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What are the Most Spoken Languages in the World?

French is a Romance language, but over the centuries its taken on heavy influence from Celtic and Germanic tongues. In fact, the language (and country) are named after theFranks, a collection of tribes from the Middle Ages whose language, Frankish, was Germanic, not Romance.

People sometimes speak of Chinese as if its a single language. Its actually a group of related languages, of which Mandarin Chinese is by far the biggest. Its an official language in the Peoples Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore.

Language family: Indo-Aryan, a sub-family of Indo-European.

Number of native speakers: 897 million

Total number of speakers: 544 million

The native name for Mandarin, Putonghua, literally means common speech, although in Taiwan people call it Guoyu national language. Historically, it was also called Guanhua the speech of officials. Since Mandarin is more common in northern China, its  sometimes referred to as beifanghua () Northern Dialects.

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Most Indonesians speak a local language as well as Indonesian. The most common of those local languages is Javanese, which is spoken on (you guessed it) the island of Java. More than half of Indonesias population lives on Java, making it the most populous island not just in Indonesia but in the entire world.

Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, althoughsome have arguedthat its not really one language, but several.

Note that people often call this language simplyQuechua but, to be precise, Quechua is more of a languagefamilythan one specific language. Southern Quechua is used to refer to the largest grouping of mutually intelligible dialects in the Quechua family. Its native speakers mostly live in Peru and Bolivia.

Spanish is also the second most-common language in the United States, which is home to a whopping40 million native speakers. This makes the U.S. the second-biggest Spanish-speaking country in the world, behind only Mexico and itspredictedthat, within our lifetimes, itll overtake Mexico and become the largest.

What does Quechua sound like? Traditional fabric/dyeing presentation in runasimi!

First of all, what do you mean byspoken? Do you want to rank languages by their number ofnative speakers, or by how many people speak them_ at all_, natively or non-natively? These two approaches produce very different-looking lists.

Name in the language itself:Yaren HausaorHarshen Hausa

Arabic is also, of course, the language of Islam. While most Muslims are not native Arabic speakers, the language is of special importance to the worlds second-largest religion. Islam holds that God (via the angel Gabriel) literally spoke in Arabic when he dictated the Quran to Mohammed.

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Related to: French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian

Telugu is the third most-common language in India, spoken mainly in the southeast of the country. It has about 75 million native speakers. Thats more than the population of the U.K.!

Number of native speakers: 6 million

¡S señor!By number ofnativespeakers, Spanish is the second biggest language in the world (behind only Mandarin). Bytotalspeakers, its at number four.

Number of native speakers: 290 million

With that being said, its possible to come up with some rough rankings. Heres the best estimate, at the time of writing, as to the most-spoken languages in the world going bytotalnumber of speakers, not just natives.

Number of native speakers: 76 million

Sometimes known in English by its native nameBangla, Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and of several Indian states. In fact, its the the second most widely spoken language in India.

Related to: Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada

There are many other languages I could include on this list such as Sundanese (spoken by 15% of the population of Java), or Kannada, which is spoken not in the country whose name it resembles but India. (Seriously, India ishuge.) This all goes to show youll never run out of languages to learn!

Number of native speakers: 80 million

Name in the language itself:españolorcastellano

Total number of speakers: 422 million

Number of non-native speakers: 611 million

Related to: Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali

Name in the language itself: Quechua

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Bengali is written in theBengali alphabet, sometimes known as Eastern Nagari or Bengali-Assamese script. Its related to Tibetan script. Natively, bengali alphabet translates to bangla bôrnômala. In the alphabet itself, that looks like this: বাংলা বর্ণমালা.


Russians closest relatives include Ukrainian and Belarusian. The three are all descended from the language that was spoken in the medieval state of the Kievan Rus. More distantly, theyre related to other Slavic languages like Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, and Serbo-Croat.

Mandarin is written usingChinese characters(sometimes called Han characters), an ancient pictorial system where each symbol represents a different word. There are two main versions traditional characters, used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, and simplified characters, used in China, Singapore, and Malaysia. Its estimated that you need to learn 2,000-3,000 characters to read a newspaper an educated Chinese person will know about 8,000!

