Is number of speakers really so important?

Vytenis   Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:25 am GMT
My question is: Is number of speakers (both native or non-native) really so important in judging the "importance" of a language or the importance of learning it. For exaple, languages like Hindi, Bengali may have more speakes than English and Spanish put together, but will anyone learn it unless they go to India? Or Chinese? It has the huge number of speakers, but I don't think its that important to learn unless you go to China. Definitely, languages like German or French are much more "important", although their numbers of speakers are much smaller in comparison to these giant languages I mentioned...
Vytenis   Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:33 am GMT
Therefore I think it is not the number of speakers, but historical, economic, political, cultural and other reasons that matter in the traditional "importance" of a language. For example for a long time Latin was the most important language in Europe, although I believe the number of its speakers was not that big (as a percentage of the general population). Nowadays (at least for the most part of the XIX and XX centuries) it has been English, French and German. Anywhere you go in the world, you find these as the most important foreign languages taught at schools or foreign-language signs or instructions written in them.
Franco   Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:35 am GMT
Es muy importante. No hay nada más importante, absolutamente nada.

Es más importante que todo el universo y todo lo que lo rodea.
Guest   Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:36 am GMT
In my opinion it is important.

It is one of the factors more important to weigh up the power of a language and the whole tendency of a language (not only the number of speakers now, but also in the near future).

For instance, German is spoken by 120 million people, but the demographic tendency is to have only 100 million in the near future.

Hindi is not a good example because in India, English is also an official language. If English disapear of India, Hindi will be very important.

I think it is better to compare two Asiatic languages, and not an European one and another Asiatic. For instance, Chinese with Japanese or Hindi with Persian. At the same time, two or more European languages, Portuguese with Italian or French with Polish.

A good example is a comparison between Portuguese and Italian. Italian is an important language, but the increase of speakers of Portuguese is an important factor to study this language and not Italian.

There are other factors to know the importance of a language, but perhaps, this is one of the most important.

Well, that´s only my opinion.
Ornella   Wed Aug 22, 2007 11:44 am GMT
You can see the tendency now. The most studied language are changing fast:

1. English

2. French- Spanish. Until now, French was the second most studied language, but the strengh of Spanish is becoming important. According to several sources, Spanish is /or will be the second in the near future. The demographic factor in the World and in USA is explaining that. At this moment there is almost a draw.

4. German. At this moment German is 4th, and it will be 5th very fast, because of the power of China.

5. Chinese: this language will be 4th very soon.

5. Italian. This language will be overtaked by Arabic soon.
Vytenis   Wed Aug 22, 2007 12:20 pm GMT
Where did you find these language learning statistics? I think it would be pretty difficult to sum up the statistics from all the countries of the world as to which languages are most studied. It depends on the region. For example in my country and in the rest of Eastern Europe Sopanish is not very much studied, English and Russian (and maybe German) are much more important. But in the US of course I do believe that Spanish may be the most important second language. Chinese may be widely studied in East or SouthEast Asian countries but definitely not here in Eastern Europe. Neither is Arabic unless of course you are one of the numerous Russian girls who marry arabs while on holiday in Egypt :D
Guest   Wed Aug 22, 2007 12:45 pm GMT
The rise of the number of native French speakers will not come largely in FRance, Canada, Switzerland, and Belgium but form Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a fast growing native French speakers in this region.

And with this, the status of French as 2nd most important language in the world cannot be replaced not to mention the enormosu influence of France.

Actually if there is language that can be considered as 3rd most important, that would only be either Russian and Spanish. Spanish cannot completely claim that it is more important than Russian because the latter has large number of native speakers plus the secondary speakers in Ex-Soviet counties and widely spoken and studied in Eastern Europe, Mongolia, and even Finland which Spanish doesn't have to qualify as international lingua franca. The numerous contributions of Russian speakers in science, medicine, space explorations, and technology makes Russian a very important language too.
Vytenis   Wed Aug 22, 2007 12:53 pm GMT
Yes, i agree that Russian may be powerful because of culture, science etc., but no less so are French and German. Spanish in fact has MORE native speakers than Russian nowadays... Russian has only about 200 million, while spanish - no less than 350 - 400 million native speakers.
Ornella   Wed Aug 22, 2007 12:58 pm GMT
Well, I read that in report by Berlitz. It was the top 6 languages:

1. English

2. French-Spanish (almost draw)

4. German

5. Chinese

6. Italian

Berlitz has a database of students. I think it is easy for them.

Russian and Arabic weren´t in the top 6. But I think they are 7th and 8th.
Guest   Wed Aug 22, 2007 1:01 pm GMT
But the number of foreign language of speakers is just around 20 million very small when compared to English, French, Russian, German, and Italian. So Spanish get it's strength in the huge number of native speakers and 21 Spanish speaking countries nothing else. It's influence is not that strong too because of its limited contributions to fields of study.

Mandarin Chinese has more than 800 million native speakers but even though it's spoken in China(3rd large country in size), Taiwan, Hon Kong, and Singapore, it's status is the same as that as Spanish.
Ornella   Wed Aug 22, 2007 1:18 pm GMT
Well, you say 20 million. Other sources (Berlitz, for instance and a lot more) say that the second language speakers of Spanish are 50-100 million people. There are more than 20, only in Brazil and USA.

At the same time Spanish is the first language of 30 countries or territories.

Finally, Spanish is official language in the 3 most important economic areas: NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), Mercosur (South America) and European Union.

So, that´s is not exactly the same as Chinese.
Guest   Wed Aug 22, 2007 1:22 pm GMT
<< Finally, Spanish is official language in the 3 most important economic areas: NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), Mercosur (South America) and European Union. >>

You mean Spanish is an official language of those organizations and not the only one?

In EU, Spanish plays a less important role than English French, German, Italian and even to Dutch and Swedish.
Guest   Wed Aug 22, 2007 1:25 pm GMT
That´s your opinion.

For instance, European Union said that the European languages to use with other countries or Economic areas are English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
mac   Wed Aug 22, 2007 2:11 pm GMT
<< At the same time Spanish is the first language of 30 countries or territories. >>

You sure about that? It's 21 total I think. From Mexico to Argentina, the Carribean and that tiny place in Africa. If you add New Mexico state (where I think it's offical but is still next to English) then it's 22.

As for French, I curious how many people in Africa use French as a first or primary language? I know it's official in central and west Africa and popular in the northwest also. But in some of those countries it is co-official with English or Arabic, and among many there are hundreds of native/local languages that are still spoken besides French. Should I assume that the majority of the population there speaks French or is bi-lingual with French to some degree? I really don't know.
Informateur   Wed Aug 22, 2007 2:20 pm GMT
A majority of the world's population of Francophones lives in Africa. Most Africans, however, do not speak French as their mother tongue (although the number of native French speakers on the continent is said to be increasing) but tens of millions can speak it as a second language. It is impossible to speak of a single form of African French, but rather of diverse forms of African French which have developed due to the contact with many indigenous African languages.In the territories of the Indian Ocean, the French language is often spoken alongside French-derived creole languages, the major exception being Madagascar. There, a Malayo-Polynesian language (Malagasy) is spoken alongside French.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where the French language is most likely to expand due to the expansion of education and it is also there the language has evolved most in recent years. Some vernacular forms of French in Africa can be difficult to understand for French speakers from other countries but written forms of the language are very closely related to those of the rest of the French-speaking world.

French is an official language of many African countries, most of them former French or Belgian colonies:

Note: In countries ruled by other European countries, native speakers of the language of their former colonizers are so hard to find.