kroulek says:

      Hi Carlos,

      I used estimates provided by the US Foreign Service Institute, but of course everyone is different. And remember, the times given are classroom hours, presumably as part of an intensive course of study.

      • M E
        M E says:

        I believe those time frames ar fairly posible, indeed, not because of anything the US FS says, but because as a linguist, proficient in 8 languages, I have seen it happen. It depends, however, on the level of concentration and effort put into the language acquisition process both when it comes to the learner and the language provider. Reading the thoughts you expose in written English, it is, to me, obvious that Portuguese is your native language.

  11. Vishal
    Vishal says:

    Hii … Actually I want to learn foreign language but I am confused that which is best for learn to make bright carrier in language…Plzz suggest me about that…


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