This question isnt as simple as it may seem. There are a few complications that make it hard to give a precise answer:

Did any of the top 10 most spoken languages surprise you?

(Trivia tidbit: Equatorial Guinea is the only country in Africa to have Spanish as an official language.)

Hindi is spoken across northern and central India, and is the official language of the Indian government. Urdu is primarily spoken in Pakistan. While Hindi and Urdu have differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, speakers of either language can easily communicate with each other.

Just whatever you do, dont call it Bahasa! For some reason, foreigners often call it this, but the wordbahasasimply means language. Malay isnt called Bahasa any more than Spanish is called Idioma. You have been warned.

Rounding up the top 10 is French, another Romance language. Its the official language of 28 countries, with the highest number of speakers in France, Canada, Belgium, then Switzerland (in that order). Its also widely spoken in parts of Western and Central Africa, on several Caribbean islands, and even on the South American mainland (in the French overseas department of French Guiana.)

Total number of speakers: 983 million

As you saw last week, I challenged myself to take five hours to learn enough Polish to help me get by on my brief visit to Warsaw. In the end, I didnt actually do that as planned… because I was so busy preparing for my TEDx talk (which will be completely different to the other one I gave, but still with the same topic of encouraging adult language learners – online in the next month or two), and working on my secret 3-month contract, that I only had two hours total time to invest into learning Polish. Despite having even less time than I initially planned, I was pleased to learn what I needed and can even share the results with you on video!

Related to: French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian

Name in the language itself: বাংলা (Bangla)

Name in the language itself: ́ ́, (rsskiy yazýk)

Number of native speakers: 371 million

Related to: Ron, Bole. More distantly: Arabic, Somali

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The largest of the Slavic languages, Russian is the official language of four countries (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan). Its also widely spoken in many other countries of the former Soviet Union, and has official status in numerous sub-national territories.

Hausa just barely missed inclusion in the above list. By some estimates, its the 11th most spoken language worldwide although Punjabi may be bigger (see below). By number of native speakers (85 million), Hausa is in twelfth place.

Total number of speakers: 527 million

I coveredbahasa indonesiaabove. But Indonesia, with 260 million people spread over more than 17,000 islands, is home to some extraordinarily diverse cultures, and has over 700 living languages.

Total number of speakers: 229 million

Name in the language itself: English. But you already knew that.

Related to: Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese

English, French, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Portuguese

Number of native speakers: 436 million

Name in the language itself: తెలుగు (Telugu)

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Ive already mentioned three South Asian languages: Hindustani, Bengali, and Punjab. Those are all from the Indo-European family. The next biggest South Asian language is Telugu, which is a Dravidian language (meaning that, unlike the first three, it has no known relation to English).

The Chadic languages are a sub-branch of the Afroasiatic family, meaning that Hausa is distantly related to Arabic. Its normally written in a Latin-based alphabet calledboko, although you can sometimes see it written inajami, an alphabet thats based on Arabic script.

Language family: Romance, a sub-branch of Indo-European.

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Thanks to the historical dominance of the British Empire and, more recently, the economic and cultural clout of the United States English is well-established as the worldslingua franca(if only there wereother contenders for an international language), and is the second most spoken language in the world.

Name in the language itself: ਪੰਜਾਬੀ or پنجابی (panjabi)

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Total number of speakers: 229 million

Number of non-native speakers: 91 million

Related to: Hindustani, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali

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Name in the language itself:le français

Language family: Indo-Aryan, a sub-family of Indo-European.

Total number of speakers: 281 million

Someone who speaks Portuguese is called aLusophone. This word comes from Lusitania, the Roman name for the area thats now Portugal. The vast majority of Lusophones live in Brazil, which has more than twice as many Portuguese speakers than the rest of the world put together!

Language-family: Germanic, a sub-family of Indo-European.

