What are the most spoken languages in the world? I’m sure Spanish, English and Mandarin come to mind. You’d be right. That’s the top three. But the other four? It’s less obvious.
In fact, the answers may surprise you. Also, if you do your research you’ll find the number of people who speak a language differs among sources. But why do statistics differ? Well, it comes down to disagreements about what constitutes a language, dialect, sub-dialect, and differences between a macro and single languages. For example, Chinese is sometimes considered a single language and other times a macro language with different sub-categories.
So, there will always be a discrepancy in figures. But what remains true is that despite what language you learn, you will benefit e.g. through improved cultural understanding.Before we jump into our list of 9 most spoken languages in the world take note statistics based on educated estimates from one of the most authoritative world language resources in the world Ethnologue. Statistics highlight the number of native speakers (speakers who use the target language as their first language).
With an astounding figure of 1.284 billion, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. At that figure, one in seven people in the world speaks the language.
Ethnologue has classified Chinese as a macro language with 13 subcategories, including Mandarin. There are roughly 898 million Mandarin speakers.Whilst Mandarin isn’t as widely spoken as English or Spanish, it’s great to learn if you conduct business with the Chinese, plan on traveling there or just have a love for languages.
At 437 Million native speakers, Spanish is second. For some, it’s one of the sexiest languages in the world. For others, it’s regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn (debatable as always).
Regardless, it’s one of the most popular languages to learn. It allows you to converse with people in 22 countries like Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela.Also, if you love traveling it’ll help you understand new cultures and build closer human bonds.
English may not be the most spoken language, but it’s one of the most widely spoken (if not the most widely spoken). It’s the lingua franca of travel and business.
Reading this, you may be one of the 372 million native English Speakers in the world or one of the 500 million that speak it as a second language.
The number of people learning and who will continue to learn English is set to rise as the world population continues to grow. Learning English will open up career opportunities and provides a gateway to a better quality of life for many.
Ethnologue estimates that the number of native Arabic speakers is 295 million. Arabic consists of 19 sub-categories of languages. Get your head around that.
From Gulf, Moroccan, and Algerian to Sudanese, Tunisian and Najdi Arabic, the differences make communication difficult at times.In the western world, many academics distinguish between Classic Arabic of the Quran and Modern Standard Arabic, which is in standard use today (MSA).
Number five on our list of most spoken languages in the world is Hindi. Hindi, primarily spoken in India, is the mother tongue of over 260 million people.
There’s still on-going debate whether Hindi or Urdu are a single language, Hindustani, - a dispute dating back to the 19th century.Regardless, if you love languages, it’s a great language to wrap your tongue around with words like:
- Raabta: connection with another soul
- Jijivisha: the strong desire to live
- Indriya: ability to control five sense
- Rakhi: a cotton bracelet - given at Raksha Bandhan - by a woman to a brother, or someone close who must now treat her as a sister.
For more words read Buzzfeed's article “17 Beautiful Untranslatable Words You Should Add to Your Vocabulary Right Now”.
The inclusion of Bengali is probably a surprise, right? The truth: with 242 million native speakers, it’s the 6th most spoken language on earth.
It’s largely spoken in Bangladesh and India, although there are communities in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States who speak it.If you’re an avid traveler, here’s some phrases from Omniglot to help you communicate with locals:
- Shagotom: welcome
- Amar nam: my name is
- Shuprobhat: good morning
- Shubho shondha: good evening
- Soubhagya: good luck
- su din: have a nice day
- abar bobelon pliz: please say that again
As with English, the reach of Portuguese is due to its colonial past. 219 million people speak Portuguese in countries like from Brazil, Goa, Mozambique, Portugal, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
Portuguese is most widely spoken in Brazil. It’s known as one of the Romance languages because it originates from the language spoken by the Romans.
There are 154 million Russian first language speakers globally. Russian is the official language in Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and also the most widely spoken Slavic Language.
Although it ranks as the 8th most spoken language worldwide, it pips Portuguese if you include non-native speakers.
Finally, Japanese is number 9 on our list of most spoken languages in the world. Nearly all 128 million native speakers live in Japan. That makes it one of the most geographically concentrated languages.
The Japanese use three systems of writing - Hiragana, Katakana And Kanji. Kanji is derived from Chinese characters. If you want to learn more, visit the GuidetoJapanese.org.
Wrapping it up
Linguists will remain in disagreement about what constitutes a language. Classifications will continue to differ. These differences will leads to different statistics about the numbers of people who speak a language. One thing remains certain though: learning a new language is fun and has several benefits like forming bonds with other human beings. In the end, we're all human. Despite our differences, don't we all want one thing: connection?