Which Are The Most Spoken Languages in the World?

Feb 9, 2017 | Language

There are a little over 7000 languages spoken around the world today. While that number looks rather large, it’s interesting to note that just 23 languages account for more than 50% of world population while about one-third of all languages have less than a 1000 speakers. This information suggests that most of the world population are skewed towards speaking a handful of languages and indeed, that is the case!

Consider this, the whole of Europe accounts for only 4% of the total number of languages; yet European languages account for 25% of the world population. Africa, on the other hand, accounts for 30% of total languages but African languages only account for a mere 12% of the world population. Evidently, factors such as colonial expansion have played a huge role in the popularity of European languages.

 

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The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

In this article, we look at the list of 10 most-spoken languages in the world by first-language speakers. It may come as no surprise that the majority of the languages in the list are Asian languages given the sheer size of its population. What’s interesting to note, though, is that none of the languages outside of Europe and Asia make it to this list. It is true that the numbers can be quite different if non-native speakers are also considered. However, the problem of including non-native speakers is the subjectivity involved in deciding how much constitutes “knowing” or “speaking” a language.

So, which are the languages that do make it to the list? Let’s find out!

The Most Spoken Languages in the World

(Source: Ethnologue)

World's most spoken languages : 10. Lahnda (Western Punjabi)

Rank 10 : Lahnda (Western Punjabi)

 

First-language speakers: 117 million

Official language in: Pakistan

World's most spoken languages : 9. Japanese

Rank 9 : Japanese

 

First-language speakers: 128 million

Official language in: Japan

World's most spoken languages : 8. Russian

Rank 8 : Russian

 

First-language speakers: 171 million

Official language in: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

World's most spoken languages : 7. Bengali

Rank 7 : Bengali

 

First-language speakers: 189 million

Official language in: Bangladesh, India

World's most spoken languages : 6. Portuguese

Rank 6 : Portuguese

 

First-language speakers: 202 million

Official language in: Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique & 6 other countries

World's most spoken languages : 5. Hindi

Rank 5 : Hindi

 

First-language speakers: 260 million

Official language in: India, Fiji

World's most spoken languages : 4. Arabic

Rank 4 : Arabic

 

First-language speakers: 267 million

Official language in: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Syria & 21 other countries

World's most spoken languages : 3. English

Rank 3 : English

 

First-language speakers: 339 million*

Official language in: UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand & 50 other countries

*2 billion including both native and non-native speakers

World's most spoken languages : 2. Spanish

Rank 2 : Spanish

 

First-language speakers: 427 million

Official language in: Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela & 16 other countries

World's most spoken languages : 1. Chinese

Rank 1 : Chinese

 

First-language speakers: 1302 million

Official language in: China, Taiwan, Singapore (Mandarin Chinese) as well as Hong Kong & Macau (Cantonese Chinese)