Thoughts and Data

by Alexander Svanevik

Money Talks: A Cynical Approach to Language Learning

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Problem: You want to learn a new language but don’t know which one.

You could pick a language that many people speak, or one that sounds nice. Or, you could be a bit more cynical and pick one that gives you access to cash.

Let’s try this rough and simple approach: sum up the GDP per language instead of country, creating a sort of “GLP – Gross Linguistic Product”.

Using this approach, here are the top 12 GDP Languages:

English is the unsurprising winner, but there are a few other things to note. If we compare our graph to a more carefully done study from 2003, we find the following differences

  • Hindi has climbed from 11th (2.3% of total GDP) to 4th (5.83%), but this jump is due to a methodological difference (read: laziness on my part). For simplicity, I’ve lumped ALL of India’s GDP into Hindi, when in reality it would make more sense to distribute the GDP across more of India’s spoken languages. If we correct by the factor used in the study mentioned above (40%), then we arrive at 2.4% – meaning Hindi has had little change since 2002.
  • Chinese has increased its % of total GDP from 12.5% to 15.9%, but it’s still in 2nd place, and the study above predicted Chinese to be at 22.8% by 2010, which seems to have been overly optimistic on behalf of Chinese.
  • Spanish has surpassed Japanese by a mile

Let’s be a bit more direct.

What if you’re a golddigger, and you’d like to speak the language of the rich? Which language should you then choose?

Here are the top 12 GDP-per-speaker languages:

Let’s ignore the fact that Norwegian is the winner for a moment, and instead observe that the top 6 languages are all Germanic languages! In other words, learning one of those might be a good idea, if you’re mainly in it for the money.

What do you think is important when choosing which language to learn?