A member of the Chadic family, Hausa is the biggest language in Nigeria, and a national language of Niger. There are also many native speakers living in Chad. Across wide swathes of western and central Africa, Hausa is used as a trade language.

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What are the most spoken languages in the world?

Number of native speakers: 242 million

Total number of speakers: 150 million

Total number of speakers: 267 million

Total number of speakers: 148 million

As well as the countries and territories that speak French today, many people worldwide speak French-based creoles particularly in Haiti, where most of the population speakHaitian Creoleas their only language. Haitian Creole is heavily influenced by French, but different enough to be considered a separate language.

The name English comes from the Angles, a Germanic people who settled in Britain in the first millennium A.D.. They ultimately derived their name fromAnglen, a region in northernGermany, and of course they gave their name to the area now known as England.

Related to: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian

Number of native speakers: 329 million

A notable difference between Hindi and Urdu is that they use different writing systems. Hindi is usually written in inDevanagari script called देवनागरी in the script itself. Urdu, on the other hand, is written right-to-left with a script thats closely related to the Arabic alphabet. The name Urdu itself is written اُردُو.

Hindustaniis the collective name forHindiandUrdu two dialects of the same language. The name comes fromHindustan, a historical term for the north/north-western part of the Indian subcontinent.

Language family: Semitic, a sub-family of Afro-Asiatic.

At its core, English is a Germanic language. Its vocabulary and sentence structure are closest to modern languages like German and Dutch. However, its been heavily influenced by other languages throughout its strange history. Much English vocabulary is Latin in origin, having been introduced by the French-speaking Normans who conquered Britain in the 11th century A.D.

Name in the language itself: (Putonghua)

Name in the language itself: हिन्दुस्तानी or ہندوستانی

My mission to learn a little Quechua (a.k.a. Runasimi, the language of the Incas) has been so fascinating!! Ive recorded lots of video footage about my experience here in the Andes, including my four day adventure hike towards Machu Picchu that Ill edit to share some time in January, and even footage of me using […]

Total number of speakers: 261 million

Language family: Romance, a sub-family of Indo-European.

Number of native speakers: 218 million

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Secondly, where do you draw the boundary between a language and a dialect? How different do two dialects have to be before theyre considered separate languages entirely? Theres often no clear answer and the answer you give can significantly affect a languages position in the most-spoken rankings.

Name in the language itself:bahasa melayu

Total number of speakers: 92 million

(Note that this isnt a list of the 11th to 15th largest languages overall, although some of them are in that category.)

Punjabi is named for thePunjab, a region in northern India and Eastern Pakistan. It has close to 150 million native speakers more than Hausa, although bytotalnumber of speakers its not clear whether Hausa or Punjabi is bigger.

Number of native speakers: 84 million

The Portuguese empire once stretched far and wide, from South America to Africa to as far as India and Southeast Asia. Today, Portuguese is an official language in nine countries, as well as in the Chinese territory of Macau.

That was 1400 years ago, and modern Arabic dialects have changed a lot since the Classical Arabic of the Quran. As well as their local dialects, many Arabs also speak Modern Standard Arabic, an academic dialect thats based on Classical Arabic.

Language family: East Slavic, a sub-family of Indo-European

Language family: Chadic, a sub-family of Afroasiatic

By number ofnativespeakers, Russian is the biggest language in Europe. Like many of the Slavic languages, its written with the Cyrillic alphabet (see herefor some tips on how you can learn it.)

Punjabi, along with its fellow IndoAryan languages like Hindi/Urdu and Bengali, is a very distant cousin of English (All are part of the wider Indo-European language family). What makes Punjabi very unusual among its Indo-European relatives is that its a tonal language.

Javanese is related to Indonesian, but not super-closely; theyre very much separate languages. As the Indonesian government only recognises Indonesian as the official language, this makes Java the largest language in the world not to have official status in any country.

Number of native speakers: 153 million

Number of native speakers: 148 million

Frankish is now extinct, but its believed to have contributed many words to modern French vocabulary. French, in turn, contributed many words toEnglishvocabulary, largely thanks to the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066.

