Most Spoken Languages in the World
By: Ahtisham Khilji
Language is the backbone of human existence. It is not merely a tool of communication and correspondence, but a model of how humans interact with each other and spend their lives. If you are a traveler and have traveled to different countries, you may know the importance of learning languages for communication. But, have you ever wondered what are the most spoken languages in the world?
Gone are the ancient times when there were thousands of languages that the people of the world spoke. Today, the number of languages spoken around the world has shrunk to only 7,100. People can now easily learn the language of their choice, with the help of online language tutorials.
However, whether you want to learn a language to hone your communication skills, or to add a new language to your skill set, you will still need to know what are the most spoken languages in the world.
Below is a list of the most widely spoken languages around the world:
A look at the 30 Most Spoken Languages of the World
When the language “Chinese'' is mentioned, many people consider it to be a single language. However, Chinese is a group of related languages, of which Mandarin Chinese is the biggest one. This is the reason why Mandarin Chinese has over 1.09 billion speakers across the world, with 897 million native and 193 million non-native speakers.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of -the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore. It is known as “Putonghua”, natively in China, which has the literal meaning “common speech”. In Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese is known natively as Guoyu, which means “national language”.
Mandarin Chinese is written using Chinese characters, otherwise known as “Han characters”. These characters are a part of an ancient pictorial system where each symbol depicts a different word. According to estimates, a person needs to learn approximately 2,000-3,000 characters to read a newspaper, but an educated person will probably know about 8,000 characters.
English is probably the second most widely spoken language in the world with 1,130 million speakers. It belongs to the Germanic class of languages, which is a family of Indo-European languages. As a result of its origin, the English language is related closely to the Dutch, German, and Frisian languages.
The English language became the lingua franca of the global world owing to the dominance of the British Empire and the cultural advancement of the United States in recent times. The word “English” comes from “Angles”, a group of Germanic people who settled in Britain in the first millennium. Today, English is the official language of 67 countries and is also the official language of many global organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund.
The Hindi language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world with about 615 million speakers. Due to the large population of Hindi speakers around the world, Hind has acquired the position of the third most spoken language in the world. Belonging to the Indo-Aryan family of languages, the Hindi language is spoken across north and central India and is the official language of the Indian government.
Hindi is the official language of India and is also spoken in Nepal, Mauritius, Fiji, and Guyana. It is mostly influenced by Sanskrit and its name originates from a Persian word called “hind”, which means “Land of the Indus River”.
If you are a traveler, you have probably wondered about the Spanish language. The official language of around 20 countries, Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world with 534 million speakers, of which 460 million are native speakers. Also known as Castilian in Spain, the Spanish language is one of the official languages of the United Nations, and some other globally-recognized organizations such as the African Union and the European Union.
Spanish belongs to the Romance family of languages, which is a sub-family of Indo-European languages. It is closely related to French, Romanian, Italian, and Portuguese.
Spanish is also spoken across South and Central America and the Caribbean and is the second most spoken language in the United States.
Considered one of the most influential languages in the world, French is spoken by 279 million people across the world, of which 77 million are native speakers. It is also the official language of the United Nations, the European Union, and other internationally-recognized organizations. Moreover, the French language is spoken in some African countries such as Senegal and Madagascar, and is the official language of France and 28 other countries.
The French language is deemed one of the most influential languages as it has enormous impacts on other languages around the world–including English. To prove that fact, it is estimated that around 40% of English words have originated from French.
Arabic is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world with 273 million speakers. Although the Arabic language is the official language of 26 countries, every country or region has its own dialect of Arabic. Standard Arabic is spoken between Arabic speakers for communication.
The Arabic language is the only language on our list with zero native speakers, owing to the different dialects spoken across the world. Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, which is a sub-family of the Afro-Asiatic languages. The language has origins in the Arabian Peninsula but has now spread far and wide across North America and the Middle East.
The Bengali language is the seventh most spoken language in the world with 265 million speakers, of which 228 million are native speakers. Bengali belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages and is closely related to Hindi, Punjabi, and Marathi languages.
Bengali is mostly known to English speakers around the world as Bangla and is mostly spoken in Bangladesh and India. The Bengali language is considered the second most beautiful language in the world after French. Moreover, the Bengalis script is quite interesting and is the fifth most widely-used writing system in the world.
Belonging to the East Slavic family of languages, which is a sub-family of Indo-European languages, the Russian language is the eighth most spoken language in the world. The Russian language is the official language of four countries–Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
The Russian language has 258 million speakers, out of which 153 million are native speakers.
The closest relatives of the Russian language include Belarusian and Ukrainian. All three of these languages have descended from the medieval state of Kievan Rus. considering the number of native speakers of the Russian language, it is the biggest language in Europe and like other Slavic languages, is written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Ranked as the 9th most widely spoken language in the world, Portuguese has 234 million speakers, out of which 220 million are native speakers. It belongs to Romance languages, the sub-family of Indo-European languages. The Portuguese language is related to Romanian, French, Italian, and Spanish.
The Portuguese language has its roots in the region of Medieval Galicia and it is interesting to note that only about 5% of 215 million native speakers are residents of Portugal. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and has the sole official status in other countries such as Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Macau, Cape Verde, and Equatorial Guinea.
Belonging to the Austronesian family of languages, the Indonesian language has 198 million speakers, out of which 43 million are native speakers. Indonesian is closely related to Javanese, Malay, Sundanese, and Madurese languages.
In its standard form, the Indonesian language is the official language of Malaysia. It encompasses a distinct number of dialects across Indonesia. Moreover, Indonesian is spoken throughout Indonesia and East Timor, although it is most commonly spoken in urban areas of Indonesia. It is also commonly spoken by immigrants in countries such as the Netherlands, and Australia.
With 170 million speakers, out of which 68 million are native speakers, Urdu ranks as the 11th most widely spoken language in the world. It is the official language and lingua franca of Pakistan and resembles very closely to the Hindi language.
Urdu belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages and is spoken mostly in South Asia. Closely related to the Hindi language, Urdu is primarily spoken in Pakistan and India. Furthermore, it is the official language of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and is also one of the 23 national languages spoken in India. The prevalence of the Urdu language is so wide that it is the 20th most populous native language spoken around the world.
The Standard German language has 132 million speakers across the world, out of which 76 million are native speakers. It belongs to the West Germanic branch of languages and is mostly spoken in Central Europe. Outside Germany, the standard German language is most commonly spoken by German communities in France, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary.
The Standard German language is the most spoken native language within the European Union. It is the official language of Germany, Austria, 17 cantons of Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Other than that, it is the co-official language of Luxembourg, Belgium, and Italy.
The Japanese language is the 13th most widely spoken language in the world, with 128 million speakers, almost all of who are native speakers of the Japanese language. It is primarily spoken in Japan, which is the only country where Japanese is the national language.
The Japanese language belongs to the Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan family of languages. Although there have been many attempts to group the Japonic languages with the other family of languages such as Ainu, Koreanic, and Austroasiatic, its unique nature has prevented it from being added.
Swahili ranks amongst the most spoken languages in the world with around 98 million speakers worldwide. Belonging to the Bantu family of languages, Swahili is also known as Kiswahili and is the native language of the Swahili population, mostly found in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Kenya.
Swahili is one of the official three languages of the East African Community (EAC), such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, certain parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
With over 95 million speakers worldwide, of which 83 million are native speakers, the Marathi language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It is the official language of Maharashtra as well as the co-official language of Goa state, Damon, Dio, and Silvassa territory. Due to a large number of native speakers, the Marathi language ranks 11th in the list of most native speakers in the world. It comes after Hindi and Bengali, both of which have a greater number of native speakers scattered throughout the world.
Telugu is ranked as the 16th most-spoken language in the world with 93 million speakers, of which 82 million are native speakers. It is a Dravidian language spoken mainly by Telugu people living in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Being the widely spoken language of the Dravidian family of languages, Telugu ranks as one of the 22 scheduled languages of the Republic of India. Interestingly, it is one of the few languages that has the status of being an official language of more than one Indian state, along with Hindi and Bengali. Accordingly, it is one of the six languages designated as classical languages by the Government of India.
If you have traveled to the South Asian region, you may have come across the Western Punjabi language, which is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It has a total of 92 million speakers, all of who speak it natively. It belongs to Lahnda, a distinct and separate family of languages. It is mainly spoken in Pakistan as well as some regions in India, especially in the Punjab region of India.
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese language has many dialects spoken across China, and Wu Chinese is one of these dialects. Having a total number of 81 million speakers, all of which are native ones, Wu Chinese is different from Yu Chinese and Chinese Mandarin. Belonging to the Sino-Tibetan group of languages, Wu Chinese has dialects that are scattered into 5 to 6 major groups located in different regions of China, such as Shanghainese, Suzhounese, and Wenzhounese. Furthermore, it is primarily spoken in Shanghai, Zhejiang, Southeast Jiangsu, and parts of the Anhui and Jiangxi provinces of China.
The Tamil language has a total of 80 million speakers around the world, of which 75 million are native speakers. Tamil is a Dravidian language mostly spoken by South Asian people of Tamil. It is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, some sovereign nations of Sri Lanka and Singapore, and the area of Puducherry.
The Tamil language is also spoken by minorities in the Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. The Tamil-speaking population is also scattered in Malaysia, Myanmar, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Mauritius.
The official language of Turkey, Turkish is spoken by 79 million people worldwide, out of which almost all are native speakers. It belongs to the Oghuz group of the Turkic branch of languages and is the national language of Turkey and Northern Cyprus.
Other than in Turkey and North Cyprus, significant smaller groups of Turkish speakers also exist in Iraq, Syria, Austria, Germany, North Macedonia, Greece, and the Caucasus, as well as in parts of Europe and Central Asia.
The Korean language is spoken by 77 million speakers, all of which are native speakers. It is the native language of Korean people of mostly Korean descent. Being the official language of both North and South Korea, the Korean language has developed some vocabulary changes since the political division of both states.
Other than in Korea, the Korean language is recognized as a minority language in parts of China and Changbai County. Moreover, modern-day Korean descends from Old Korean, which is a descendant of Proto-Koreanic languages.
Vietnamese is spoken by 76 million people worldwide, out of which 75 million are native speakers. It is an Austroasiatic language that originated in Vietnam and is the native language of the Vietnamese Kinh people, as well as the second language of other ethnic groups residing in Vietnam. Other than this, Vietnamese speakers are found in other parts of Southeast Asia, East Asia, Northern America, Europe, and Australia. Moreover, Vietnamese is also recognized as a minority language in the Czech Republic.
Yue Chinese, another famous and widely spoken dialect of Chinese, is spoken by 73 million people, all of whom are native speakers of the language. Also known as Cantonese, Yue Chinese belongs to a group of similar Sinitic languages spoken in Southern China, mainly in Liangguang–the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces of China.
Cantonese is spoken in southern provinces of China, which is an area long dominated culturally and economically by the city of Guangzhou at the delta of Pearl River.
The Javanese language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian language spoken by the Javanese people from the central and eastern parts of the island of Java, Indonesia. Other than in Java, there are also some groups of Javanese speakers on the northern coast of Western Java.
The Javanese language is the largest of the Austronesian languages in the number of native speakers. It possesses several regional dialects and a number of clearly distinct status styles. Furthermore, it is related to the neighboring languages of Madurese, Balinese, and Sundanese.
If you are a travel enthusiast, you have probably heard about the Italian language. Italian is ranked among the most spoken languages in the world with 67 million speakers. Belonging to the Romance language of the Indo-European group of languages, the Italian language has evolved from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire. It is the least divergent of the Latin languages and is the official language of Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, and Vatican City. Moreover, it has an official minority language status in the Western Istria region of Croatia and Slovenia.
Egyptian Arabic language, also known as Colloquial Egyptian or simply Masri is the most widely spoken language and vernacular Arabic dialect in Egypt. It belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family and has originated from the Nile Delta in the lower Egypt region. It is spoken by 64 million speakers and the speakers of this language speak a continuum of dialects, among which the Cairene is the most prominent. Other than this, Egyptian Arabic is also understood across most Arabic-speaking countries owing to the broad Egyptian influence in the region.
Hausa is spoken by 63 million people and is a Chadic language spoken by Hausa people in the northern part of Nigeria. It belongs to the Chadic class of languages, which has descended from the Afro-Asiatic languages branch of languages. It is also spoken in the northern half of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Benin, and Togo, as well as in Niger, Chad, and Sudan.
The Hausa language is the most widely spoken language within the Chadic branch of the language family.
Thai, or central Thai, is among the most spoken languages in the world with 60 million speakers. It belongs to the Kra-Dai language family spoken by Central Thai people as well as a vast majority of Thai Chinese. The Thai language is the sole official language of Thailand.
The Thai language is the most spoken language over the 60 languages spoken in Thailand and over half of its vocabulary is derived from the Pali, Sanskrit, Mon, and Old Khmer languages. It is also partly mutually intelligible with Lao, Isan, and some other Thai dialects.
The Gujarati language ranks as the 29th most-spoken language in the world with 60 million speakers. It is an Indo-Aryan language that is native to the Indian state of Gujarat. This language originated from the Old Gujarati language and is one of the 22 scheduled languages of the Union. Moreover, it is the official language in the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Gujarati is the 6th most widely spoken language in India by a number of native speakers which amounts to about 4.5% of the total population.
The Kannada language ranks as the 30th most-spoken language in the world with 56 million speakers. Originally called Canarese, it is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by the people of Karnataka in Southwestern India and by minorities in all neighboring states. In addition, the Kannada language was a second or third language for around 13 million non-native speakers in Karnataka in the past.
The Last Word
The language of a region is the cornerstone of communication and correspondence between the residents. If you are a traveler, you know the importance of learning languages. Nevertheless, everyone should have an idea of the most popular languages as well as the most spoken languages of the world. Having an idea about these languages will help one to learn these languages better and get equipped with their dialects.