international business

By Eileen O’Shanassy

Although a lot of international business is conducted in English, when it comes to negotiation and fine-print details, it’s always advantageous to speak your business partner’s (or prospective customer’s) language. Knowing a little more about the language and culture of your clients can really go a long way. Today there is much more international trade than in the past. Here are four of the most useful languages for international business today.


As China’s official language, Mandarin is an increasingly important language for international business. After all, nearly 15% of the world claims Mandarin as their native tongue. This character-based language is not showing any signs of diminishing in popularity anytime soon.

Difficulty Level: Extremely High It’s estimated that it takes an average of 2000+ hours to achieve fluency in Mandarin. At least being able to speak a few phrases can go a long way in developing relationships.


Spanish is second only to Mandarin when it comes to the number of native speakers worldwide (Spanish boasts an impressive 405 million). Due to the increasing influence of Mexican, as well as Central and South American business interests, Spanish is projected to remain one of the most important international business languages well into the future.

Difficulty Level: Relatively Easy In contrast to Mandarin, Spanish fluency is estimated at around 600 study hours.


The fifth most common language in the world, Arabic has been an essential international business language for many years now. The Middle East represents a huge, moneyed consumer base that has largely remained untapped until recently. Instability in the region also makes this a crucial language for diplomacy, making Arabic an excellent choice of language for individuals working in the public or private sector. Even when getting a business management degree or similar degree requires a course in geography to help put these kinds of international ties in perspective.

Difficulty Level: High While not as difficult as Mandarin, you can still expect 1,500+ classroom hours to achieve fluency.


Although German doesn’t have as many native speakers as the other languages on this list (in fact, most estimates say there are less than 100 million native German speakers worldwide), Germany’s strong economy has made them a consistent and steady trade partner.

Difficulty Level: Relatively Easy

While it probably seems pretty daunting to learn an entire new language, new software and smartphone technology has made the journey to fluency more fun and easy than it has ever been before. By taking the time to learn any of these language’s, you’ll improve not only your company’s ability to succeed in the international business world, but you might find that it sparks your personal passion and rekindles your commitment to being a “lifelong learner”.

Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy.