It is estimated that more than 7,139 languages are spoken today, with new languages being created every day and some others becoming extinct at a fast pace. Approximately 40% of languages today are now at risk of disappearing while those that are on the top will probably become stronger.
Globalisation has contributed to this expansion of powerful languages. If in ancient Roman times Latin was the lingua franca used for culture and business, English has taken its place now, despite occupying the third place among the countries with most native speakers. But will it always be like this?
Preply has decided to jump into the future and predict which languages will dominate in 2050, to allow you to start preparing for the world to come.
Mandarin set to have almost 1.2 billion native speakers by 2050
After analysing historical data of native speakers for the 28 most important languages, -58% of today’s world population – from 2013 and applying linear and exponential growth mathematical models (as per the methodology explained below), we can predict that Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English and Hindi will continue to occupy the first positions as the most popular languages, but their growth will vary significantly.
By 2050, Mandarin Chinese will still be the language with the biggest number of native speakers in the world, but China’s ageing population and the decrease in birth rates will restrict its predicted growth to only 27%, a low percentage compared to the expected boom for Spanish and English, in second and third positions, with an outstanding 44% increase.
Mandarin is spoken mainly in just one country – China – and the Chinese population has understood the importance of learning other languages to integrate into the global economy. This explains why, even if it has more native speakers, Mandarin won’t surpass English as the lingua franca for international communication.
“The 400 million Chinese middle class, the social and economic powerhouse of the country, are dedicated to ensuring their children are global citizens. Fundamental to this is ensuring their children are fluent in English at a young age. Moreover, not all education systems in the West are geared to teaching Mandarin”, says Domenica Di Lieto, CEO of Chinese planning and digital marketing consultancy, Emerging Communications.
Indonesian will be the fastest growing language, increasing by more than 200% by 2050
Other Asian languages will also see a rise in the number of native speakers. Yue Chinese, a group of languages spoken in Southern China that includes Cantonese, is expected to increase by an outstanding 119% in 2050, and Wu Chinese, spoken primarily in Shanghai and the Zhejiang Province, will also increase by 26%.
We expect the number of native speakers of Indonesian to rise by more than 200% due to the high birth rates that have transformed it into the fourth most populous country in the world. However, plans from the government to convince the population to have fewer children could significantly alter the trends.
Moderate growth will be seen in India, as a consequence of the decline of fertility rates in recent years. But with an economy that is rising and a population that surpasses 1.3 billion people, some of its languages will continue to be in good positions: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Gujarati, Bhojpuri and Kannada are good examples.
German speakers will decline whilst Spanish will remain in the European lead
Those concerned about the future of European languages shouldn’t worry too much because all of them will grow. As seen before, Spanish and English speakers will continue to grow with an increase of 44% in each that will leave Spanish ahead with almost 700 million native speakers and English second with more than 500 million.
We will also see a notable rise in the number of Portuguese native speakers (+37%), due mostly to the impressive figures of the Brazilian population (more than 211 million people), and both French and Italian will grow, but at low rates of +7% and +2%, respectively.
The exception in Europe will be the German language (-35%). We’ve seen no growth in the historical figures of native speakers in the last 10 years, and this is because it’s only spoken in countries with a slow or negative demographic growth: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland or the Bolzano area in Italy.
Still, as Germany is the leader of the European Union and most likely the strongest and more stable economy in the region, foreign students will continue to be interested in studying it as a second language for professional reasons.
Welsh speakers will increase by 32% and Manx speakers will double
Attending official sources, we’ve been able to prepare forecasts for local languages in the UK like Irish, Welsh and Manx.
Manx is expected to have the biggest increase (92%). This Celtic language, considered an important part of the cultural heritage of the isle of Man, has seen a steady increase in its number of speakers since 1974, due in part to the support it has received from the government to teach it in junior and secondary schools.
Welsh is expected to surpass the 1 million native speakers by 2050. The Welsh government, in fact, has launched a strategy for the promotion of this language called Cymraeg 2050.
On the other hand, there are many chances that the number of Irish speakers will decrease by 2050. According to Census data, it has only grown by 167,150 speakers since 1861.
Spanish and French are the most attractive foreign languages to learn in the UK
Only in the UK, there were 63,280 monthly average searches related to learning foreign languages between August 2020 and July 2021. From this, Brits have conducted 14,800 monthly online searches with the keywords “Learn Spanish” and 8,100 with the keywords “Learn French”.
English, Japanese, Italian, German, Korean, Arabic, Russian and Mandarin complete the top 10 among the most Google-searched languages in the UK, an indicator of the interest of Brits to learn a second language.
Spanish, Japanese and Korean are America’s favourite languages
According to a report by Pew Research Centre, the U.S. Hispanic population reached 60.6 million in 2019, up 930,000 over the previous year, representing an 18% of the total share of the U.S. population and becoming the country’s second-largest ethnic group.
Popular culture also plays its part. It’s not a surprise that the number of searches related to Spanish had a peak in 2017. That same year the song Despacito by Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee was released, occupying the first positions in American music lists and Billboard charts.
Something similar can be said with Korean, with K-Pop boy bands like BTS in the top of music charts and the film Parasite, released in 2019, winning 4 Academy Awards and 1 Golden Globe.
Pop culture can contribute to language diffusion
With the surge of the Internet, apps and social networks, we have more access to information than ever before, and from many different geographic locations. With streaming services like Netflix (films and TV shows) and Spotify (music), it’s not too difficult to access content in a different language or from a distant country anymore.
If one thing is clear, it is that languages can be a vehicle for the transmission of cultural values and for understanding underrepresented cultures in traditional Western media. Being exposed to regular content in another language is also a good way to improve in the way we are learning that language.
But which are the languages that occupy the first positions in films, TV shows and music rankings? How much are we incorporating other cultures into a sector that was dominated by the traditional Hollywood industry and major music labels based in New York and Los Angeles?
Films and TV shows: Half of the most popular content on Netflix is not in English
“Young people are exposed to different cultures and languages through the things that resonate with them – music, films, social media – and I believe that this can only be a positive thing”, says Mary Gilbey, Managing Director of Anglia Translations, based in the UK.
Today’s quick and easy access to different kinds of content have made it a lot easier to learn a new language. According to our study, 99.2% of people who are learning English do different activities to improve their skills other than online courses, including watching films or TV shows in English (77.2%), listening to English music (58.5%), podcasts (52.8%) and watching YouTube videos (53.7%).
Moreover, the fact that a California-based company like Netflix is offering a wide selection of international films and TV shows is a huge step towards the democratisation of content, which is exposing all types of watchers to the possibility of learning new languages and understanding new cultures.
But how much access do we have to different languages on offer on the biggest streaming platform for films and TV shows today?
We analysed the most important films and TV shows on Netflix, according to their popularity for 2020 and 2021, to see how diverse the content showcased on the platform is.
We say goodbye to those days where English content was the only one dominating the global charts. Even if its presence is still very high – more than half of the content- we can see that other languages have made their way to the top positions.
The highly-criticised Polish erotic romantic drama, 365 Days, made it to the top of the rankings in the global chart. Spoken in English, Polish and Italian and produced by independent Polish companies, it is a good example of the triumph of multiculturality and independent filmmakers in the streaming world.
Spanish occupies the second position for both 2020 and 2021. TV series produced in Spain and Latin America like Money Heist, Yo Soy Betty La Fea, Pablo Escobar, Elite or Who Killed Sara have proven to be very popular among international audiences.
UK audiences are more open to watch films in other languages
As English-speaking countries, it’s natural that English will have a predominant influence on the content that is consumed by audiences in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
In spite of being multicultural societies, 80% of the most popular TV shows on Netflix in the UK are in English, and in the USA this figure reaches 86%.
But, when it comes to films, audiences seem to be shifting their approach. In fact, almost half of the most popular films in the UK and Canada, for both 2020 and 2021, were not in English, showing that the trend is changing towards a wider openness to other cultures.
Sing in English or Spanish to conquer the world
The impact of a song or an artist in the music industry today is measured by the number of reproductions on streaming platforms, Spotify being the most popular across the world.
We’ve analysed Spotify charts from 2017 to today to understand which languages are dominating the music scene. To accomplish this, we looked at the songs that were at the top of the charts the first week of September of each year.
Reggaeton has invaded the music scene. Despacito by Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee took the world by storm in 2017, but it’s not the only one. Songs by J Balvin, Anuel AA, Maluma, Karol G or Bad Bunny have had a strong presence in the global rankings, accounting for 19% of the total in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
“There is a genuine interest that many Gen Zers have in learning about other cultures and languages, particularly Spanish. On track to be the most diverse and most educated generation yet, this group of young people have the potential to influence language acquisition globally”, expresses Bethany McCarter, certified Spanish and English as a second language teacher in the state of Texas.
To predict the number of native speakers for every language in 2050 we used historical data from Ethnologue available online, and we applied both exponential and linear growth models. These growth models are a calculated prediction that takes into account 2 different types of growth – stagnant vs. increasing growth.
With these models, we obtained two results of possible prediction. The result that was closer to the most recent figure of the historical data has been chosen as our prediction.
The average monthly global volume was found for August 2020 – July 2021. All other figures are the totals of August – July for each year. We took into consideration the keywords in English + the keywords in the official(s) language(s) for each country.
- Native Speaker Numbers: Ethnologue catalogue available on: https://web.archive.org/web/20121114133252/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers#cite_note-1″
- Keyword Search Volume: Google Keyword Planner
- Songs and number of streams for the global Spotify chart as well as the local charts for the UK, USA, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland for the first week of September of each year since 2017: https://spotifycharts.com/
- Films and shows that ranked in 2020 and 2021 on the Netflix global chart as well as the local charts for the UK, USA, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland: https://flixpatrol.com
- Welsh Language: https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Welsh-Language/Annual-Population-Survey-Welsh-Language/speak-welsh-by-age-sex
- Irish Language: https://data.cso.ie/ – CNA09 – Population of Irish Speakers Aged 3 Years and Over
- Manx Language: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_language#Number_of_speakers_by_year
- Bhojpuri Language: https://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011Census/Language_MTs.html
- Indonesian Language: https://indonesian-online.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Native-Speakers.pdf
- Hindi Language: https://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011Census/Language-2011/Statement-1.pdf
- Languages of Netflix films and TV shows: Imdb.com