According to language translating website Babbel, Mandarin was the most widely spoken language in the world last year – spoke by 1.2 billion people worldwide. Interestingly, Spanish – not English – is the second-most spoken language, attracting about 400 million speakers. Despite being the “lingua Franca” of business, travel and international relations, English was the third most spoken language.
But just because only 360-million people spoke English, according to Babbel, doesn’t mean the language is fast losing its shine. A latest survey done by U.K. market research YouGov, which polled more than 25,000 adults across 23 countries, shows that across the world, English is still universally seen as the most important language for children to learn.
In the YouGov Cambridge Globalism Project, respondents in 23 countries were asked to pick up to four languages from a list of 15 that they thought it is most important for children these days to learn. Surprisingly, English topped the charts in every single country – including China itself. In the mainland China, 84% think English is the most important language, surpassing Mandarin at 81%.
However, at the second spot, Mandarin is catching up. The most widely spoken language of China came in second place in every country. Excluding the 81% of people in China who think the language is important to learn, between 6-76% of respondents in each country included Mandarin Chinese in their list of important languages (with an average of 31%).
In America, 73% of adults believed English was the most important language to know, followed by Spanish. The Mandarin Chinese was named the third most useful language, with 28% of participants saying children should learn it. Similarly, the Britons also saw the English (77%) as the most important language, followed by Spanish (45%) and Mandarin (40%).
In Europe, English was overwhelmingly seen as the most important language to learn, with France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland gave a rating of 90% and above. Mandarin Chinese, however, is fast gaining momentum. In fact, 35% Italians actually think the Chinese language (35) is more important than Spanish (30%).
Australia, the third biggest supporter of the Chinese language, saw a whopping 54% respondents think Mandarin language must be taught to children these days. Thailand is the biggest supporter, where 76% respondents felt it was important for children to be taught Mandarin, on top of English (87%). People in India (6%), Egypt (10%) and Germany (15%) were least likely to see Mandarin as an important skill to learn.
While Egypt might not think Mandarin is that important, Saudi Arabia, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques believes otherwise when 21% of participants said the language is important to children. In fact, a plan to include Chinese language as a curriculum at all stages of education – in schools and universities – across the Kingdom was agreed upon.
During a trip to China this February by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced that the kingdom had committed to implementing Chinese language – a proposal aims to strengthen friendship and cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China and to deepen the strategic partnership at all levels.
Likewise, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country saw 43% respondents who think Mandarin is the most important language, besides English (81%). That makes Arabic (39%), Japanese (38%), French (14%) and Malay (9%) less important than the Chinese language in the country. But something weird happened in neighbouring country Malaysia.
Last month, instead of improving English and leverage on the existing Mandarin language prowess to capture business from China as a result of the trade war, PAS Islamist party has called for the total abolition of Mandarin-medium schools in Malaysia, and replace them with Arabic. The Muslim extremists in the country don’t want to see Mandarin takes position as the country’s second language.
As English and Mandarin Chinese have secured their place as the two most valuable language to learn, French and Spanish as in the battle for third place. A simple average puts Spanish and French neck and neck at 31% apiece across the other nations. While Europe and the Americas see Spanish as more important, Africa, Asia and the Middle East think French should be the preferred language.
But based on the choice of the world’s two most populous countries – India and China – that see the importance in French than Spanish, the bet is the French language would grab the third spot. For now, English language can take comfort that Mandarin is a “distant second”. However, the Chinese language is slowly but surely closing the gap.