The World’s Top 20 Languages—And The Words English Has Borrowed From Them

English is known as a magpie language that picks up words from almost every other language and culture it comes in contact with, from Abenakito Zulu. And although some languages have understandably widened the English vocabulary more than others, modern English dictionaries contain more of a geographical melting pot than ever before. 

Listed here—in order by number of native speakers—are the world’s top 20 languages (according to Ethnologue, a global catalog of the 7000 languages currently in use worldwide). Alongside each entry on the list are just some of the words which English has borrowed from it. 

1. CHINESE: 1197 million native speakers (MANDARIN: 848 million)

Linguistically speaking, Chinese is a “macrolanguage” that encompasses dozens of different forms and dialects that together have just short of 1.2 billion native speakers. By far the most widely spoken variety of Chinese, however, is Mandarin, with 848 million speakers alone—or roughly 70 percent of China’s entire population. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Chinese words have been recorded in English since the mid-16th century, with the earliest examples including the likes of tai chi (1736), ginseng (1634), yin and yang (1671), kumquat (1699) and feng shui (1797). One of the earliest of all is lychee (1588). 

2. SPANISH: 399 million

One quarter of the world’s 399 million Spanish speakers live in Mexico, although other important Hispanophone countries include Colombia (41 million), Argentina (38.8 million), and Venezuela (26.3 million); there are almost as many native Spanish speakers in the United States (34.2 million) as there are in Spain (38.4 million). In English, Spanish loanwords are characterized by terms from weaponry and the military (guerrillaflotillaarmadamachete), animal names (chinchillaalligatorcockroachiguana), and terms from food and drink (potatobananaanchovyvanilla).

3. ENGLISH: 335 million

According to Ethnologue, the English language’s 335 million native speakers include 225 million in the United States, 55 million in the United Kingdom, 19 million in Canada, 15 million in Australia, and just short of 4 million in New Zealand. But English is one of the world’s most widespread languages: mother-tongue speakers are recorded in 101 different countries and territories worldwide, 94 of which class it as an official language. Moreover, if the number of people who use English as a second language or lingua franca were included, the global total of English speakers would easily rise to over one billion. 

4. HINDI: 260 million

The world’s 260 million native Hindi speakers are mainly found in India and Nepal, while an estimated 120 million more people in India use Hindi as a second language. As with all Indian languages, a great many Hindi loanwords found in English were adopted during the British Raj in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but long before then the likes of rupee (1612), guru (1613), pilau (1609), pukka (1619), myna (1620) and juggernaut (1638) had already begun to appear in English texts. 

5. ARABIC: 242 million

Like Chinese, Arabic is technically another macrolanguage whose 242 million native speakers—spread across 60 different countries worldwide—use a range of different forms and varieties. The first Arabic loanwords in English date from the 14th century, although many of the earliest examples are fairly rare and obsolete words like alkanet (a type of dye, 1343) and hardun (an Egyptian agama lizard, 1398). Among the more familiar Arabic contributions to English are hashish (1598), sheikh (1577), and kebab (1698).

6. PORTUGUESE: 203 million

The population of Portugal is just under 11 million, but the global Lusophone population is boosted enormously by Brazil’s 187 million native speakers. Etymologically, Portuguese and Spanish loanwords are often tricky to differentiate because of the similarities between the two languages, but according to the OED, Portuguese is responsible for the likes of marmalade (1480), pagoda (1582), commando (1791), cuspidor(1779), and piranha (1710). 

7. BENGALI: 189 million

After Hindi, Bengali is the second most widely spoken language of Indiawith just over 82 million native speakers. But the largest native Bengali population in the world is found in Bangladesh, where 106 million people use it as their first language. The number of Bengali words adopted into English, however, is relatively small, with only 47 instances—including jute (1746), almirah (a free-standing cupboard, 1788), and jampan (a type of sedan chair, 1828)—recorded in the OED.

8. RUSSIAN: 166 million

One hundred and thirty-seven million of Russian’s 166 million native speakers live in the Russian Federation, with smaller populations in Ukraine (8.3 million), Belarus (6.6 million), Uzbekistan (4 million) and Kazakhstan (3.8 million). The earliest Russian loanwords began to appear in English in the 16th century, among them czar or tsar (1555), rouble (1557), and beluga (1591).

