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Top 10 Most Spoken Languages in the World

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Almost half of the world's population claims to have only one in 10 languages as their mother tongue. Determining which is the most spoken language in the world is a more difficult task than you can imagine. We can be sure that Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic will appear (and roughly in what order), but there are also some surprises! Can you guess that Bengali is in the top 10 most spoken languages?

One small note: Hardly assigning data, in the form of “X million native speakers,” to any of these languages ​​is not possible. What constitutes a language or a dialect is hotly debated. More troubling is the fact that what we simply call “Chinese” is actually a group of languages ​​lumped together into a single category. “Hindi” is also used as a common term to cover many dialects and sub-dialects. We have not even acknowledged the unreliability of data sources, collected at different times by different organisations. The numbers below were compiled by Ethnologue, considered by many to be the most complete source of linguistic data currently in existence.

But then again, who doesn't love a good list? So we have compiled two versions for you.

Top 10 languages by number of native speakers

When measured only by the number of native speakers, these are the most spoken languages in the world.

1. Chinese - 1.3 billion native speakers

The numbers vary widely - Ethnologue puts the number of native speakers at 1.3 billion native speakers, around 1.1 billion of whom speak Mandarin - but it is certainly the most spoken language in the world. world. If you want to learn a language that is spoken by one in six people in the world, then this is the language for you. Considering Chinese is a tonal language that uses thousands of logograms, it is sure to keep you busy.

2. Spanish - 471 million native speakers

If we only look at native speakers, then Spanish is somewhat inferior to English with about 471 million speakers. If you want a language that can open up an entire continent for you, then Spanish is the best choice for you. As with all languages on this list, the politics of the language and the identity involved are controversial: ask Catalan or Quechua speakers if Spanish is their dialect. no and you will get a very different answer. But it is certainly the primary language of most of South and Central America, Spain, and, er, large parts of the United States.

3. English - 370 million native speakers

If you're reading this, you're probably one of the 370 million people who speak exotic native English or one of the 978 million who speak it as a second language. This shows the remarkable success of English as the language of business, tourism and international relations. The relative ease with which English can be received (especially compared to Chinese) and the pervasive soft power of American culture mean that English will continue to dominate the world stage in the future. near future. For some, English is still synonymous with opportunity and a better quality of life.

4. Hindi - 342 million native speakers

India has 23 official languages ​​including Hindi/Urdu. Whether this is one language - Hindustani - or two dialects is still hotly debated. Spoken mainly in northern India and some parts of Pakistan, Hindi uses the devnagri script, while Urdu uses Persian notation. At the time of writing, the debate over its role in Indian education and society has flared up once again: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, is looking for a way for Hindi to take its place. replacing English in the southern states of India as the main language of official communication. and education, a strategy that has met with resistance. If you've ever traveled in the Indian subcontinent, a little Hindi will go a long way. Plus, this is the language that gave us shampoos, jungles, jodhpurs and bungalows - what's not to love?

5. Arabic - 315 million native speakers

Recent numbers put Arabic at around 315 million native speakers. But here's another example of numbers that don't tell the whole story: Arabic, like Chinese, is so distinct in its respective dialects that it's become some kind of real language, grouped into one for the sake of convenience. Modern Standard Arabic is a major textual form, closely related to the Classical Arabic of the Quran. However, the spoken forms of Arabic in Oman and Morocco are so different that a few philosophy professors from these countries are able to discuss the finer points of the ancient texts while still fidgeting. order lunch.

6. Portuguese - 232 million native speakers

This is another language that has a lot to do with its colonial past. Starting in the 15th century, Portuguese traders and conquerors brought their language to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The popularity of Portuguese may have initially been associated with European colonization, but the colonized countries developed their own vibrant cultures and made the language forever. Today, Portuguese is spoken by 232 million native speakers in countries such as Brazil, Goa, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bisseau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Macau. It is also the language of Machado de Assis, Bossa Nova, Mia Couto, Fernando Pessoa and Agualusa.

7. Bengali - 229 million native speakers

Admit it: you wouldn't expect Bengali to be on the list of most spoken languages. The partition of Bengal by the British in 1947 divided (primarily Hindu) West Bengal, now part of India, from its (mostly Muslim) counterpart East Bengal, now Bangladesh. It's the language of Kolkata, the Andaman Islands, great sweets, and 130 million Bangladeshis - many of whom are extremely vulnerable to climate change. In the next century, the population is predicted to double while 15% of the land area is expected to disappear under sea level rise.

8. Russian - 154 million native speakers

With about 154 million native speakers, Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world. Famous for its cryptic grammar and rather endearing Cyrillic script, it is still one of the six languages spoken at the United Nations and produces such literary works as Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy and Pushkin. .

9. Japanese - 126 million native speakers

Nearly all of the 126 million native Japanese speakers live in Japan - certainly the most geographically concentrated of all the languages on this list. Japanese boasts two distinct writing systems, hiragana and katakana, as well as extensive use of Chinese Kanji characters. The largest groups of Japanese speakers living outside of Japan can be found in the United States, the Philippines, and Brazil.

10. Lahnda (Western Punjabi) - 118 million native speakers

With different estimates of around 118 million native speakers, the last place on the list goes to… Lahnda, a Pakistani tertiary language mainly consisting of Western Punjabi! (Sorry, German - you were dropped from the top languages of the world a few years ago.) That doesn't even include Eastern Punjabi, which is spoken in India. Punjab was cut in half by the British as they left, and millions were forced to leave their homes, businesses and families. But they're slowly getting their revenge, Bollywood style: Punjabi songs now make up 50% of the chart tops. It's a comeback if we've ever seen one.

10 top languages by total number of speakers

When we compile the 10 most spoken languages by the total number of people who speak them (whether the language is their mother tongue or not), 8 out of 10 languages from the above list still appear, but with a few major languages. difference: English came close to Chinese at the top, Japanese and Punjabi lost their spot, and French and Indonesian made the top 10 thanks to the fact that many people speak them as a second language. two rather than the mother tongue.

1. English

Total 1.348 billion speakers

2. Mandarin Chinese

1.120 billion total speakers

3. Hindi

A total of 600 million speakers

4. Spanish

543 million total speakers

5. Standard Arabic

274 million total speakers

6. Bengali

268 million total speakers

7. French

267 million total speakers

8. Russian

Total 258 million speakers

9. Portuguese

Total 258 million speakers

10. Urdu

Total 230 million speakers


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