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)
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.
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.