9. JAPANESE: 128 million

Japan’s 128 million people comprise the language’s entire native speaker population, enough to make it the ninth most widely spoken language in the world. Japanese words have been appearing in English texts since the 16th century, with some of the earliest loanwords including katana and wacadash (both types of samurai sword, 1613), miso (1615), shogun(1615), and sake (1687).

10. LAHNDA: 88.7 million

Lahnda is the collective name given to a group of related Punjabi languages and dialects spoken predominantly in Pakistan. Punjabi words adopted into English are rare, but nevertheless include bhangra (a local traditional dance form and music style, 1965), and gurdwara (a Sikh temple, 1909). 

11. JAVANESE: 84.3 million

Java is the most populous island on Earth, home to almost two-thirds of the entire population of Indonesia. More than half of its 139 million inhabitants speak the local Javanese language, enough to earn it a spot just outside of the global top 10 here. The words batik (1880), gamelan (1816) and lahar (a volcanic mudflow, 1929) are all of Javanese origin.

12. GERMAN: 78.1 million

Seventy million of the world’s 78 million native German speakers live in Germany, with the remaining 8 million found in the likes of Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. As English itself is classed as a Germanic language, historically the two languages share a close relationship and ultimately many of the oldest English words could be argued to have German roots. More recent direct German loanwords, however, include sauerkraut (1633), pumpernickel (1738), doppelgänger(1851), and frankfurter (1894). 

13. KOREAN: 77.2 million

Korean loanwords in English are relatively rare, with none at all recorded by the OED before the 19th century. Among the most familiar are kimchi(1898) and taekwondo (1967), while rarer examples include kono (a traditional Korean board game, 1895), and kisaeng (the Korean equivalent of a Japanese geisha girl, 1895).

14. FRENCH: 75.9 million

The world’s 75 million native French speakers are divided among 51 countries and territories, including 7.3 million in Canada, 4 million in Belgium, and 6 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (home to the second largest French-speaking population in the world). Thanks largely to the Norman Conquest, roughly three out of every 10 English words are thought to have French roots, and the trend has continued ever since: English has adopted more loanwords directly from French—absintheblancmangeconciergedauphinenvoifêtegourmandhollandaiseimpasse—than from any other living language.

15. AND 16. TELUGU: 74 MILLION AND MARATHI: 71.8 MILLION

Telugu and Marathi are India’s third and fourth most used languages, with just over 74 and just short of 72 million native speakers, respectively. Neither is responsible for a great many English loanwords, however, and the vast majority of those that have found their way into the language tend to be fairly rare and unfamiliar, like desai (a revenue office or a petty thief, from Marathi, 1698), chawl (an Indian lodging house, from Marathi, 1891), and podu (an area of jungle cleared for farming, from Telugu 1938). By far the most well known is bandicoot, which is thought to literally mean “pig-rat” in Telugu. 

17. TURKISH: 70.9 million

Sixty-six million of the world’s 70 million Turkish speakers are in Turkey, with smaller populations found in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Kazakhstan. Turkish words in English date back to the 16th century, with vizier (1562), tulip (1578) and caftan (1591) being among the earliest to arrive.

18. TAMIL: 68.8 million

Tamil is India’s fifth most spoken language, as well as being one of the official languages of Sri Lanka and Singapore. Catamaran (1697), pariah(1613), poppadum (1820) and patchouli (1843) are all Tamil words, as is curry (1598). 

19. VIETNAMESE: 67.8 million

The OED records just 14 Vietnamese loanwords in English, the earliest of which is the name of the Vietnamese currency, dông (1824). Among the handful of others is pho (a traditional Vietnamese soup, 1935), ao dai (a woman’s high-necked tunic, 1961), and both hao and xu (1968), the names for one-tenth and one-hundredth of a dông, respectively. 

20. URDU: 64 million

Urdu is the sixth Indian language to make the global top 20, with its worldwide total comprised of 51 million native Indian speakers, a further 10 million in Pakistan, and smaller populations in Nepal and Mauritius. Urdu words have been adopted into English since the fifteenth century, with surprisingly early examples including mogul (1577), cummerbund (1613), and bungalow (1676). Earliest of all, however, is shrab—an old Anglo-Indian nickname for an alcoholic beverage, the first record of which in English dates from 1477. 

Most spoken languages in the world 2019

What are the world’s most spoken languages?

