There are more than 6,000 languages registered around the world. More than 6,000. Can you put your mind around that? It would be really hard to register all of them. In Papua New Guinea alone, the country with the most languages, there are more than 800 languages… So we’re certainly not going to start doing this tedious task. We’re only revealing you the top 10 of the most widely spoken languages (that’s it).
We’ve already spoken about the most useful language. Especially in the professional environment. A list we determined by looking at the diffusion of languages around the world, their interests from an economical and political point of view, as well as the geographical proximity with the country of origin. Today, we’re going a step further by ranking the most widely spoken languages. Doing so wasn’t that easy, however. Among all the scientist who have tried taking on this task (only for ranking languages according to the number of people who speak it), few agree on the 4th, 6th and 10th place… Also, as this classification is based on the number of speakers, the data does vary quite regularly.
In order to help you understand more about this subject, we’ve chosen to rank these countries according to the number of speakers that learned the language as their first language, also called mother tongue (in other words, heard from birth).
The Most Spoken Language in The World is…
Mandarin Chinese. Here, even though we would have liked to create a bit of suspense, the result is no surprise. With more than one billion inhabitants, although not all speak the same dialect, one of the many Chinese languages was bound to be in first place. Well, Mandarin is spoken by close to 860 million people* and in nearly 33 countries around the world (mostly in Asia, though).
Please note that although it is the most spoken language, Mandarin Chinese can be rather challenging to learn. Well, of course, nothing’s stopping you to learn it! But do know that you’ll have to have motivation and patience.
Attempt to Make a Top 10 of The Most Widely Spoken Languages
This is just an attempt, and not the official top 10. Because when talking about the ranking of the most spoken languages, it can be somehow difficult to get everyone to agree…
So, here’s the Top 10 of the most spoken languages:
- Mandarin Chinese, as already seen.
- Spanish, which is spoken in 31 countries, mostly spread out in Latin America (this and Spain). Spanish boasts of around 400 million speakers. And nearly as many non-native speakers!
- English, once again, not a big surprise. Why’s that? English is the official first language of over a hundred countries. English speakers—native speakers, that is—are in between 330 and 350 million to be spread out around all continents. Which is a small advantage to those that want to learn it (or already know it). Whether you’re in Africa, Asia, Oceania… you’ll always come across at least one country that has it as its official language. English is also one of the most influential languages. Because apart from being spoken as an official language by millions of people, it is also “the first second language” chosen by many people around the globe.
- Hindi. Unlike English, Hindi is spoken in only four countries (mostly in India and Nepal). Its success is mostly due to the sheer number of inhabitants in these countries. Hindi counts 260 to 300 million speakers. Please note: there are close to a hundred languages similar to Hindi. By learning it, you wouldn’t have any difficulties learning any of the languages that are similar to it. Well, relatively speaking!
- Arabic is spoken in close to 60 countries by around 240 million people. Arabic is also a sacred language (The Quran is only to be read in Arabic). The thing is, it’s quite hard to learn it, and, just to make it that little bit harder, it has numerous dialects, which sometimes make it unintelligible to those in different Arabic-speaking countries. The different Arabic dialects are unfortunately not always understandable from one to the other.
- Bengali, just as Hindi, is only spoken in 4 countries, and mostly in India and Bangladesh. Despite this, this language does have 200 to 250 million speakers.
- Portuguese which figures in this list mostly thanks to Brazil and its immensity. Portuguese is also spoken in a dozen other countries, many of which are situated in Africa, by close to 200 million people.
- Russian. Spoken in nearly 16 countries… A nice 150 to 160 million inhabitants.
- Japanese which is what we call an isolated language as it is only spoken in Japan (or nearly) by nearly 130 million inhabitants. Somewhat of a record, really.
So, What is The 10th Most Spoken Language?
German, French, Malay, Indonesian, Javanese, Lahnda?
Unfortunately, we don’t really know because many languages are fighting to be the 10th most spoken language in the world. This position, just as the previous ones, vary according to different factors, which themselves vary, such as the number of inhabitants, for example.
In any case, whether it is one of the most widely spoken languages or not, bear in mind that it’s important to learn a language which will be useful in a professional environment or for leisure (I’m talking about traveling, of course). However, nothing’s stopping you to learn one of these languages just out of curiosity…
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This post is also available in French.