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.