The current population of Europe is nearly 740 million strong, divided among fifty different countries. Of those fifty, twenty-eight countries comprise the European Union. With so much business being conducted internationally these days, translating your website to one of the most frequently spoken languages in Europe can certainly give you a leg up on the competition. But there are 24 officially recognized languages in the European Union, so which ones would you be wise to brush up on?
Breaking Into The European Market
1: GERMAN – 16% OF THE POPULATION
German is the first language of around 95 million people across the globe, although it’s mostly concentrated throughout Europe. It’s the official language of Germany, Austria, Belgium and it’s one of four official languages in Switzerland. It’s the most commonly spoken first language in the European Union and the fourth most frequently learned second language in the United States, following Spanish, French and American Sign Language. Germany happens to be one of the fastest growing e-commerce markets in the EU, making its consideration especially important for those looking to branch out with localized content.
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2: ENGLISH – 13% OF THE POPULATION
English and Italian tied with 13 percent of the population speaking both of these languages in Europe. However, we gave the second place spot to English as it’s also the second-most widely spoken language in the entire world. English is a language of West Germanic origin that was initially spoken in early medieval England.
It used to be very similar to Frisian, which is a specific language that is still used in some regions of The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark today. But the English vocabulary has strayed far from its roots, having been greatly influenced by Latin and Romance languages. English is the most commonly used language in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and some regions of Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean. It’s also one of the official languages in at least 60 other sovereign states.
3: ITALIAN – 13% OF THE POPULATION
Out of all the Romance languages, Italian is the most closely related to Latin, the language of ancient Rome. It’s the official language of Italy, San Marino, Vatican City (where it’s the lingua franca in the Roman Catholic Hierarchy) and the western Istria area of Slovenia and Croatia; it has official minority status in Romania and Bosnia as well. The Italian language has a lot of influence in high-end branding, which includes luxury goods, fine art, classical music and many other upscale products and industries.
4: FRENCH – 12% OF THE POPULATION
French is another Romance language, but one that originated from the Indo-European linguistic family in the area of Gaul. Naturally, France is the country with the highest number of French speakers, but it’s also the official language in Monaco, Western Switzerland, the regions of Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium and even a few areas in the United States such as Louisiana, Vermont and Northern Maine. It’s also one of the official languages in Canada, along with English. French covers the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick. In total, French is one of the official languages in 29 countries.
5: SPANISH – 8% OF THE POPULATION
Spanish, sometimes referred to as Castilian, is a Latin-based Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain. There are hundreds of millions of native Spanish speakers scattered throughout the world. The alphabet is similar to that of English, but has one additional character, eñe “ñ,” which makes for a total 27 letters. Spanish is also one of the only languages to use inverted question and exclamation marks (¿ and ¡). It’s the official language of Spain, Mexico and nearly every country in Central and South America, with the exception of Brazil.
6: POLISH – 8% OF THE POPULATION
The Polish language tied with Spanish, covering 8 percent of the European population. Poland also happens to be a rapidly growing e-commerce market! It’s a West Slavic language that belongs to the Lechitic sub category. It’s the native language of Poland only, but it’s spoken by many residents of Polish immigrant communities in other countries. Their alphabet is similar to the Sorbian, Czech and Slovak writing systems.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE WORLD?
Should you ever plan on expanding your business beyond the United States and Europe, or across multiple continents, you may encounter some very different and unique languages. Below are the ten languages with the largest number of speakers (both native and non-native) in the world, making them essential considerations when planning an expansion into new markets.
- Mandarin Chinese (including Standard Chinese) – 1.05 billion
- English – 1.01 billion
- Hindustani – 652 million
- Spanish – 570 million
- Arabic – 422 million
- Malay – 290 million
- Russian – 275 million
- French – 272 million
- Portuguese – 262 million
- Bengali – 245 million
CAN YOU SPEAK ANY FOREIGN LANGUAGES?
Recent data show that only 26% of American adults speak any language other than English, although this varies by region. A significantly larger portion of residents in the western United States, slightly over 40%, are bilingual. On the East coast, around 25% of residents are bilingual, 22% in the South and only 19% in the Midwest.
Comparatively, a substantially greater percentage of Europeans are able to speak at least one foreign language conversationally at minimum. Similar to the States, the percentage of multilingual speakers varies by area. In Luxembourg, Latvia, the Netherlands, Malta, Slovenia, Lithuania and Sweden, over 90% of the population can speak one or more foreign languages. Even in European countries where people are least likely to speak additional languages, such as Hungary, Italy, the UK and Portugal, still over 60 percent are bilingual.
Studies show that the ability to speak multiple languages can do wonders to improve overall cognitive function.
In a sense, being bilingual rewires your brain, offering a multitude of mental benefits such as refined multitasking skills and improved memory and perception. It can even improve the way you speak your native tongue by increasing awareness of how languages are structured.