Which Language Should You Learn: French, German or Mandarin?

As the financial world goes into freefall the question that every internationally-minded individual has on their lips is ‘What language will be the most valuable for me in the future?’ Will the shift of economic power from West to East affect our personal language-learning choices or, even more importantly, will it effect choice at a national level? For decades UK students have ploughed hours of time and effort into learning French and German, but is this the most effective way of getting ahead of the competition?

In Sweden, the government is considering adding Mandarin to the list of compulsory languages taught to primary and secondary students. China, as the world’s second largest economy, is clearly big business and linguists seem to be flocking to take on the challenge of a new alphabet and language. In India, where trade with China is growing rapidly through the tens of billions, Mandarin learners have increased tenfold as canny Indian businessmen eye up their wealthy neighbours. Even in the UK, Mandarin language jobs are becoming more and more commonplace as banks, most notably HSBC, move their operations from Europe and the US out to China and other emerging markets.

But that’s not to say that the old favourites do not still have their place; the French language remains an international language of diplomacy, alongside English, and is used daily amongst the mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy at the EU in Brussels and in conversations between the decision-makers at NATO. It is also the lingua franca in the arts circles and can come in handy when writing fancy restaurant menus.

And don’t forget our German brethren. Germany’s economy is the powerhouse of Europe and the fourth largest in the world; with that comes job and career opportunities. When the German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited young Spanish professionals to apply for jobs in her country back in February it caused a 20 per cent increase in German language classes enrolment. French may have the arts wrapped up but German is the language of engineering.

What’s more the current insatiable demand for Nordic language speakers (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and in some cases Finnish) in London only adds to the confusion.

But for all of this discussion on which language is the most valuable to the aspirational graduate or professional, the answer is that there isn’t one. Every language has its use – be it for a media company looking for a Flemish copywriter or a sales team needing a fluent speaker of Serbo-Croat, every language has its value.