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A world language is a language that is spoken by a relatively large number of people in countries around the world. In general, such languages are used over large geographic areas and in international business exchanges. The geographic distribution of speakers of a given language is at least as important as overall number of speakers of that language when deciding whether to designate it as a world language. Some languages are spoken by many people in an area of high language density but they are not widely spoken internationally. Languages that are considered world languages change over time as different countries become prominent in international business, politics or other concerns.
The classification of a language as a world language depends largely on where it is spoken, not just on how many people speak it. Both the context and the geographic distribution of speakers of a given language can influence its international status. Languages commonly used in international business are usually considered to be world languages. A language also may become a world language if it is associated with a large body of literature or is otherwise widely used in academic settings. Such a language does not even need to be used by modern speakers to be considered a world language.
At some point in his education, a person is likely to study — if not completely learn — a world language aside from his native language. Many people begin to receive foreign language instruction as early as elementary school and take additional classes in the same language or different ones through high school and into college. Others choose to learn a language later in life, usually because it has some specific application in their professional lives. Many people whose first language is considered a world language choose not to learn a second language because their first language is already spoken in much of the world. Those whose first language is not so widely spoken may learn a second language because, though their first may have cultural significance, it has little use overall outside of one's home country.
A given language may become a world language for a variety of reasons. It may gain wide international use, for instance, because of colonization or through extensive involvement in international business. A language also may lose international popularity as the nations containing the most speakers of that language lose wealth, power and influence for various reasons.