Well, roughly 6,500 languages are spoken in the world today. Each and every one of them make the world a diverse and beautiful place.

Sadly, some of these languages are less widely spoken than others. Take busuu for example – we’re named after a language spoken by only eight people.

Others are spoken by huge populations across different countries, and are often popular choices among language learners.

Read on for the twelve most spoken languages in the world, in terms of native speakers, and everything you need to know about them.

The Top 12 Most Spoken Languages in the World

1. Mandarin Chinese

In terms of native speakers alone, Mandarin Chinese is by far the most spoken language in the world.

It’s an official language of mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. So it’s not surprising that there are approximately 955 million native speakers worldwide.

Mandarin is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word changes based on the way we pronounce it.

With a set of about 50,000 characters, it is probably one of the most complex languages to learn.

But don’t worry:

There are no verb conjugations, no tenses and no gender-specific nouns either.

Quite motivating, isn’t it? Maybe that’s also why it’s one of the most popular languages to learn today.

Interesting fact:

Research suggests that you’ll only need around 2,500 characters to be able to read almost 98 percent of everyday written Chinese.

2. Spanish

With around 480 million speakers, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world.

22 countries over four continents have Spanish as the or one of the official languages and it’s already the second most studied language in the world.

Can you believe that within three generations, 10 percent of the world’s population will be able to communicate in Spanish?

Good news for native English speakers:

Spanish appears to be the easiest foreign language to learn! Experts say it takes only 22-24 weeks to reach what’s called general professional proficiency in the language.

Interesting fact:

The first modern novel and the second most translated book after the Bible was written in Spanish – of course, it’s ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes.

3. English

With 360 million native speakers and almost twice as many second language speakers, English is the most spoken language in the world.

It’s also the official language of the sky – all pilots have to speak and identify themselves in English.

Not only is Shakespeare widely considered as one of the greatest dramatists of all time; over his lifespan, he added an incredible amount of about 1,700 words to the English language by changing nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, connecting some words with each other and adding prefixes or suffixes to others.

Fun fact:

The word “goodbye” was originally a contraction of “God be with ye”.

4. Hindi

There are about 310 million native Hindi speakers, which makes it the fourth most spoken language in the world. It’s the official language of India, and is also spoken in countries such as Nepal, Fiji, Mauritius and Guyana.

Hindi is highly influenced by Sanskrit and named after the Persian word “hind”, which means – quite literally –  “Land of the Indus river”.

Interesting fact:

You might actually already know some Hindi. Words like ‘guru’, ‘jungle’, ‘karma’, ‘yoga’, ‘bungalow’, ‘cheetah’, ‘avatar’ and many more have been borrowed from Hindi.

5. Arabic

With 295 million native speakers, Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world and the only one in our top twelve that is written from right to left.

It has also heavily influenced European languages like Spanish and Portuguese: some words sound exactly the same.

It’s left its mark on English, too. ‘Coffee’ for example comes from the Arabic ‘qahwa’.

Interesting fact:

Arabic has at least 11 words for love, each of them expressing a different stage in the process of falling in love.

Now isn’t that a reason to start learning?

6. Portuguese

Portuguese is rooted in the region of Medieval Galicia (which was partly in the north of Portugal and partly in the northwest of Spain), but only five percent of the 215 million native Portuguese speakers actually live in Portugal.

You probably know that it’s the official language of Brazil, but is also has the sole official status in: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Interesting fact:

Until recently, the letters “k”, “w“ and “y” were not part of the Portuguese alphabet. In 2009, a new agreement was signed to standardise spelling forms across different variations.

7. Bangla (Bengali)

Bangla is mostly spoken in Bangladesh and India and is considered by some to be the second most beautiful language after French.

With around 205 million native speakers, it’s the seventh most spoken language in the world.

The Bengali alphabet is particularly interesting:

Every consonant has a vowel sound built in, which is quite unusual for Westerners.

It gets even better:

Different marks change the default vowel sound of a word and therefore also the meaning!

8. Russian

One of the most spread-out languages (with around 155 million native speakers), the eighth most spoken language in the world is Russian.

Whilst the grammar is thought to be difficult, Russian only has about 200,000 words (English has roughly one million), which is why most of them have more than one meaning.

