05/17/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/17/2023 16:41
Determining the most spoken language in the world isn't as simple as you'd think, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the definition of language is still a hot debate that has yet to be settled amongst linguists and scholars. Plus, obtaining a true or definitive count of the number of speakers per language is almost impossible-reliable, current, and objective census data just isn't available for every single language in the world.
The numbers below are gathered from the 2023 edition of Ethnologue, which is considered one of the most reliable language databases available. While you should treat the number of speakers as a rough estimate, you can be confident that the ranking of each language is accurate.
The ranking of the most popular languages also changes slightly when comparing native speakers to total usage. We've provided both lists to help paint a clearer picture of the world's languages.
So without further ado, let's introduce the 10 most commonly spoken languages in the world, and talk a little bit about how they've earned this impressive title. And when you're ready to jump in, Rosetta Stone can help you learn nearly every language on this list and then some, with immersive lessons in 25 languages!
When counting the total number of speakers, including native and non-native, these are the 10 most spoken languages in the world.
If you can read this, we're willing to bet that you're one of the 1.452 billion English speakers on the planet. When counting the total number of speakers, English wins the title of the most commonly spoken language in the world.
With 60 countries that recognize English as an official language, it is also the most common official language. English can be heard in far more countries than any other language in the world: 146 to be exact.
To put these numbers in perspective, the United States, the largest English-speaking country in the world, only makes up about 20 percent of the globe's English speakers.
In addition to being extremely wide-spoken, English is also the most commonly studied language, meaning that the total number of speakers is most likely increasing as you're reading this!
Many people mistake Mandarin Chinese for the most widely spoken language in the world, but it actually comes after English in the number of total speakers. However, Mandarin does take the crown for having the most number of speakers (roughly 920 million) who use it as a first language.
The official language in China, Taiwan, and Singapore, Mandarin is also the most widely spoken language in Asia. It's one of the six official languages used in the United Nations.
Mandarin is considered one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers due to its unique writing system and distinct tones, but the difficulty may be worth it if you want to share a common language with 1 in 7 people.
Hindi is just one of the 22 official languages in India, but it is spoken by more than half of the country's population. And seeing as India has just surpassed China as the world's most populous nation, it makes sense that Hindi ranks high on the list of most spoken languages.
Most of Hindi's native speakers are from the northern parts of India, but a little bit of Hindi can get you a long way throughout the entire Indian subcontinent. Outside of Asia, variations of Hindi can also be heard in large communities of Fiji, South Africa, and the Caribbeans.
Fun fact: Many English words are borrowed from Hindi, including "guru," "karma," and "shampoo," to name a few!
If you want to learn a language that can help you unlock new relationships and opportunities across entire continents, Spanish is your best bet. Across Europe, the Americas, and Africa, the Spanish language can be found in almost every corner of the world.
In total, 20 countries use Spanish as their official language and only two of those nations are outside of the Americas: Spain and Equatorial Guinea. Because the language is so widespread, it's often separated into two broad categories: Latin American Spanish and Peninsular Spanish. Between the two types of Spanish, there are distinct differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.
Spanish can also be commonly heard in countries where it doesn't have official language status. In the United States, for example, Spanish is the second most spoken language after English. In fact, the U.S. is the country with the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, behind Mexico.
From Canada to Haiti to Switzerland, 29 countries use French as an official language. Following English, French is the second most popular official language in the world. It's also one of the official languages of a few governing bodies, including the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO.
Currently, 21 of the 29 nations that recognize French as an official language are located in Africa, making Africa the continent with the highest population of French speakers.
French vocabulary has also made its way into English-we can thank the language of love for words such as "coupon," "etiquette," "sabotage," and much more.
Arabic has official status in 23 countries, all of which are located in northern Africa or the Arabian Peninsula. But most of these nations have adopted their own regional variations of Arabic, and the dialects are not mutually intelligible. All of these distinct dialects are often grouped under Arabic for convenience.
As all native Arabic speakers learn to speak their local dialect as a first language, there are no native speakers of Modern Standard Arabic. Instead, Modern Standard Arabic is primarily a written language that is most commonly learned through formal education. It's used in politics, literature, and public media, such as newspapers and movies.
Arabic has heavily influenced the vocabulary of other languages, especially in mathematics, astronomy, and science. Many STEM terms in English, like "algebra" and "algorithm," all have Arabic origins.
Also known as Bangla, Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh, where 98 percent of the population speaks Bengali as their first language. It's also the official language of a few Indian states, making Bengali the second most spoken language in India.
Bengali may not be as widespread as some of the other languages on this list, but the dense population of regions where it is spoken has allowed Bengali to rise as one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
If you really want to shoot for the moon in your language-learning journey, Russian can help you reach that goal. Russian and English are the two primary languages used on the International Space Station, and most astronauts are required to learn Russian.
Now, let's bring ourselves back to Earth, where Russian holds official status in five countries: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Given that Russia is the largest country in the world by territory, Russian's appearance on this list probably isn't too much of a surprise.
As it was the official language of the Soviet Union, Russian has a considerably extensive geographic spread and is still spoken as a second language in most former Soviet states today. Russian has also been one of the official languages of the United Nations since its inception in 1945.
Portuguese is the official language of nine countries: Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor, and Equatorial Guinea. Of these nine nations, Brazil has the largest population of Portuguese speakers.
Variations and dialects of Portuguese can also be commonly heard in Macau, some pockets of India, and other former Portuguese colonies. Similar to Spanish, Portuguese is also grouped into two main variations that have key differences in vocabulary and grammar: Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese.
Urdu is one of two official languages in Pakistan and is one of the 22 official languages used in India. It also has a strong presence in surrounding South Asian countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh.
Urdu can help you open doors to even more languages! As both Urdu and Hindi evolved from the Hindustani language, the two languages are mutually intelligible. Generally, speakers of one language can engage in conversations with speakers of the other with relative ease. However, written Urdu uses a modified Persian alphabet while written Hindi uses Sanskrit.
Now, let's take a look at the 10 most spoken first languages in the world.
When counting only native speakers, eight of the 10 languages from the list above still rank in the top 10. However, French and Urdu lose their spots as more people speak Japanese and Lahnda (Western Punjabi) as their mother tongues.
Note: This list counts macro-languages that have a multitude of distinct dialects, such as Chinese and Arabic, as one language.
Now that you know what the world's most commonly spoken languages are and a little more about each of them, which one are you interested in learning? If you need more help narrowing down your choices, you can also consider the 7 best languages to learn for business or the top 11 languages to learn for any goal.
No matter what language you ultimately choose, Rosetta Stone can help you learn more effectively. Through Dynamic Immersion, Rosetta Stone helps you pick up vocabulary and grammar naturally and prepares you for actual conversations in the real world.
And if you can't decide on a single language? Learn more than one! Rosetta Stone Unlimited gives you lifetime access to all 25 languages we offer.
Visit rosettastone.com to choose a language and start your first lesson today!