East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

English, Spanish, French & Arabic


Today I’m posting an infographic from the South China Morning Post, graphically representing the diffusion of languages in the world or – if you prefer – the potential readership for each language.
Or, the languages that are likelier to give you a lot of mileage as you travel the world.
Or what languages a world-weary pulp adventurer could have mastered depending on the places he visited.
(be warned, it’s big)

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Now, a thing I believe the graphic is showing clearly is the reason why your best bet for a foreign language to learn is English, Spanish or French. And then Arabic. (Oh, and Russian too… but…)
Granted, Chinese has a huge number of users – but they are all in one place.
Get out of China, and you won’t need it anymore – the same goes, at least partially, for Russian.
And Chinese is a macrolanguage – so you have a lot of languages sharing the same root and (hopefully) writing.
English, French, Spanish and Arabic have a huge diffusion – there’s a lot of places where you’ll be able to comminicate.
Then, ok, granted, everybody knows a little English these days, and anywhere in the world you’ll find someone speaking Italian, but in terms of variety, and based on these numbers, nothing beats those four languages.

And all of this makes me wonder – should I scrap my order of Teach Yourself Babylonian and go for a more prosaic Teach Yourself Arabic?

INSTANT UPDATE: it has been pointed out to me – by my Orientalist brother – that the graphic does leave out a lot of info… such as all the people in the Indian Subcontinent that are fluent in English without English being the official language of their countries.
Which goes to show that graphics must always be taken with a grain of salt.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “English, Spanish, French & Arabic

  1. Hm… Can I regard this as encouragement to finally give up on German?
    English, French and Spanish I know, and my Arabic is very basic and ve-ery dusty, but I daresay I could brush it up. German, though, I loathe with a passion, no matter what pretty books I buy myself as an enticement. But I will save this infographic on my hard-disk, and seek comfort in it whenever I feel the itch to give German another chance. 🙂


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