The 15 Most Spoken Languages in the World
July 6, 2016
Recently, we took a look at how many languages there are in the world today . The answer was quite astounding, and proved that there are even more languages out there than we can imagine. Many of these languages, however, have very few remaining speakers. While many of the world's endangered languages have increasingly less speakers, the world's largest languages continuing growing. In fact, the difference is so great that the world's most spoken language has over one billion speakers while some of the world's least spoken languages are down to only a handful.
So what are some of the world's most spoken languages, and what has contributed to their growth?
I decided to discover the 15 most spoken languages in the world and take a look at their total number of speakers, their geographic location, and what has made them so important in the world today.
Despite all of the information available, this was not an easy task, because no sources seem to agree upon the total number of speakers since this information isn't readily available for many languages. In the end, I opted for the information provided by SIL International's Ethnologue , an online publication dedicated to researching the world's languages, along with the information provided by the 2010 Swedish Nationalencykopedin .
It is important to note that identifying a language and its constantly changing number of speakers is a nearly impossible task, and all of these numbers are educated estimates. In order to determine the total number of speakers, these sources provided the estimated number of native speakers (speakers who learn X language as their first language), and non-native speakers (speakers who learn X language as a foreign language).
Let's take a look at 15 of the world's most spoken languages, their estimated number of speakers, where they are spoken, and what has made them such widely spoken languages.
The 15 Most Spoken Languages
1. Mandarin Chinese
- Native speakers (2017): 897 million
- Non-Native speakers: 193 million
- Widely spoken in: China, Taiwan, and Singapore
- Native speakers (2017): 371 million
- Non-native speakers: 611 million
- Widely spoken in: the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland), Republic of Ireland, Africa (as a lingua franca, official or educational language in 20 countries), the Americas and the Caribbean (Canada and the United States as well as in 15 Caribbean countries), Asia (India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Sri Lanka), Australia and the Pacific Islands (Australia, New Zealand and over 15 pacific islands)
- Native speakers (2017): 477 million
- Non-native speakers: 95 million
- Widely spoken in: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and widely spoken in over 20 more countries
- Native speakers (2017): 329 million
- Non-native speakers: 215 million
- Widely spoken in: India, Nepal, Fiji, and Pakistan
- Native speakers (2017): 290 million
- Non-native speakers (estimated): 132 million
- Widely spoken in: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Palestine and Western Sahara
- Standard Malay native speakers (2017): 77 million
- Indonesian native speakers: 204 million
- Widely spoken in: Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore
- Native speakers (2007): 80 million
- Non-native speakers (2017): 153 million
- Widely spoken in: Europe (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaca, Switzerland), Africa (spoken in over 26 countries, including Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco), the Americas and the Caribbean (Canada, Haiti, French Guiana, Martinique, and Guadeloupe), and in three Pacific Islands
- Native speakers (2017): 218 million
- Non-native speakers (2017): 11 million
- Widely spoken in: Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé
- Native speakers (2010): 205 million
- Non-native speakers: 19 million
- Widely spoken in: India and Bangladesh
- Native speakers (2010): 171 million
- Non-native speakers: 30 million
- Widely spoken in: Russia and countries that occupy the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine)
- Native speakers (2017): 76 million
- Non-native speakers: 52 million
- Widely spoken in: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg
- Native speakers (2017): 128 million
- Non-native speakers (estimated):12 million
- Widely spoken in: Japan
- Native speakers (2015): 102 million
- Widely spoken in: Pakistan and India
- Native speakers: 84 million
- Widely spoken in: Indonesia and Suriname
- Native speakers: 74 million
- Non-native speakers: 5 million
- Widely spoken in: India
- Native speakers: 77 million
- Widely used in: The Korean Peninsula
It's Time to Start Learning
As of 2017, these fifteen languages were spoken by nearly half of the entire world. As an English speaker, you can statistically communicate with about 12% of people around the globe, but by learning another one of the world's most spoken languages, you could drastically increase your networking abilities, professional opportunities, personal skills and travel opportunities.
So what are you waiting for? Start learning one of the world's most spoken languages today and open up a whole new world of possibilities.
July 6, 2016
It would be very interesting, although even more difficult, to know which were teh most widely used languages in the past. Let's say: how much this picture evolved in the last 100 years?
July 6, 2016
That would be interesting to look at. Especially with the rise of the internet, which made it easy for people to learn languages.
July 7, 2016
Hi Caderatt/Erika - That would indeed be interesting info to know. I will add a blog post on the evolution of languages to the list of posts to write!
July 12, 2016
Thank you for this post. Very interesting
July 12, 2016
That was very interesting. I will look forward to the post on the evolution of languages.
August 2, 2016
Great post though I was interested to discover that my country of birth is part of the United Kingdom. Ireland, at least the Republic of Ireland, is an independent country.
August 3, 2016
Hi btderek - I have changed that!
August 3, 2016
Thanks for this interesting post Jason.