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The 10 most important languages to learn

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Learning a language isn't easy, but some languages could have a bigger payoff, in the coming decades, for your investment.

The Languages for the Future report [pdf] from the British Council highlights the languages that will be most important for the country in the next 10-20 years. In deciding the most important foreign languages for the country to learn, it looked at a number of important factors, from the U.K.'s current export market and future trade priorities to the languages spoken in high-growth emerging markets and the prevalence of difference languages on the Internet.

Taking those factors and others into consideration the British Council came up with this top 10 list of the most important languages over the next two decades:

top10-languages-learn-uk.png
 
Somewhat surprisingly, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese both are seen as more important in the future than German, even though Germany is the U.K.'s second largest export market behind only the United States. And Arabic ranked higher than French, the language which more British know than any other language other than English. Which, by the way, the British education system has some work to do. 

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In the results of this survey above of language skills by the U.K. population, only 27 percent know any of the top 5 languages. Only one percent have language skills in either Arabic and Mandarin Chinese.

"The resulting language deficit, if not tackled, is a threat to our competitiveness, influence and standing in the world, as well as to our citizens’ ability to play a meaningful role in the global economy and an increasingly networked and interconnected world," the report said.

Of course, the reports findings are aimed at a British audience. But the report also serves as a reminder for all countries, where English is the dominant language, that it's time to start expanding your foreign language vocabulary.

At least when it comes to learning Mandarin Chinese, this might be a good place to start

— By on November 20, 2013, 9:24 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure