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The 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World

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The 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World

Determining which languages are spoken most in the world is a more difficult task than you might imagine. We can say with some confidence that Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic will make an appearance, and roughly in what order. But there are some surprises, too, on our list of the most common languages. Would you have guessed that Bengali is in the top 10?

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India has 23 official languages, with Hindi/Urdu chief among them. Whether this is one language Hindustani or two dialects, is still fiercely debated. Spoken mainly in northern India and parts of Pakistan, Hindi usesdevnagriscript, while Urdu uses Persian notation. At the time of writing, the debate about its role in Indian education and society has once again flared up: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, is seeking to have Hindi displace English in the southern Indian states as the primary language of official communication and education, a strategy that has been met with resistance. If you ever travel in the Indian subcontinent, a little Hindi will get you a long way. Plus, this is the language that gave usshampoo,jungle,jodhpursandbungalow whats not to love?

So which of these languages of the world do you want to speak?

Almost all of the 130 million native Japanese speakers live in Japan certainly the most highly geographically concentrated of all the languages on this list. Japanese boasts two distinct writing systems,hiraganaandkatakana, as well making extensive use of ChineseKanjicharacters. The largest groups living outside Japan can be found in the US, the Philippines and Brazil.

Numbers vary widely Ethnologueputs the number of native speakers at almost 1.2 billion native speakers, roughly a billion of whom speak Mandarin but theres no doubt its the most spoken language in the world. If you wish to learn a language that one in six people in the world speak, this is the one for you. Seeing as Chinese is a tonal language that uses logograms, it will certainly keep you busy.

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This is another language whose reach owes much to its colonial past. Starting in the 15th century, avid Portuguese traders and conquerors brought their language to Africa, Asia and the Americas. The spread of Portuguese may have initially been tied to European colonization, but the colonized countries developed their own vibrant cultures that transformed the language forever. Today, Portuguese is spoken by 215 million native speakers in countries like Brazil, Goa, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bisseau, São Tom and Prncipe, and Macau. Its also the language of Machado de Assis, Bossa Nova, Mia Couto, Fernando Pessoa, and Agualusa.

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Recent numbers put Arabic at around 250 million native speakers. But this is another instance of numbers not telling the full tale: Arabic, like Chinese, is so vastly different in its respective dialects as to be effectively a number of languages, grouped as one for the sake of convenience. Modern Standard Arabic is a primarily written form, closely related to the Classical Arabic of the Quran. However, the spoken forms of Arabic in, say, Oman and Morocco are so different that a couple of philosophy professors from these countries might be able to discuss the finer points of the ancient texts while struggling to order lunch.

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James grew up in Australia and has worked as an independent theatre producer, filmmaker and teacher in Hanoi and Berlin. He has written for NPR Berlin, the Newer York Press, ExBerliner and Babbel on issues of language and culture. He is currently based in Delhi, working with disadvantaged children to address environmental issues through film, radio and storytelling.

More troubling is the fact that what we refer to simply as Chinese is actually a whole family of languages conveniently lumped into a single category. Hindi is also used as a catchall term to cover numerous dialects and sub-dialects. We havent even yet acknowledged the unreliability of data sources, collected at different times by different institutions.

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If youre reading this article, you may be one of the 360 million-odd native English speakers, or one of the half a billion people who speak it as a second language. This indicates the remarkable success of English as thelingua francaof business, travel and international relations. The relative ease with which English can be picked up (especially compared with Chinese) and the pervasive soft power of US culture means that English will continue to dominate the world stage. For some, English is still synonymous with opportunity and a better quality of life.

Spanish is obviously number one, but some of the other top languages might come as a surprise.

One small caveat: assigning hard data, in the form of X million native speakers, to any of these languages is practically impossible. What constitutes a language, a dialect or a subdialect, is hotly contested stuff. Even when linguists do agree on a category, how similar is the English spoken in the Scottish Highlands to the English spoken in Baltimores city center? Yet at least two speakers from these regions would be able to communicate, in some manner.

With varying estimates of around 100 million native speakers, last spot on the list goes to Punjabi! (Sorry, German you got dumped from top world languages a few years back.) Spoken in large tracts of India and Pakistan, the Punjab was sliced in two by the British when they left, and millions of people were forced to abandon their homes, businesses and families. But theyre slowly taking their revenge, Bollywood-style: Punjabi songs now account for 50% of chart-toppers.

With roughly 170 million native speakers as of 2010, Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world. Famed for its inscrutable grammar and quite lovely Cyrillic script, it remains one of the six languages spoken in the UN, and produced the literary likes of Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy and Pushkin.

Admit it: you didnt expect Bengali to be on this list. The Partition of Bengal by the British in 1947 divided (mainly Hindu) West Bengal, now part of India, from its (mainly Muslim) counterpart East Bengal, now Bangladesh. It is the language of Kolkata, of the Andaman Islands, of fabulous sweets, and of 170-odd million Bangladeshis, many of whom are extremely vulnerable to climate change; by the next century, the population is projected to double while 15% of the land area is expected to disappear below rising seas.

If we were only to look at native speakers, Spanish has its nose in front of English with about 400 million speakers. If you want a language that will open up whole continents to you, Spanish is your best bet. As with all the languages on this list, the politics of language and associated identity are highly disputed: ask Catalan or Quechua speakers if Spanish is their local tongue and you will get a very different answer. But it is certainly the primary language of most of South and Central America, Spain, and,ahem, large swathes of the US.

James grew up in Australia and has worked as an independent theatre producer, filmmaker and teacher in Hanoi and Berlin. He has written for NPR Berlin, the Newer York Press, ExBerliner and Babbel on issues of language and culture. He is currently based in Delhi, working with disadvantaged children to address environmental issues through film, radio and storytelling.

Almost half of the worlds population claims one of only 10 languages as their mother tongue. So what are the top 10 languages of the world? You might be surprised.

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