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The 9 Most Widely Spoken Languages in the World


With more than 1.2 billion native speakers in the world, Chinese is the clear winner on our list of most widely spoken languages. However, Ethnologue lumps Mandarin, Hakkan, Min Nan, Wu, and others into the collective category of Chinese. Not all of these variants are mutually intelligible.

Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. To an English speaker, some letters will look familiar (o,p, andt) but their pronunciation may be different. Other letters (,, and) will not.

Spoken in almost 60 countries around the world, Arabic has many dialects: Egyptian, Moroccan, Levantine, and Iraqi, for example.

If it werent for Portugals colonial past, Portuguese may not even appear on a list of the most commonly spoken languages.

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This may be for one of several reasons (or a combination of them). First, Bangladesh is not a major actor on the world stage in terms of economic or military might.

Like Hindi, Bengali may not immediately come to mind when Americans think of the most commonly spoken languages in the world.

Spanish is also the primary language in Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States. Whats more, Spanish can be heard in about 13% of U.S. households. This makes sense when you consider that as recently as 2014,over 16% of the domestic labor force was foreign-born.

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Heres another way to think about that: if you picked 100 people from around the world at random and put them in a room, 95 of them would speak a languageotherthan English. Whoa!

Matthew is the founder and principal of RedLine Language Services LLC. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the company helps commercial clients translate, edit, and format their written content.

RedLines infographic uses L1 population numbers.In other words, we compiled our list of the most commonly spoken languages based on populations of first-language speakers.

In fact,over half a billion people alone have English as an L2. (If you have an L2 language, its your second language and is used in your country or region. In other words, just because you took German in high school doesnt mean that German is your L2.)

With over 122 million native speakers, Japanese is one of the worlds most commonly spoken languages. The vast majority of Japanese speakers live in Japan.

A few readers have pointed out that we shouldnt have a macro Chinese category if, for example, a Hakkan speaker cant understand a Wu speaker or vice versa.But Mandarin, with its 900 million native speakers, would still dwarf other languages on our list.

Hindi, though, is the official language of the government of India. In fact, its constitution states as muchand specifies the required script (Devanagari).

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If you think that text direction is universal, think again.When you read Arabic, you start at therightside of the page and work your way to theleft.

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The written form of Arabic isModern Standard Arabic, or MSA. Arabic speakers in universities, for example, would all use thiswhether theyre from Iraq or the UAE.

Brazils sizable population makes Portuguese one of the most commonly spoken languages.There are over 200 languages in Brazil, but most people there speak Portuguese.

Its not hard to see why Spanish is among the most commonly spoken languages worldwide.Its used in approximately 30 countriesamong them Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Uruguay.

The population of Brazil is over 200 million, but the population of Portugal is just over 10 million. Portuguese is also an official language in the African nations of Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau.

Why? Because the number of native speakers of European Portuguese is much smaller than the number of Brazilian Portuguese speakers.

In addition, schools in the U.S. dont offer instruction in Bengaliand U.S. news outlets dont pay South Asia much attention.

Speakers of English might think that their language is the global leader.But while English is certainly a cultural force, its native speakers number only 335 million worldwide.Thats only about 5% of the worlds population.

Below is additional information about the worlds most commonly spoken languages.

What are the most widely spoken languages in the world? What language has the most native speakers?Our infographic below gives you the 9 most commonly spoken languages.

Japanese has a unique writing system. In fact, most Japanese text uses a mixture ofkanji, characters that come from Chinese, andkana, characters that correspond to sounds.

You might think that English tops the list, but it only ranks third.Of course, the number of people in the world whospeakEnglish is far greater than the number of people who have English as their first language.

Right behind Portuguese is Bengali, the main language of Bangladesh (pop. 155 million) and one of Indias many official languages.

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Over 260 million people speak Hindi, making it one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet. In addition, it shares co-official status with 21 other languages in India.

Among immigrant languages in the U.S., Chinese ranks second for most speakers. (Spanish is first.) In fact,about 3 million native Chinese speakers live in the United States.

While most speakers of Russian are (surprise!) in Russia, the language has minority status in some two dozen countries, from Finland to Israel. This helps makes Russian one of the worlds most widely spoken languages.

However, thespokenforms of Arabic can vary a lot. For example, vocabulary and word order may not be the same from one region to another.

If you randomly chose 100 people from across the globe, only 5 of them would be native English speakers.

As for what language has the most native speakers, thats easy: Mandarin Chinese.It has close to 1 billion speakers of Mandarin in the worldmost of them in China.

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