Did you know there are approximately 6500 languages spoken in the world today? Each of these languages make the world a diverse and interesting place. Unfortunately, some of these languages aren’t as widely spoken compared to others. A lot of these languages used on the internet but some others not. A good example is Busuu which at one time was only spoken by eight people.
How some of these languages are even known or invented is beyond our recognition. However, there are languages spoken by billions of people in different countries. Some are popular choices to language learners while others are curious choices. To understand each language, you have to take a look at the number of native speakers the language has and how well it is adopted in the world. With no doubt, we can say English is well adopted worldwide but it doesn’t have the most native speakers. Chinese, Mandarin on the other hand has a lot of native speakers, the most in the world but how is it adopted all over the world?
To come up with the most spoken language in the world, we have to look past the native speakers. It’s a combination of native speakers and others who have adopted the language worldwide.
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There are some language facts here. So which are some of the most spoken languages in the world? Let’s take a look at the top most spoken languages.
Chinese carries the day but it’s mostly due to the huge number of its native speakers. With 1.3 billion speakers, this is approximately 15% of the world’s population but it’s all in one country. Chinese is not well adopted in the world but the number of native speakers is humongous. Up until recently, not many countries were interested in learning mandarin as a language.
People speak of Chinese as if it’s a single language but it’s not. Chinese is a combination of related languages and Mandarin is one of them and the biggest by far. It’s the official language for the Republic of China (Taiwan), the People’s republic of China, and Singapore.
Mandarin is written using Han characters or Chinese characters. These are ancient pictorial systems where every symbol is a representation of a different word. There are two main versions – “traditional” used in Hong, Kong, Macau, and Taiwan and the “simplified” characters used in China, Malaysia and Singapore.
However, China is seeping through the world of language, technology, and development especially in Africa. These countries are now considering introducing Mandarin as a language taught in schools. This reception of the Chinese Mandarin language will only add to the supremacy of the language in the years to come. The difficulty in learning the language is a huge barrier however. Just to illustrate, its estimated you have to learn 2000-3000 characters just to read a newspaper. An educated Chinese native knows about 9000 characters.
This is an obvious one but not so obvious. It has 1.13 billion speakers all over the world. While it doesn’t have a lot of native speakers, it’s one of the most popular languages in the world. It is also very well adopted in the world.
Most of the countries use this as their official national language as well though it’s not their native language. Countries in Africa have different tribes and they adopted English as a standard language. For example, a country like Kenya has 43 tribes each with their own language while Tanzania has more than 47 tribes. These countries adopted Swahili and English as their national official language. English is also used as the standard language in most schools all over the world as well. Courses are taught in English and exams administered in English as well.
The supremacy of English all over the world is all thanks to the historical dominance of the British. Also, the recent cultural and economic clout of the US is an important factor. At its deepest, English is related to German and it’s a Germanic language. The sentence structure and vocabulary is close to Dutch and German. Throughout its strange history, English has been influenced by other languages such as Latin, and French.
Taking a look at its population, India has a lot of native speakers. This coupled with almost 250 million non-native speakers brings the total Hindi speakers to around 615 million speakers. Just like Mandarin, the language is spoken mostly by Hindus. It’s the official language of India but it’s also spoken in countries such as Fiji, Nepal, Guyana and Mauritius.
Did you know that if you speak English, you probably know some Hindi? Words like guru, karma, yoga, jungle, avatar, and bungalow among others are all borrowed from Hindi. The language name is Hindustani a combination of Hindi and Urdu. These are two dialects but of the same language. Urdu is mainly spoken in Pakistan. While Urdu and Hindu have different pronunciation and vocabularies, speakers of these two easily communicate with each other.
Spanish is the fourth biggest language in the world by total speakers. If we took a look at native speakers only, it’s the second behind Mandarin. It has a total number of 534 speakers in the world, with 443 being native speakers. The language originated from the Castle region of Spain that’s why it’s referred to as “Castilian” – Castellano. Spanish is spoken across South and Central America plus the Caribbean with a number of speakers in Southeast Asia and Africa as well. Equatorial Guinea is the only country in Africa with Spanish as the official language.
