Our world is getting more and more globalized, and as a result, it is essential to have a means of communication with people who come from different countries. Back in the past, when people mostly communicated with each other in their local communities, there wasn’t so much need to learn other languages spoken far, far away. Now, it’s much easier to travel and, even more importantly, to talk or chat with other people even without moving anywhere, thanks to numerous online messengers.
Nowadays, apart from their native language, most people speak at least one foreign language, having learned it as a compulsory school subject. Some of them go even further and study more foreign languages to be able to understand more and boost their qualifications which can be crucial in job searching.
There are currently more than 7,100 languages in the world, but some of them are used very widely, and some are just limited to a very specific ethnic group (like tribes). What are actually the most widely spoken languages in the world? Read on to find out!
1. English (1.5 billion speakers)
The number of native speakers: 378 million
The number of non-native speakers: 743 million
In the past, Latin was usually the language spoken to communicate between nations. Today, in most situations where international communication is necessary, people turn to English – it is definitely the current lingua franca. It hugely stems from the fact that the United Kingdom and the United States have had a great impact on politics, culture, economics, and other spheres over the last few centuries.
Impressively, English is the official language of 67 different countries and 27 non-sovereign entities all around the world. For over 300 million speakers, it is the native language they use in everyday communication. Interestingly, it is also a commonly spoken language in many countries that do not consider it to be the official language of the state, like Bangladesh, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, or Cyprus.
Fun fact About English
English is the official language of the sky! It’s obligatory for all the pilots to speak it and be able to identify themselves in it.
2. Mandarin Chinese (1.117 million speakers)
The number of native speakers: 918 million
The number of non-native speakers: 199 million
If we counted native speakers only, Mandarin Chinese would be the first most spoken language in the world. However, contrary to English which is spread around the globe, this language is mostly used in Asia. It’s the official language of mainland China, Singapore, and Taiwan. Interestingly, it’s also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
The number of non-native speakers is not as impressive as in the case of English – one of the reasons for that is the complexity of this language. Namely, to master Mandarin Chinese, you would have not only to learn around 50,000 characters but also remember to keep the proper pronunciation – it is a tonal language, so words can change their meanings depending on the way they are pronounced! Fortunately, there are no verb conjugations, no gender-specific nouns, and no tenses, so Mandarin Chinese learners do not have to worry about those aspects, at least.
Fun Fact About Mandarin Chinese
To understand approximately 98% of everyday written Chinese, you need to know ONLY 2,500. That’s still a lot, but significantly less than 50,000!
Hindi (615 million speakers)
The number of native speakers: 341 million
The number of non-native speakers: 274 million
The third place on the list of the most spoken languages in the world belongs to Hindi. India has two official languages – not only Hindi but also English. However, Hindi has many different dialects – some of them are so different that their speakers may not understand each other. Apart from India, Hindi is spoken in such countries as Fiji (as an official language), Nepal, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
This language is strongly influenced by Sanskrit, while its name is derived from the Persian word hind, meaning “the land of the Indus river”. Interestingly, there are some words functioning in English that come from Hindi, such as cheetah, avatar, jungle, bungalow, or shampoo.
Fun Fact About Hindi
Hindi is not such a widely spoken language in India, despite being the official one – not every citizen of this country speaks it well! There are over 22 regional languages in India that are much more often used in everyday life.
Spanish (534 million speakers)
The number of native speakers: 460 million
The number of non-native speakers: 74 million
The fourth most widely spoken language on our list is Spanish, with 534 million speakers. Spanish is the official language of 22 countries on 4 continents, exclusively or apart from others. As a result of being so widely spread, it takes second place (after English) on the list of the most studied languages in the world. It also stems from the fact that Spanish seems to be the easiest foreign language for English speakers to learn. It is getting so popular that it is predicted that within 3 generations, 10% of the world’s population will be able to speak Spanish.
Spanish influences can be visible in other local languages, such as Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Moreover, it has a more and more significant impact on pop culture – it is not rare to hear Spanish-language content on an English-speaking radio or television station!
Fun Fact About Spanish
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, written in Spanish, was not only the first modern novel but also the second most translated book after the Bible.
Other Honorable Mentions
Other honorable mentions on the list of the most spoken languages would be:
- Fifth most spoken language – French
- Sixth most spoken language – Arabic
- Seventh most spoken language – Bengali
- Eighth most spoken language – Russian
- Ninth most spoken language – Portuguese
- Tenth most spoken language – Indonesian
If you count both native and non-native speakers, the list of the most spoken languages on Earth is (without any surprise) English, with 1.5 billion people using it all around the world. However, if you take into account only the natives, it would be Mandarin Chinese, as it has 918 million speakers in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and other countries. However, due to its complexity (both in writing and speaking), it doesn’t have that many non-native users (just 199 million speakers).
The list of the most spoken languages on Earth couldn’t be complete without Hindi – as the population of India is quite large, there are, similarly to China, a lot of native speakers. And this third place is achieved even despite the fact that not every Indian citizen speaks fluent Hindi!
The last (but still impressive) place on our list of the four most spoken languages in the world belongs to Spanish. You can find its native speakers in countries located on four continents, with most of them located in South America (like Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and many more). Some of the other most spoken languages are, for instance, French, Arabic, and Bengali.
Our professional team of translators and interpreters can work with both the most widely spoken languages (like Spanish, French, Chinese, or Arabic) and some of the less popular ones (like Thai, Turkish, Norwegian, or Hungarian). Check our FAQ to find the complete list of languages we can translate or interpret!