The world is a much smaller place than it used to be. Launching an online company and selling to millions of customers across the world is now easier than ever. However, many entrepreneurs underestimate the need for a crucial skill that will make them more competitive on a global scale – languages.

In a Reddit AMA, Bill Gates admitted that he “felt stupid” for not understanding any foreign languages. Meanwhile, globally minded entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg are multilingual.

As a business leader competing on a global stage, understanding a few foreign languages could be vital for success. Here are the top five foreign languages most entrepreneurs should try to learn:

 

1.   German

It’s never been easy to learn German, but it is an essential language to master if you conduct business in Europe. Not only is Germany one of the largest economies in the world and a systemically important part of the European Union, but the language is spoken by hundreds of millions of people across the globe. It is the official language of five countries and is a significant secondary language in four others. Take a local lesson if you spend time working, studying, or visiting Berlin. Going to a language school as opposed to self-teaching will help make this difficult language much easier to learn.

 

2.   French

French is one of the most popular languages in the world. In 2015, estimates suggested that there were over 275 million people with varying degrees of French fluency. By 2050, the number is expected to reach 650 million. Even today, most native French speakers live outside of France. The majority are in different parts of Africa, and there is also a sizable number in North America – mainly in the Canadian province of Quebec. Learning French could therefore be incredibly useful for an entrepreneur trying to crack the global market.

 

3.   Chinese

There’s no denying China’s rise as a global superpower over the past few decades. China now accounts for nearly 15% of the global economy, according to estimates by the World Bank. Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the only prominent tech leader who speaks Mandarin. Over the coming decades China’s economy will shift from manufacturing to consumption, which will make this an important market for global entrepreneurs and businesses to target. Due to its popularity, learning Mandarin could be a better option than Cantonese for entering the market.

Source: World Bank

 

4.   Spanish

Not only is Spanish one of the most prominent languages in the world, but it is also relatively easy to learn in comparison to other languages on this list. With a rudimentary command in spoken and written Spanish, you could tap into South American and Central American communities to strike deals for your business. Economic powerhouses such as Chile, Panama, Colombia, and Peru all speak Spanish – not to mention Spain itself, which is one of the biggest economies in Europe. Spanish language skills could also give your business an edge in the growing Hispanic community in North America.

 

5.   Arabic

Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world. Understanding it will give you access to the vast Middle Eastern market and its hundreds of millions of inhabitants. Arabic culture and commerce is quickly going digital, so for remote entrepreneurs now is the best time to learn this fascinating and ancient language. However, Arabic has several different spoken varieties, so be sure to do your research before choosing which one to learn.

These are some of the most important languages for a global entrepreneur trying to establish a multinational business.