There are more than 7,100 languages registered around the world. 7,100! Can you even wrap your mind around that? In Papua New Guinea alone, the country with the most languages, there are over 800! The data isn’t good enough (and probably never will be) to list all of them, let alone put them in order according to number of speakers. But today we’re revealing the top 10 most spoken languages—some of which are among the most useful languages to learn. That’s a pretty good start, if you ask us!
Last Updated: 05/08/2022
What Is the Most Spoken Language in the World?
Creating this list wasn’t simple. Among all the data scientists who have tried taking on this task, few agree on the 5th- and 8th-place languages… Also, since this classification is based on number of speakers, the data varies quite regularly. People are born and pass away constantly, and not all countries and languages grow at the same rate.
To make things a little easier, we’ve chosen to rank languages according to total number of speakers. This includes native speakers as well as people who have picked up the language as a foreign language.
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As much as we would have liked to create a bit of suspense, the result is no surprise.
Total number of English speakers: 1.452 billion
Where is English spoken?
There are 1.452 billion English speakers spread out across the continents, and counting! Which is a small advantage to those that want to learn it. Whether you’re in Africa, Asia, Oceania, or Europe, you’ll always come across at least one country that has English as one of its official languages. Get ready for some fun facts…
Did you know?
- English is the official first language of over a hundred countries. Although not the one you might think…
- English is not the official language in the United States; it doesn’t have one!
- English is one of the most influential languages in the world right now. 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.
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Now that you know the #1 most spoken language, English, discover the other most common languages in the world. Here are the top 10 most spoken languages:
Total number of Mandarin speakers: 1.118 billion
One of the many Chinese languages was bound to be in first place since China has more than one billion inhabitants—although not all speak the same dialect.
Where is Mandarin spoken?
Unlike English, most people who speak Mandarin do so as a native language. Close to 930 million people in roughly 33 countries around the world, mostly in Asia, speak Mandarin as a first language.
That’s probably because, although it is one of the most popular languages, Mandarin Chinese can be rather challenging to learn. But nothing’s stopping you from taking on the challenge! You’ll just have to have quite strong motivation and a lot of patience to master it.
Did you know?
- Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China.
- If you learn to read and write Mandarin, you might have an easier time learning Japanese. Many Japanese characters are “borrowed” from Chinese, although they are pronounced differently. Learn more about Japanese kanji here.
- Chinese is one of the 6 official UN languages and is celebrated on April 20th. Can you guess what the other five are?
Total number of Hindi speakers: 602 million
Where is Hindi spoken?
Again, unlike English, people only speak Hindi as a first language in about seven countries, and mostly in India and Nepal. Its success is due to the sheer number of people living in these countries.
Did you know?
- There are close to a hundred languages that are similar to Hindi, especially Urdu. And learning Hindi would make it easier to learn any of these other languages! Well, relatively speaking!
- The Indian government has been trying to get Hindi recognized as an official United Nations language since 2009. To be successful, they would need the support of a majority of the other UN member states (there are 192 total) and roughly $14 million to invest in translation and interpreting services.
- Hindi is the main language of Bollywood films. Bollywood produces about 4 times as many films per year as Hollywood and was worth about 183 billion Indian rupees in 2020—that’s roughly $2.37 billion.
Total number of Spanish speakers: 548 million
Where do people speak Spanish?
People speak Spanish in 31 countries, mostly around Latin America (and Spain, of course!). It boasts around 475 million native speakers. Here are a few interesting facts about Spanish.
Did you know?
- If you’re thinking about picking up a second language, Spanish is a good choice. Not only can you use it to communicate with many native speakers, but it’s also a fairly easy language to learn. That’s in part because it is very phonetic, meaning that it is pronounced the way it looks.
➡️ Check out our Spanish pronunciation guide to learn more!
- Miguel de Cervantes wrote the first modern novel, Don Quixote, in Spanish. If you don’t read Spanish at a very advanced level, you’re in luck. After the Bible, it is the second most translated book. You can read it in over 145 languages (not including the multiple translations into the same language).
