Note: This blog entry was originally written in Japanese in 2019 for our Japanese website. We used our machine translation platform Translation Designer to translate the entry into English and to post-edit the output for readers outside of Japan. The original Japanese entry can be found here.

Maybe you need to translate an instruction manual of your product for export. Or want to translate the information of nearby hotels and transportation to attract tourists from overseas. Translating the package or label of your product is also important if you're trying to get international customers.

Today, in our global society, translation and localization services are used in a wide variety of situations and applications. In old times, translating into English was the mainstream, but now the languages that get requested are diverse. All kinds of documents are being translated into a wide variety of languages, including FIGS (French, Italian, German, and Spanish), Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

In this blog, we will introduce the most powerful languages in the world from a quantified ranking in order to answer the question of what is the most effective language to translate into when going global.

Choosing your translation language is not easy

If you're exporting products overseas, you will need an instruction manual in the language specified by the target destination. If you're translating information or notices for travelers visiting Japan, you need to determine which language to translate into based on the data of the expected number of travelers by country.

For consumer goods and food packaging, the cultural background of the product and destination must also be considered.

However, the time and budget you can spend on these translations are limited. Not all documents and information can be translated into languages around the world. It is necessary to select your translation language based on the nature of the document, laws and regulations, and your company's sales and marketing strategy. But as you already know, this is quite difficult.

How about when exporting to EU?

For example, if you are exporting medical devices to the European Union, or EU, warnings and safety statements for using them must be written in the local language of the country.

As of May 2019, there are 24 languages in the EU that are designated as official languages: Irish, Italian, Estonian, Dutch, Greek, Croatian, Swedish, Spanish, Slovak, Slovenian, Czech, Danish, German, Hungarian, Finnish, French, Bulgarian, Polish, Portuguese, Maltese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, and English. Thinking of preparing all of these translations, even if each is a small amount, you get a headache, right?

On the other hand, it is rather easy to select your translation language if it's regulated by law like this. But what if it's something not regulated by law? For example, you simply just want international customers to know about your product or service. In this case, which language is the most effective to translate into?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum shared an interesting data on its website.

The most powerful languages in the world

In this data, major languages used in the world are quantified and ranked in the following five items. The effectiveness of the language is evaluated based on the total score obtained by the weighted ratings of each item.

  1. Geography (22.5%): Geographical range where the target language is valid.
  2. Economy (22.5%): Economic strength and impact of countries and regions that use the target language.
  3. Communication (22.5%): Communication range in which the target language is effective, e.g., the population that speaks it.
  4. Knowledge & Media (22.5%): Amount of information and number of effective media in the target language.
  5. Diplomacy (10%): Impact within international relations and of international organizations that validate the target language.

Note: The highest rating for each item is 1, and the larger the number, the lower the rating.

The interesting part about this data is that it doesn't just evaluate the population speaking the language and the number of countries that adopt it as their official language. It also looks at the economic impact and diplomatic power of the language. Now let's take a look at the evaluation results.

World's most powerful language ranking

#1: English (Score: 0.889)

  1. Geography (1)
  2. Economy (1)
  3. Communication (1)
  4. Knowledge & Media (1)
  5. Diplomacy (1)

The most powerful language in the world is English. English, now widely used as a common language in the world, has won the highest ratings in all of geography, economy, communication, knowledge and media, and diplomacy.


#2: Chinese* (Score: 0.411)
*Mandarin / simplified Chinese

  1. Geography (6)
  2. Economy (2)
  3. Communication (2)
  4. Knowledge & Media (3)
  5. Diplomacy (6)

Following English, the most powerful language in the world is Chinese (Mandarin / simplified Chinese).

With a huge population speaking the language, high economic power, and an overwhelming amount of information, Chinese (Mandarin / simplified Chinese) ranked second.


#3: French (Score: 0.337)

  1. Geography (2)
  2. Economy (6)
  3. Communication (5)
  4. Knowledge & Media (5)
  5. Diplomacy (1)

Ranked third is French. It is widely used not only in France but also in Africa and Southeast Asia. In terms of geography, it is the second most widely spoken language after English.


#4: Spanish (Score: 0.329)

  1. Geography (3)
  2. Economy (5)
  3. Communication (3)
  4. Knowledge & Media (7)
  5. Diplomacy (3)

Ranked fourth is Spanish. It is used as an official language not only in Spain but also in regions from southern parts of the United States to South American countries. It is the most widely spoken language following English and French.


#5: Arabic (Score: 0.273)

  1. Geography (4)
  2. Economy (9)
  3. Communication (6)
  4. Knowledge & Media (18)
  5. Diplomacy (4)

Ranked fifth is Arabic. Arabic, the official language of the Middle Eastern countries, was ranked fifth. Although knowledge and media was rated low, geography and diplomacy had high ratings.


#6: Russian (Score: 0.244)

  1. Geography (5)
  2. Economy (12)
  3. Communication (10)
  4. Knowledge & Media (9)
  5. Diplomacy (5)

Ranked sixth is Russian. It is spoken in Russia and former Soviet Union countries, and was ranked sixth in terms of geography and diplomacy.


#7: German (Score: 0.191)

  1. Geography (8)
  2. Economy (3)
  3. Communication (7)
  4. Knowledge & Media (4)
  5. Diplomacy (8)

Ranked seventh is German. Although not as much as French or Spanish, German is widely spoken in European countries such as Belgium and Austria. It ranked seventh in terms of economy and knowledge and media.


#8: Japanese (Score: 0.133)

  1. Geography (27)
  2. Economy (4)
  3. Communication (22)
  4. Knowledge & Media (6)
  5. Diplomacy (7)

Ranked eighth is Japanese. Since it is spoken only in Japan, geography and communication are rated low, but economy, knowledge and media, and diplomacy received high ratings.


#9: Portuguese (Score: 0.119)

  1. Geography (7)
  2. Economy (19)
  3. Communication (13)
  4. Knowledge & Media (12)
  5. Diplomacy (9)

Ranked ninth is Portuguese. Portuguese, which is the official language of Portugal and Brazil, had low ratings for economy and knowledge and media, as opposed to Japanese. But it was rated high in terms of geography and came in ninth place.


#10: Hindi (Score: 0.117)

  1. Geography (13)
  2. Economy (16)
  3. Communication (8)
  4. Knowledge & Media (2)
  5. Diplomacy (10)

Ranked tenth is Hindi. Hindi is the official language of India, which has the second largest population after China. It received high ratings in terms of communication and knowledge and media.

Summary

The ranking reflects what we expected with English, Chinese, and Spanish coming in high, but it was a little surprising to see Japanese in the list.

It's also very interesting that all the official languages of BRICS countries are ranked in.

If you can't decide on which language to translate into, this ranking of most powerful languages in the world is useful as a reference.

Kawamura's translation services

Kawamura International can help you out with all of these languages. Our global offices in Hong Kong, for Asian languages including East Asia and Southeast Asia, and Cologne, Germany, for European languages including FIGS, will serve as your local team. We support more than 40 languages and provide professional translation in all languages.

Let us know if your target language is not included in our language list — this list is not exhaustive! Kawamura is here to support your multilingual needs when going global. Get in touch with us from our contact page.