Three most useful travelling languages (aside from English)?

Hello, I hope I’ve posted this to the correct forum.

I’m wondering what the three most useful/practical languages would be, if one were to plan to travel around the world (aside from English, which would likely be in most top three lists). I’m approaching this from a tourist perspective, rather than a business one, although I’m not sure if the angle would be any different.

My list:

  1. Spanish: I’ve been told this is currently what Japanese was supposed to have been a decade ago: the best language to learn for business. I know I’m not thinking business, but I do think that where there are business opportunities, there are people. I’d imagine it takes care of significant parts of the Western Hemisphere, and a little of Europe.

  2. Mandarin (Chinese): I realize that though it is the language spoken by the highest number of people, it does not spread far from China. Is there a better language that covers Asia more consistently?

  3. Arabic: My understanding is that ideally a Muslim is to learn to read and recite the Qu’ran (Koran) in its original language, although I don’t know how often this occurs in reality. Islam is certainly a large religion (second in numbers overall), and so I suppose one could speak with Muslims around the world. Of course, I haven’t tested this theory (and I would be happy to know how sound it is, if anyone knows).

I think the one glaring omission as far as continents covered is Africa. What would be a good language to know if one were to travel over the whole of that continent? I don’t believe it is any of these, although I think Arabic takes a lead amongst my three.

I’m anxious to see what insights anyone else can offer.

Actually, Mandarin usage is spread throughout Asia. It’s not like everyone or even a large proportion of the population will speak Mandarin, but it’s certainly helped me in Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore. Heck, a couple of years ago Mandarin helped me out considerably in both Rome and Orleans.

French - good for much of Africa, some Caribbean Isles, Wallonia in Belguim, Quebec, some Swiss cantons…oh yeah and France too.

Russian - spoken to varying degrees across two half-continent sized areas.

Basque - if you learn that, everything else is probably easy as Esperanto.

In terms of languages spoken in the most number of countries, I’d think that Spanish, French, and Arabic would have to take the cake. But there are a lot of countries where these would be the nominal official language, but where not everyone would actually speak them. For example, French is the official language of several African nations where it is used in government, newspapers, etc., but where most average people speak local languages.

I agree with cuate about French. You would be able to cover most of the continent using it.

Russian is still widley spoken in the old Soviet States. But the native languages are being taught in schools now and Russian isn’t. So there may be one last generation to fully speak Russian. With a knowledge of Russian you can get by in Ukranian and Bleorussian. Those languages are also spoken in a wide area of the former USSR.

You should also keep in mind the percentage of native speakers of a language also speak English. For example, it’s not worth the effort to learn Swedish even if you think you’re going to spend time in Sweden, because most people there speak English. I imagine a small proporation of Mandarin speakers speak English. Another factor is how uniform the language is. I’ve been told that the Arabic you learn in school is almost useless in most Arab countries.

Personally, I have forgotten my French because I’ve rarely had the occasion to use it over the years.

The top 20 languages (in numbers of native speakers):

  1. Mandarin
  2. Spanish
  3. English
  4. Bengali
  5. Hindi
  6. Portuguese
  7. Russian
  8. Japanese
  9. German
  10. Chinese, Wu
  11. Javanese
  12. Korean
  13. French
  14. Vietnamese
  15. Telugu
  16. Cantonese
  17. Marathi
  18. Tamil
  19. Turkish
  20. Urdu

I vote for:

  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. Mandarin
  4. Portuguese
  5. Russian
  6. French
  7. Arabic

I vote for French, Spanish and Esperanto. Why?

French because it’s really popular as a second language for people to learn, so even if it’s not the official language of a country, there’s a good chance the person you’re talking to knows at least enough to communicate.

Spanish, because all the cool and beautiful people know it.

Esperanto because why the hell not? My old Latin teacher would flip that I didn’t put Latin down, because it shares so much with so many “modern” languages (duh) but I don’t feel like getting into an argument regarding the usefulness of Latin and all that crap.

Spanish would be fine…if you lived in the States or Europe.

Anyone in a similar situation to me would NEVER have the need to know Spanish. Ever. I have never been in a position where knowing Spanish would have helped me. Because my whole life has been spent in either Australia or Asia.

I’d agree with French and Mandarin though.

I would pick :

-Spanish for latin america

-French for Africa
Also, both are fairly common second languages

The problem with Arabic is that in many arab countries, the local dialect is very different from the standard arabic. However, educated people should know it. Also, in most arabic countries, either english or french should be spoken by a sizeable part of the population (at least urban population), possibly better than standart Arabic. As for non arabic muslim countries, I can’t tell, but my understanding is that apart a couple of prayers they know, people wouldn’t understand Arabic.

Mandarin seems a good pick. Especially since there’s a large chinese diaspora, which could prove convenient.

Russian could be useful in eastern europe
My vote would be :

8)German (eastern europe+spoken by many in the tourism industry, not uncommon second language)

Colloquial Urdu and Hindi appear to be quite similar, and understood by speakers of both. Therefore a bit of basic Hindi/Urdu could be very useful, as it will serve you throughout the Indian subcontinent, much of the Middle East (large expat population) as well as in migrant communities in the UK and other places.

Intersting. I would have picked German, French, and Spanish.

The reasons would be, Spanish is spoken all throughout the Americas. French is supposed to be the “official” language, most official documents can be found in French, road signs etc. And now that I see that French is used in Africa even more reason to keep it. German, at least according to Dr. Greg Fraiser (sp?), is spoken all throughout Europe. He says that you can usually find someone that can speak it.

These are all based on what I know, which isn’t a whole lot, and does leave a gap in Asia. Not that I can speak anything else anyway so I’m stuck with English.