Total number of French speakers: 274 million
French is used by about 235 million people every day and is considered a world language, as it is spoken by about 274 million speakers in over 50 countries and is often learned as a foreign language worldwide.
Where do people speak French?
French is an official language in: France and its overseas territories, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Valle d’Aosta, Monaco, numerous countries in West and Central Africa, and Haiti. People in Arabic-speaking North Africa and Southeast Asia also widely use it as a secondary language.
Did you know?
- French is an official language of the African Union and the Organization of American States;
- one of the official languages of the European Union;
- one of the six official languages, as well as a working language of the United Nations along with English;
- and an official language of the Universal Postal Union!
Total number of Arabic speakers: 274 million
Where is Arabic spoken?
Around 274 million people in close to 60 countries speak Arabic. Learn more about Arabic:
Did you know?
- Muslims consider it a sacred language and believe that the Quran should only be read in Arabic.
- The thing is, it’s quite hard to learn. To make it even a little bit harder, it has numerous dialects, which sometimes make it difficult for people from different Arabic-speaking countries to understand one another.
- That being said, people can communicate in Modern Standard Arabic if they want to be understood by someone from another Arab-speaking country.
- Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) isn’t actually anyone’s native language.
Total number of Bengali speakers: 272 million
Where is Bengali spoken?
People only speak Bengali as a native language in a handful of countries, mainly in India and Bangladesh. Despite this, 265 million people speak it, making it one of the 10 most spoken languages in the world. Here’s an interesting fact about Bengali:
Did you know?
- Both Indians and Bangladeshis sing their respective national anthems in this language, even though not all citizens speak it.
Total number of Russian speakers: 258 million
Where is Russian spoken?
People in 19 countries (at least 150 to 160 million) claim Russian as their native language. Most of these countries, such as Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Turkmenistan, formerly belonged to the Soviet Union. However, it is now only the official language in 4 countries.
Did you know?
- If you dream of becoming an astronaut, you had better start brushing up on your Russian! All astronauts who go to the International Space Station have to know this Slavic language. NASA astronauts often live with Russian families to work on their language skills in preparation for their trip.
- MosaLingua recently added Russian to our family of language learning apps. Some people get scared off because of what they’ve heard about it being difficult to learn… Read what we have to say about that, and then make your own decision.
Total number of Portuguese speakers: 257 million
Who speaks Portuguese?
Portuguese made this list mostly thanks to the immensity of Brazil! In fact, 4 out of every 5 Portuguese speakers in the world today are Brazilian. But close to 257 million people in 10 Lusophone countries, 5 of which are located in Africa, speak Portuguese. Learn a few facts about Portuguese.
Did you know?
- Only 5% of Lusophones (people who speak Portuguese) actually live in Portugal, where the language originated!
In 2009, as a result of a long-term discussion between 8 Lusophone countries, a spelling reform increased the alphabet from 23 to 26 letters (before this time, it didn’t include the letters “k,” “w,” or “y”). The people of Portugal had somewhat of a hard time accepting the reform, which aimed to unify spelling across the different versions of Portuguese, because it affected European Portuguese slightly more than Brazilian Portuguese.
Total number of Urdu speakers: 231 million
Urdu belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.
Where do they speak Urdu?
Urdu is the national language as well as the official language in Pakistan and some Indian states with a large Muslim population. In Pakistan, only about 7% of people speak it as their mother tongue, but that’s about 14 million inhabitants.
Did you know?
- Alongside English, Urdu is increasingly used as a lingua franca for those who speak regional languages, and it’s a mandatory subject in all schools. As a result, the majority of Pakistanis speak Urdu as a second or third language.
- In India, Urdu is one of the 22 officially recognized constitutional languages.
- In Afghanistan, the majority of the population also speaks Urdu due to the popularity of Indian and Pakistani films.
- A large proportion of the 1.2 million British Pakistanis speak Urdu.
