The Language of Business

One of the greatest joys of business is traveling to new markets and forging new relationships. Who doesn’t like finding new customers and better suppliers? However all too often though people worry that a language barrier will make this awkward and as such tend not to go as far off the beaten path as they otherwise would. We think that’s a mistake, as usually with a combo of smiles, hand gestures, pictures and phone translators most business people can get around.  The language of business is patience.

While Asia is the most populous continent and Asian languages dominate the list of most spoken, English still leads for its wide adoption.

If English is your first language or if you have a rudimentary skill then it is even easier. In fact over 1 in 7 people on this planet can speak English which means even if you’re a German trying to find new markets in Japan you can probably order a meal as you’ll most likely speak some English and so too will the waitress or waiter. And if they don’t some helpful stranger nearby almost assuredly will.

Total speakers, 2017 (million)

English: 1212

Mandarin: 1107

Hindi and Urdu: 697

Spanish: 512

Arabic: 422

French: 284

Malay: 281

Russian: 264

Bengali: 261

Portuguese: 236

Punjabi: 148

German: 132

Japanese: 128 

Pro Tip

If you’re having a hard time finding someone to translate for you, look to high school and college kids. usually the younger generation in most countries has better foreign language skills than their parents. And if they can’t speak your language, chances are they’ll have an app to help them.

It’s also worthwhile looking into professional associations and your country’s chambering of commerce before getting on a plane as they can often help with translators, guides or introductions to local partners.

So while patience is a virtue, it’s really not as difficult as many people think to get around in foreign countries. The language of business is English and so if you have some rudimentary skills, chances are you’ll do well.  But take heed if you’re Chinese, we’ll undoubtedly have to revise this article in a few years when Mandarin will probably replace English as the language of business.