A while ago, we looked at how many languages there are in the world today. While many of the world's endangered languages have increasingly fewer speakers, the world's largest languages continue to grow.
So what are some of the world's most spoken languages, and what has contributed to their growth?
Let's take a look at 15 of the world's most spoken languages, their estimated number of speakers, where they are spoken, and what has made them such widely spoken languages.
Note: all numbers are according to the SIL International Ethnologue study 2019.
1. Mandarin Chinese
- Native speakers (2019): 917.8 million
- Non-Native speakers: 198.7 million
- Widely spoken in: China, Taiwan, and Singapore
Mandarin Chinese takes the cake as the world's most spoken language based on its tremendous number of native speakers. Mandarin is the standard official and literary form of Chinese based on the Beijing dialect, and is one of the official languages of the United Nations.
Mandarin is the second most popular online language, and it continues growing. A British Council report cited Chinese as one of the top 10 most important languages of the future.
- Native speakers (2019): 379 million
- Non-native speakers: 753.3 million
- Widely spoken in: the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean, Asia , Australia and the Pacific Islands
The widespread use of English around the globe and its presence in some of the world's most economically influential countries have given English its place as the world's second most spoken language. It is the most used language on the internet and one of the United Nations’ official languages.
It is interesting to note that the number of non-native English speakers nearly doubles the number of native English speakers, making it the world's most learned and spoken foreign language. The number of native speakers in 2019 has only slightly increased since 2017, while the number of non-native speakers continues increasing steeply.
- Native speakers (2019): 460.1 million
- Non-native speakers: 74.2 million
- Widely spoken in: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and widely spoken in over 20 more countries
The prominence of Spanish in the Americas and Europe has led Spanish to become one of the world's most spoken languages, with over 460 million native speakers and a growing number of non-native speakers. It is also one of the official languages of the United Nations.
Spanish is an official, national, or widely spoken language in 44 countries, including the United States. Believe it or not, the United States is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world!
- Native speakers (2019): 341.2 million
- Non-native speakers: 274.2 million
- Widely spoken in: India, Nepal, Fiji, and Pakistan
Hindi is one of India's official languages, and its large population of native speakers has led Hindi to become one of the world's most spoken languages. We’re not considering Urdu alongside Hindi here (even though they are linguistically both registers of the Hindustani language), but if we did, Hindi would jump to the third most spoken language!
- Native speakers (2019): 273.9 million
- Non-native speakers (estimated): 132 million
- Widely spoken in: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Palestine and Western Sahara
While it is difficult to narrow down exactly how many Arabic speakers there are in the world today, it's estimated that there are over 422 million speakers in total, 273.9 million of whom are native speakers. As an official language of the United Nations and the liturgical language of over 1.6 billion Muslims, Arabic is without a doubt one of the world's most spoken languages.
- Native speakers (2019): 77 million
- Non-native speakers (estimated): 200-250 million
- Widely spoken in: Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore
Malay is a language in the Austronesian family and is spoken throughout the Malaysian peninsula and surrounding areas. While there are about 18 million people who speak Standard Malay, the national language of Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, there are over 170 million people who speak Indonesian, which is a variety of Malay and the national language of Indonesia.
- Native speakers (2019): 77.2 million
- Non-native speakers: 202.6 million
- Widely spoken in: Europe (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaca, Switzerland), Africa (including Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco), the Americas and the Caribbean (Canada, Haiti, French Guiana, Martinique, and Guadeloupe), and in three Pacific Islands
French is the official language of over 29 countries throughout the world and is the second-most-widely-spoken first language in the European Union. The colonial history of France has helped spread this language throughout the world and, like in the case of English, has led to a situation in which there are more non-native French speakers than native speakers.
French is also one of the United Nations' six official languages.
- Native speakers (2019): 220.7 million
- Non-native speakers (2019): 13.4 million
- Widely spoken in: Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé
Of the nearly 220.7 million native Portuguese speakers, over 150 million speak Brazilian Portuguese, the most common variation, due to Brazil's large population. Portuguese colonization also led Portuguese to be spoken as a first language by an estimated 14 million people in several African countries, much like English and French.
- Native speakers (2019): 228.3 million
- Non-native speakers: 36.7 million
- Widely spoken in: India and Bangladesh
Bengali is the second-most-widely-spoken language in India and is primarily used in the easternmost states of the country, as well as in Bangladesh. There is a strong history of Bengali nationalism that has led to its rich literary tradition and cultural diversity.
- Native speakers (2019): 153.7 million
- Non-native speakers: 104.4 million
- Widely spoken in: Russia and countries that occupy the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine)
Russian is an official language of the United Nations due to the historical power of the Soviet Union. Estimations of the number of Russian speakers around the world vary, but sources indicate somewhere between 200 and 260 million native speakers.
This number is, however, slowly decreasing thanks to the breaking up of the Soviet Union and the consequent rising number of speakers of other languages in former Soviet Union countries.
- Native speakers (2019): 76 million
- Non-native speakers: 56 million
- Widely spoken in: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg
As the most populated country in the European Union, the vast majority of the world's German speakers live in Germany; but German speakers can be found in nearby European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Interestingly, non-native speakers make up nearly two-thirds of the world's German speakers.
- Native speakers (2019): 128.2 million
- Non-native speakers (estimated): 131,000
- Widely spoken in: Japan
As one of the world's fifteen most spoken languages, Japanese is the most geographically concentrated language: over 124 million of its total speakers live in Japan and the Okinawa island group. The dense population of these areas contributes to its large number of speakers.
- Native speakers (2019): 77.2 million
- Widely used in: The Korean Peninsula
Korean is the official language of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic Republic of Korea, although each nation uses a different standardized form of the Seoul dialect. Apart from being spoken in North and South Korea, there is also a large population of Korean speakers in China.
- Native speakers (2019): 68.2 million
- Widely spoken in: Indonesia and Suriname
Javanese is an Austronesian language spoken by over 68 million people in Indonesia and Suriname. As the most populated island on earth, Java is home to more than 124 million people, over half of whom speak Javanese as a native language.
- Native speakers (2019): 92.7 million
- Widely spoken in: Pakistan and India
Lahnda is the collective name given to the group of languages and dialects primarily spoken in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India, also known as Punjabi. It is the only living Indo-European language that is a fully tonal language.
It's Time to Start Learning
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