Mandarin Chinese Most Useful Business Language After English

Mandarin, China’s official tongue, is also the top language worldwide for business other than English, according to Bloomberg Rankings.

Mandarin, spoken by 845 million people, scored highest in a ranking of languages, excluding English, based on business usefulness. The ranking scored languages according to the number of speakers, number of countries where the language is official, along with those nations’ populations, financial power, educational and literacy rates, and related measures.

French, spoken by 68 million people worldwide and the official language of 27 countries, was ranked second, followed by Arabic, which is spoken by 221 million people and is official in 23 nations. Mandarin is unlikely to supplant English soon as the primary language of business, said Leigh Hafrey, a senior lecturer in communications and ethics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

“In much the same way that the dollar remains the preferred currency, English will remain the preferred language for the foreseeable future,” Hafrey said in a telephone interview.

Mandarin speakers can gain an advantage in doing business in China, Hafrey said.

“Speaking the language confers a huge advantage for anyone who wants to do business in a non-English-speaking country,” he said. “It gives you flexibility, knowledge that you need, and personal connections that can make a difference in the speed and effectiveness of your negotiations.”

Spanish, the official language of 20 countries and spoken by 329 million people, came in fourth, the rankings showed.

Spanish was the top foreign language studied in U.S. college classrooms in 2009, according to research from the Modern Language Association in New York. Chinese tallied seventh by the number of U.S. students enrolled in classes that year, after Spanish, French, German, American Sign Language, Italian and Japanese, according to a December 2010 report by the association. Arabic was eighth.

To contact the reporters on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at jkaufman17@bloomberg.net

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