The 10 Most Popular Languages for Business Translation

By United Language Group

What are the best languages for business translation? And how do you know which languages your business should use?

To help narrow it down, we’ve put together a list of the 10 most popular languages for business translation. We hope you find it helpful!

Chinese

With 960 million native speakers, Chinese is the world’s most widely spoken language. It’s not hard to see why Chinese is one of the most popular languages for business translations: it supports the world’s 2nd largest economy, China, plus Hong Kong and Taiwan. As the Chinese GDP grows in proportion to other large countries, we can expect to see its language grow in importance worldwide

Written Chinese comes in two varieties: simplified and traditional, and it’s important to use the form your audience prefers. In most circumstances Simplified Chinese is the language of choice for mainland China. Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese.

For more on Chinese, see Should I select Traditional or Simplified Chinese for my translation?

German

China has the world’s second-largest economy . . . unless you count the European Union as one unit. In that case, the EU’s economy is larger, and second only to the US.

Germany is a powerhouse of the EU’s economy. In fact, the country of Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world, and its language is the most widely spoken EU native language.

Consider the following: About 3,500 German majority-owned businesses have operations within the US. From well-known car companies like Volkswagen and BMW to medical supply companies like Fresenius Medical Care, these companies employ over 620,000 US workers in a variety of industries.

For more on German, see 7 Important Facts About the German Language.

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Spanish (Latin American)

With 405 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the world. And it’s definitely one of the most crucial languages for business translation, especially in the United States.

Spanish translation is your organization’s gateway to Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Spanish translation services are also essential for businesses hoping to reach the 38-million strong Spanish-speaking community in the United States. In some industries, offering access to information and services in Spanish is not only good business, it’s a legal requirement!

For more on Spanish translation, see How to Communicate With the Rich Diversity of Spanish Speakers in the US.

Japanese

Compared to the languages that we’ve been discussing, here, Japanese may have “only” 125 million native speakers, but it punches above its weight in terms of economic impact.

That’s because Japan crams the world’s 3rd-largest economy into a country that is a bit smaller than California, and 75% mountainous. Dense Japanese cities are a hotbed of innovation. Japanese companies are leaders in industries ranging from automobile manufacturing to electronic goods to robotics.

While most Japanese speakers live in Japan, there are also roughly 436,000 Japanese speakers in the US. The largest Japanese-speaking communities are in Hawaii, California, Washington and Oregon. That makes Japanese translation essential for compliance in industries like healthcare.

For more information about the Japanese language, see Japanese Translation: 5 Reasons Why It’s More Than Meets the Eye.

Korean

Korean is spoken by 76-77 million native speakers in North Korea, South Korea and in Korean immigrant enclaves around the world.

The economy of South Korea is the fourth largest in Asia, and the 11th largest in the world.

In the US, you’ll find thriving Korean communities in places like Los Angeles, California, Atlanta, Georgia, and even in smaller cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee.

For more about Korean, see Korean Translation: 8 Facts You Need to Know.

Portuguese

215 million people speak Portuguese around the world, making it the 6th most commonly spoken language globally. And with 720 thousand Portuguese speakers in the US, it’s the 12th most common language in the country.

It’s also the official language of Brazil, which, despite the country’s recent political problems and economic slowdown, is still the 9th largest economy in the world.

For more about Portuguese, see 5 Facts About the Portuguese Language that Might Surprise You.

French

French only has around 75 million native speakers. But 190 million people speak it as a second language, and 212 million use it daily. Meanwhile, the number of French speakers in Africa is growing quickly.

The French economy is the 6th largest in the world. And over 4,600 French companies do business in the United States.

French is also the fourth most common language spoken in the US, with 1.3 million speakers. In fact, about 3.5% of people in Louisiana speak either French or a French Creole at home, and the state of Louisiana uses French as one of its administrative languages.

French is also an official language in Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada.

Arabic

The fifth most common language in the world is Arabic, with 295 million speakers. According to the Census Bureau, 1.2 million Arabic speakers live in the United States, making it the 8th most-spoken language in the country.

That makes Arabic one of most important languages for business translation, whether your organization is trying to expand into the Middle East or needs to reach Arabic-speaking immigrants at home.

Want to learn more about Arabic? See Special Considerations for Arabic Translation Projects.

Russian

Russian boasts 155 million native speakers, making it the 8th most common language in the world. And while doing business in Russia is complicated, it’s still the 12th most powerful economy in the world, which is an important fact to keep in mind when making plans to localize or expand business abroad.

Additionally, there are almost 1 million Russian speakers in the United States. Russian-speaking communities exist in cities across the country, from Los Angeles, California, and Portland, Oregon on the West Coast to Bergen County, New Jersey and New York City on the East Coast. Are they your customers? You might need to translate some of your content into Russian!

Hindi

Pop quiz time! What’s the 7th largest economy in the world? And which language has the 4th highest number of native speakers?

Pencils down! As it turns out, the 7th largest economy in the world is India. And the 4th most commonly spoken language is Hindi.

There is a misconception that there are many English speakers in India. While many educated Indians do speak English, only about 30% of the country as a whole speaks it. So if you’d like to do business in India, having your content translated into Hindi (and other languages spoken by your target audience) is a smart choice. Even people who speak two languages fluently often prefer to read and shop in their mother tongue.

Meanwhile, 810 thousand people in America speak Hindi. Lumped together with its Pakistani sibling, Urdu, Hindustani is the 7th most common language for Americans to speak at home.

How to choose languages for business translation

Determining which languages your business needs to target the most is a very individual process. Use these questions to help you make your decision:

  • Who are your existing customers? What languages do they speak?
  • Where does your organization do business now, and where do you plan to expand in the future?
  • What does your organization need to do to stay in compliance with the regulations that govern your industry?

A good language services provider can partner with your organization to ensure your content gets translated into the languages you need when you need it translated. Want to learn more about how VIA and our expert translation teams can help you do just that? Give us a call at 1-800-737-8481 today!

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