Top 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World

Published on June 26, 2008 - 350 Comments            

Language is perhaps the most important function of th

e human body - it allows us to get sustenance as a child, it allows us to get virtually anything we want as an adult, and it allows us many hours of entertainment through literature, radio, music, and films. This list (in order of least to most spoken) summarizes the most important languages in use today.

10  French

Number of speakers: 129 million

Often called the most romantic language in the world, French is spoken in tons of countries, including Belgium, Canada, Rwanda, Cameroon, and Haiti. Oh, and France too. We’re actually very lucky that French is so popular, because without it, we might have been stuck with Dutch Toast, Dutch Fries, and Dutch kissing (ew!).

To say “hello” in French, say “Bonjour” (bone-JOOR).


9 Malay-Indonesian
Number of speakers: 159 million

Malay-Indonesian is spoken - surprise - in Malaysia and Indonesia. Actually, we kinda fudged the numbers on this one because there are many dialects of Malay, the most popular of which is Indonesian. But they’re all pretty much based on the same root language, which makes it the ninth most-spoken in the world.

Indonesia is a fascinating place; a nation made up of over 13,000 islands it is the sixth most populated country in the world. Malaysia borders on two of the larger parts of Indonesia (including the island of Borneo), and is mostly known for its capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

To say “hello” in Indonesian, say “Selamat pagi” (se-LA-maht PA-gee).


Number of speakers: 191 million

Think of Portuguese as the little language that could. In the 12th Century, Portugal won its independence from Spain and expanded all over the world with the help of its famous explorers like Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator. (Good thing Henry became a navigator . . . could you imagine if a guy named “Prince Henry the Navigator” became a florist?) Because Portugal got in so early on the exploring game, the language established itself all over the world, especially in Brazil (where it’s the national language), Macau, Angola, Venezuela, and Mozambique.

To say “hello” in Portuguese, say “Bom dia” (bohn DEE-ah).


Number of speakers: 211 million

In Bangladesh, a country of 120+ million people, just about everybody speaks Bengali. And because Bangladesh is virtually surrounded by India (where the population is growing so fast, just breathing the air can get you pregnant), the number of Bengali speakers in the world is much higher than most people would expect.

To say “hello” in Bengali, say “Ei Je” (EYE-jay).


Number of speakers: 246 million

Arabic, one of the world’s oldest languages, is spoken in the Middle East, with speakers found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Furthermore, because Arabic is the language of the Koran, millions of Moslems in other countries speak Arabic as well. So many people have a working knowledge of Arabic, in fact, that in 1974 it was made the sixth official language of the United Nations.

To say “hello” in Arabic, say “Al salaam a’alaykum” (Ahl sah-LAHM ah ah-LAY-koom).


Number of speakers: 277 million

Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Yakov Smirnoff are among the millions of Russian speakers out there. Sure, we used to think of them as our Commie enemies. Now we think of them as our Commie friends. One of the six languages in the UN, Russian is spoken not only in the Mother Country, but also in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the U.S. (to name just a few places).

To say “hello” in Russian, say “Zdravstvuite” (ZDRAST-vet-yah).


Number of speakers: 392 million

Aside from all of those kids who take it in high school, Spanish is spoken in just about every South American and Central American country, not to mention Spain, Cuba, and the U.S. There is a particular interest in Spanish in the U.S., as many English words are borrowed from the language, including: tornado, bonanza, patio, quesadilla, enchilada, and taco grande supreme.

To say “hello” in Spanish, say “Hola” (OH-la).

3 Hindustani

Number of speakers: 497 million

Hindustani is the primary language of India’s crowded population, and it encompasses a huge number of dialects (of which the most commonly spoken is Hindi). While many predict that the population of India will soon surpass that of China, the prominence of English in India prevents Hindustani from surpassing the most popular language in the world. If you’re interested in learning a little Hindi, there’s a very easy way: rent an Indian movie. The film industry in India is the most prolific in the world, making thousands of action/romance/musicals every year.

To say “hello” in Hindustani, say “Namaste” (Nah-MAH-stay).


2 English

Number of speakers: 508 million

While English doesn’t have the most speakers, it is the official language of more countries than any other language. Its speakers hail from all around the world, including New Zealand, the U.S., Australia, England, Zimbabwe, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Canada. We’d tell you more about English, but you probably feel pretty comfortable with the language already. Let’s just move on to the most popular language in the world.

To say “hello” in English, say “What’s up, freak?” (watz-UP-freek).




1 Mandarin

Number of speakers: 1 billion+

Surprise, surprise, the most widely spoken language on the planet is based in the most populated country on the planet. Beating second-place English by a 2 to 1 ratio, but don’t let that lull you into thinking that Mandarin is easy to learn. Speaking Mandarin can be really tough, because each word can be pronounced in four ways (or “tones”), and a beginner will invariably have trouble distinguishing one tone from another. But if over a billion people could do it, so could you. Try saying hello!

