Similar to this question (What are the most common languages among people who DON'T speak English?), is there any data on individuals who do not speak a language (or none of multiple languages), or data on how many people speak which combination of languages, that could be used to answer the question?

The idea is to be able to determine, for any person, the language or languages that would enable him to speak to the most new persons. Eg, if someone knows Spanish, it would not make sense (from the standpoint of this question) to learn another language from Spain, even if there is a large absolute number of ppl, because they would likely know Spanish, which could be used for communication. Someone who knows Cantonese might not want to learn Mandarin because of all the Mandarin-speaking ppl who know Cantonese. Someone who knows Hindi and English might not choose Mandarin next (if there are a lot of Mandarin speakers who also know English), etc.

Does such a data set exist? It could also be in a positive form, ie would show how many people speak each combination of languages, which could be used to subtract out languages.

Edit, 9/7/19: There is at least some data on English speakers. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/mapped-english-speaking-countries/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_English-speaking_population

  • 2
    You have Mandarin and Cantonese reversed. Most Cantonese speakers speak Mandarin, but not vice versa. Even in traditionally Cantonese-speaking cities like Guangzhou, Mandarin is a lot more common.
    – K Man
    Aug 11, 2019 at 2:13

1 Answer 1


I don't have any hard data for this, but here is my attempt at an answer.

If you already speak fluent English: Learn French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin or Arabic. These are the only world languages in the top ten for number of speakers that are spoken in countries where English is not a lingua franca and where even the most educated do not necessarily speak it fluently. Hindustani, Bengali and Malay might not be worth it despite their popularity because they are spoken in former British colonies where the professional classes tend to be fluent in English.

If you are not yet fluent in English: Learn English. You will have no problem finding speakers of English who cannot speak your first language.

  • What about for someone who knows English and Spanish?
    – qciqd
    Sep 7, 2019 at 14:31
  • @qciqd You can still learn any of the languages mentioned in my answer. Most French, Portuguese, Mandarin and Arabic speakers still don't know English or Spanish. Alternatively, you could learn a minority language like Irish, Basque or Maya spoken in English and Spanish-speaking countries. There is no pragmatic reason for doing so, but native speakers you come across are sure to be delighted by your efforts.
    – K Man
    Sep 7, 2019 at 14:41

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