In the United States, Spanish is the second most popular language. The US is home to 40 million Spanish native speakers. Thus, the US becomes the second biggest Spanish speaking country in the world behind Mexico. If the current trend goes on, its predicted that the US will overtake Mexico in the near future to become the largest Spanish speaking country.
Some people have a hard time distinguishing French and Spanish. To make it easier, French is the romance language and the official language for more than 27 countries. The highest number of French speakers are in France, Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland. Surprisingly, it’s also spoken widely in parts of Central and Western Africa, Caribbean Islands and the South American mainland.
The romance language has been heavily influenced by German and Celtic tongues. The language and country are named after a collection of tribes from the Middle ages known as Franks whose language Frankish was Germanic and not Romantic. Frankish now extinct is believed to have influenced the French language contributing to many words in the French vocabulary. French in turn returned the favor contributing to English vocabulary.
It’s the official language of 26 countries in the world. Some people argue that this is not one language but a combination of several. Let’s put this aside and assume there is a single tongue known as Arabic making it a massive language. The language has over 400 million speakers with more than 130 million being nonnative speakers. The language originated from the Arabian Peninsula and since then, it spread across the Middle East, North Africa and some parts of east Africa.
Arabic is the language of Islam. Most of the Muslims are not native Arabic speakers but the language has special meaning and importance to their religion. Being the world’s second largest religion, Islam says that God through the angel Gabriel spoke in Arabic literally while he dictated the Quran to their prophet Mohammed 1400 years ago.
With over 267 total million speakers, the Russian language has a space among the most spoken languages in the world. It has a wide number of non-native speakers totaling to 113 million and the rest are the native speakers. Russian is a Slavic language and it’s the official language of Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. It’s also spoken widely in many countries of the former Soviet Union with official status in many sub-national territories.
Classifying with the number of total native speakers, Russian is the biggest language in all of Europe. Its closest relatives are the Ukrainians, and Belarusian. All three came from the language spoken in the medieval state of Kiev. Russian is also related to other Slavic languages such as Czech, Bulgarian, polish and Serbo-Croat.
It is written with the Cyrillic alphabet like most of the Slavic languages. In the West, some people consider it as the language of war or as a fierce language. For this reason, it’s not widely spoken or learnt in the west or the reason might be, people just don’t like it. However, it’s a beautiful language to learn and it’s easier to learn as compared to other languages.
Its known by many English speakers as Bangla and is mostly spoken in India and Bangladesh. Many people consider it to be the second most beautiful language after French. The language has around 206 million native speakers and 60 million non-native speakers totaling to around 265 million speakers worldwide. In India, it’s the second most widely spoken language after Hindi.
Most people don’t expect Bengali to be anywhere near the most spoken languages in the world. Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language a branch of Indo-European family.
Bengali is written in Bengali alphabet also known as Bengali-Assamese script or Eastern Nagari. The alphabet is not well known in the west but it ranks as the fifth most widely used writing system. In the Bengali alphabet, every constant has a vowel sound which is unlikely in the west. To make it even more interesting, the different marks in the alphabet changes the vowel sound of a word changing the entire meaning.
With a total number of around 230 million speakers, Portuguese closes our list of the most spoken languages in the world. It has 218 million native speakers and around 11 million non-native speakers. It’s also a romance language developed from Latin and related to the modern Spanish.
People who speak Portuguese are known as Lusophone a roman name for the area now known as Portugal. The better part of the Lusophones live in Brazil which surprisingly has double the number of Portuguese speakers than the rest of the world together. Brazilian Portuguese is a beautiful language to learn and speak which is why most people love it.
The above are some of the most spoken languages in the world. We have done our best to rank the languages but there is expected to be a significant shift in the supremacy of these languages in the future. Different languages are growing while others are shrinking. The growing languages are the ones whose native speakers are now spreading across the world.
Before you decide which language to learn, get to know how many people speak the language and how well it is received all over the world.