Another honourable mention should go toGuaran. It has about 6 million speakers, so its nothuge. But it has the distinction of being the only native American language to have official status in any country (specifically, Paraguay.) Its also the only such language thats widely spoken by a large number ofnon-nativepeople many Guaran-speaking Paraguayans are of European, not indigenous, descent.

Except Indonesians dont call itbahasa melayu(Malay), they call itbahasa indonesia(Indonesian). Malaysians call itbahasa malyasia(Malaysian). These dialects are mutually intelligible, and shouldnt be considered separate languages.

Personally, I find Brazilian Portuguese to be an extremely beautiful language. Thats just one ofmany great reasons to learn it.

The most commonly spoken language in Pakistan, Punjabi is a member of the Indo-Aryan family. Its also spoken by a wide diaspora its the fourth most common language in the United Kingdom!

Are you surprised by any of the the most spoken languages? Are there any languages you were surprisedwerentincluded? Do you think this list is likely to change in the near future which languages are shrinking, and which are growing? When deciding which language to learn, does it matter how many speakers it has? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Malay is an official language in Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. You can also hear it being spoken in parts of Thailand and the Philippines. Its by far the largest of the Austronesian languages a family thats thought to have originated in Taiwan.

Bengali script is relatively unknown in the West, but its actually the fifth most widely-used writing system in the world. More people worldwide write in Bengali script than in Cyrillic!

So what makes Southern Quechua interesting? In my mind it deserves an honourable mention, because its the biggest of all indigenous American languages. Sadly, the Western hemisphere isnt nearly as linguistically diverse as it used to be, but Southern Quechua is still going strong.

Language family: Romance, a sub-branch of Indo-European.

Southern Quechua has about 7 million speakers, which means its not nearly as big as some of the other languages I could have included. For example, Gujarati and Malayalam have far more speakers but Ive covered enough Indian languages already.

If we leave this aside and assume that theres a single tongue called Arabic, then its a massive language, with over 400 million speakers. It originated on the Arabian peninsula, and has since spread all across the Middle East and North Africa.

Name in the language itself: العَرَبِيَّة‎‎ (al-ʻarabiyyah)

Name in the language itself:portugus

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The area in which Malay is spoken is extremely linguistically diverse. Indonesia alone is home to more than 700 living languages!Bahasa melayu, as its known, has a long history in the region as alingua franca, the language of government and trade.

Number of native speakers: 85 million

Language family: Indo-Aryan, a sub-family of Indo-European.

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Number of non-native speakers: 193 million

Related to: Hebrew, Amharic, and Aramaic.

Portuguese developed from Latin and is closely related to modern Spanish. The name comes from Portugal, whose name in turn comes from Porto, the second-largest city in that country. But the wordportoin Portuguese simply means port.

Like Hindustani (mentioned above), Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language. This is a branch of the Indo-European family; other branches include the Romance and Germanic languages. In other words, Bengali and Hindustani are (believe it or not) distant cousins of English.

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Related to: Hindustani, Bengali, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali

Number of native speakers: 77 million

While researching this post, I spotted a few languages whose size surprised me including some Id never even heard of before. Lets finish off with a quick look at some languages which dont get much global attention, but nevertheless have a large number of speakers.

Telugu is the fifteenth most-spoken language worldwide, and has its own rather beautiful writing system. In the language itself, the alphabet is calledతెలుగు లిపి (Telugu lipi).

Total number of speakers: 84 million

The language now known as Spanish originated in the Castile region of Spain. For this reason, its sometimes referred to as Castilian castellanoin the language itself. Since then, Spanish explorers andconquistadoreshave spread their language all around the world. Its spoken all across South and Central America and the Caribbean, with pockets of speakers in Southeast Asia and even Africa.

Name in the language itself:basa Jawa

The Catalan language may have a small global footprint with approximately 10 million speakers. But when you learn this language, a whole new world opens up to you. First, youll be introduced to some beautiful places. The majority of Catalan speakers are found in Catalunya (often referred to as Catalonia in English), in the northeastern […]

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