Interesting fact:

Due to Russia’s presence in space technology, it is a requirement for foreign astronauts to have know a certain degree of Russian (as if becoming an astronaut wasn’t already difficult enough!).

9. Japanese

In Japanese, the country’s name is Nihon (にほん) or Nippon (にっぽん), which roughly translates as “land of the rising sun”.

There are 125 million native speakers of Japanese, which makes it the ninth most spoken language in the world.

Interesting fact:

Native Japanese speakers speak the fastest, at 7.84 syllables per second (in comparison, English is spoken at about 6.19 syllables per second).

10. Punjabi

With around 100 million native speakers, Punjabi is the tenth most spoken languages in the world.

While Punjabi is mainly spoken in Pakistan and India, it’s also the third most spoken native language in Canada and the fourth in the U.K.

Interesting fact: 

Like Chinese, Punjabi is a tonal language, which means that different pronunciation changes the meaning even when the words appear extremely similar.

11. German

Often referred to as the language of writers and thinkers, German has around 100 million native speakers worldwide and is the most spoken language in the European Union.

It’s an official language of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Fun fact:

German is known for its seemingly endless sentences, which is not least because of its ability to create completely new and super specific words.

That’s probably why it’s so poetic. ‘Schadenfreude’, for example, literally means ‘damage happiness’ and is used to describe the happiness or entertainment derived from someone else’s misfortune, injury or pain.

12. Javanese

Around 82 million people in the world speak Javanese, mostly on the Indonesian island of Java.

Now if Javanese reminds you of JavaScript, you’re not entirely wrong!

The island is also well-known for its coffee. James Gosling, the inventor of JavaScript was a huge fan of Javanese coffee and named his programming language after the island.

Most Widely Spoken Languages in the World

The modern lingua francas

There are over 7,000 languages in the world, each with their own histories and sounds. All of these should be celebrated. But, some languages are much more widely spoken than the rest. Find out which languages keep us connected and keep the world running.

These rankings only reflect primary or native speakers. It is estimated that roughly half of the world’s population is multilingual, and so the absolute numbers for people who are capable of speaking those languages is much higher. We’ve provided estimates for secondary speakers, but in some cases the data are incomplete. There are no widely published data on third-language speakers and beyond.

The Top Performers

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Chinese tops the list, as China is the world’s most populous country. Mandarin is the most common of more than 30 Chinese languages/dialects, and is sponsored by the government as the official language of China. Officially, for the purposes of cultural and political unity (as we discuss below), the different Chinese languages are considered dialects of a single Han Chinese parent language. 

Spanish isn’t nearly as common as its closest competitors in raw numbers, but it’s the primary language of over twenty countries. Most countries of the Western Hemisphere speak Spanish as a first language, as well as Spain and Equitorial Guinea in the Eastern Hemisphere. 

English isn’t even in the same ballpark as Chinese in terms of primary speakers, but if we include estimates of secondary speakers, then English comes very close. English is commonly used around the world as a trade language or diplomatic language, and is widely spoken and taught in over 118 countries. 

Languages in the United States

Although the United States prides itself on the diversity of its population, by measures of linguistic diversity it’s actually quite average. At its most basic, linguistic diversity is measured in the number of languages spoken in daily living, and the number of people speaking them. By such a standard, if an entire population of people came from different places but spoke the same, they would be considered relatively homogeneous. This is an especially important distinction when discussing matters like media consumption or political communication.

The U.S. doesn’t have an official language, but English is the most common in the United States by a huge margin, as well as the de facto language of government. Roughly two-thirds of the country speak English as a primary language. Spanish is the next most common, with about ten percent of the population. Trailing behind at just shy of one percent are Chinese, French/French Creole, and Tagalog.

What Counts as a Language?

It may seem like a silly question, but it’s quite a serious one. The dividing line between languages and dialects is blurry—why are Dutch, Frisian, and Afrikaans considered different, but Chinese languages are called dialects (despite being farther apart than English and German)? The real difference between languages and dialects is political, as often as not. Common language has been seen as a defining feature of the nation-state. The desire to call Hindi and Urdu languages is largely motivated by the desire to differentiate their cultures and their states. The Kurdish languages are often classified together to construct a more unified culture, in contrast to surrounding cultures, despite being mutually unintelligible. With that in mind, one must be aware that the raw numbers here aren’t perfect representations of what or of how people speak. They are a thorough approximation.