It’s also fascinating to organize this list by the number of people who speak a language as their first language, also called their mother tongue or native language. In other words, the language they heard from birth and learned before any other language. The list looks a little different:
- Mandarin Chinese: 929 million native speakers
- Spanish: 475 million native speakers
- English: 373 million native speakers
- Hindi: 344 million native speakers
- Bengali: 234 million native speakers
- Portuguese: 232 million native speakers
- Russian: 154 million native speakers
- Japanese: 125 million native speakers
- Yue Chinese: 85 million native speakers
What is the 10th most spoken language by native speakers? Vietnamese? French? Malay, Indonesian, Javanese, Punjabi…?
Unfortunately, we don’t really know because many languages are fighting to be the 10th most spoken language in the world. This position, just like the previous ones, often varies according to different factors. These factors themselves can also vary, such as the number of a country’s inhabitants.
But Punjabi could be a safe choice because two sources we consulted agree on putting this language (mainly spoken in Pakistan) as the 10th most spoken language in the world.
In any case, whether you choose one of the most spoken languages or not, bear in mind that it’s important to learn a language that will be useful for whatever your personal goals are. Maybe you want to learn a language for professional development, or maybe for leisure and travel. However, nothing’s stopping you from learning one or more of these languages (or others) just out of curiosity and for fun!
Like I said before, people around the world speak over 7,000 languages. Some, like the ones you read about in the list above, are very widespread languages, counting millions (if not billions) of speakers.
Other languages are spoken by only a few people, and are at “severe risk of extinction.” Take Ayapaneco, for instance. This language, born in present-day Mexico, supposedly had just two fluent speakers left in 2011. And according to a Guardian article, they aren’t on speaking terms right now! The article tells the sad story of how this language became so critically endangered, and the measures people are taking to save it. (Disclaimer: since the article was published, other sources have criticized the news outlet for spreading false information.)
Controversy aside, there’s no denying that languages, like the people who speak them, are constantly changing and evolving. It’s sad, but, like animals, languages can go extinct.
What is an extinct language? An extinct language means that there are no living speakers left.
Wondering what you can do to help? Well, learn them! Here’s a list of obscure languages, plus some resources to get you started if you decide to learn one of them.
The Endangered Language Project also has helpful information and many resources if you’re interested in learning more about these rare languages.
UNESCO has a way of classifying endangered languages with few speakers left. They categorize languages by status:
- vulnerable (“most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains”),
- definitely endangered (“children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home”),
- severely endangered (“spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves”)
- critically endangered (“the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently”)
- and extinct (“no speakers left”)
There are also “safe” languages – like the languages with the most speakers in the world in the list above! The organization counts over 200 extinct languages, but there are likely more that we don’t even know about. About 1/3 of all languages fall under the endangered listing. On the flip side, 50% of the world’s population speaks just 23 languages!
Like we said, when ranking the most spoken languages it can somehow be difficult to get everyone to agree… And the list changes from year to year. Check out this video we made to see the top 10 most spoken languages in 2020:
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People often refer to the United States as a melting pot. People have come to begin a new life in the U.S. from all over the world and for a wide variety of reasons. The fact that there are hundreds of different cultures mixing and interacting is part of what makes American culture so great, and so purely American! The top 10 languages spoken at home in the United States, according to U.S. Census data:
- Chinese (includes several variations)
- French (includes French Creole)
We’ve talked extensively about spoken languages, but the internet is so important these days that this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the languages people use to communicate on the web. Check out this estimate of the top 10 languages used online (as of March 2021) by Visual Capitalist:
We’ve also written about the most useful languages, especially in the business world. We came up with that list by studying the diffusion of languages around the world, their economic and political advantages, as well as geographical proximity to your country of origin.
We took it upon ourselves to find out the most studied languages in the world, too. If you’ve already read that article (and if you haven’t, bookmark it to read after this one!) you’ll know that the most studied and most spoken languages are not necessarily the same. We found good data about public language education, but unfortunately, the numbers don’t take independent learners (MosaLingua users like you!) into account.
*Sources: Ethnologue (2022); CIA.gov The World Factbook (2022); l’Organisation internationale de la francophonie (2014); Nationalencyklopedin (2010); and the various pages we’ve linked to within this article.