To say “hello” in Mandarin, say “Ni hao” (Nee HaOW). (”Hao” is pronounced as one syllable, but the tone requires that you let your voice drop midway, and then raise it again at the end.)
List of languages by number of native speakers
Top 20
Language  ↓ Family  ↓ Ethnologue (2005 estimate)[1]  ↓ Encarta estimate[2]  ↓ Other estimates  ↓ Ranking by Ethnologue estimate  ↓
Mandarin Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 873,000,000 1,210,000,000†[2] 982,000,000 native, 179,000,000 second language = 1,151,000,000 total[3]
Encarta estimate includes all Chinese dialects
Hindi Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 366,000,000[4] 366,000,000 Standard Hindi 325,000,000; A total of 650,000,000 including Urdu and secondary speakers, does not include Maithili. All Hindi dialects are mutually intelligible. 2
Spanish Indo-European, Italic, Romance 322,300,000[5] 322,200,000[6] Total of 417 million including second-language speakers (1999).[7][8] 3
English Indo-European, Germanic, West 309,350,000[9] 341,000,000 Over 1,500,000,000 worldwide.[10] Also see List of countries by English-speaking population which numbers 850,000,000 worldwide (as a total of first and additional language spoken). 4
Arabic Afro-Asiatic, Semitic 206,000,000[11] 422,000,000

It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.[12]

Portuguese Indo-European, Italic, Romance 177,500,000 176,000,000 215 million native, 20 million second language = 235 million total[citation needed] 6
Bengali Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 171,000,000 207,000,000 196 million native (2004 CIA) (includes 14 million Chittagonian and 10.3 million Sylheti). 7
Russian Indo-European, Slavic, East 145,000,000 167,000,000 165 million native, 110 million second language = 275 million total 8
Japanese Considered either language isolate or Altaic 122,400,000 125,000,000 130 million native, 2 million second language = 132 million total 9
German Indo-European, Germanic, West 95,400,000 100,100,000 101 million native (88 million Standard German, 5 million Swiss German, 8 million Austrian German), 60 million second language in EU[13] + 5–20 million worldwide. 10
Punjabi Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 88,000,000 57,000,000 61–62 million (2000 WCD) (taken together with Eastern Punjabi (28 million) and Siraiki (14 million): 104 million total) 11
French Indo-European, Italic, Romance 78,000,000[14]
113 million “native and real speakers”[15] (includes 64,473,140 French people), 250 million second language (worldwide including Africa and North Africa) = 363 million (as a total of first and additional language spoken) and up to 500 million total with significant knowledge of the language (2008).[16] 12
Wu Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 77,200,000 77 million native 13
Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Sunda-Sulawesi 75,500,000 75,600,000 70–75 million 14
Telugu Dravidian, South Central 69,700,000 69,700,000 70 million native, 5 million second language = 75 million total (2001)[17] 15
Marathi Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 68,000,000 68,000,000 68 million native, 3 million second language = 71 million total 16
Vietnamese Austro-Asiatic, Mon-Khmer, Vietic 67,400,000 68,000,000 70 million native, perhaps up to 16 million second language, = ~86 million total 17
Korean Considered either language isolate or Altaic 67,000,000 77,000,000 79 million if including secondary and non-native speakers.[18] 18
Tamil Dravidian, Southern 68,000,000 68,000,000 69 million native, 10 million second language = 79 million total[17] 19
Italian Indo-European, Italic, Romance 61,500,000 62,000,000 20

[edit] 10 to 60 million native speakers

Language  ↓ Family  ↓ Ethnologue (2005 estimate)[19]  ↓ Encarta estimate[20]  ↓ Other estimates  ↓ Ranking by Ethnologue estimate  ↓
Cantonese Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 54.8 million -- 66 million 21
Sindhi Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan Official in India, Pakistan. Significant communities in People’s Republic of China (Hong Kong)?, Oman? and Gibraltar. 54.5 million (2006) 41.5 million native, 13 million second language, = 30 million total (2001 Johnstone and Mandryk) 22
Turkish Altaic, Turkic, Oghuz 50 million 61 million 74 million (2006 estimate)[21] + 15 million second language = 89 million 23
Min Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 46.2 million -- Southern Min: 49m, Northern Min 10.43m 24
Gujarati Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 46.1 million 46.1 million -- 25
Maithili Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 45 million (included in "Hindi") 26
Polish Indo-European, Slavic, West 42.7 million 52 million -- 27
Ukrainian Indo-European, Slavic, East 39.4 million 47 million -- 28
Persian Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian 39.4 million[22] 31.3 million ca. 72 million;[23] sometimes taken to include all of Southwestern Iranian (Luri, Tati, and other); ca. 72 million second language[citation needed], total ca. 144 million total 29
Malayalam Dravidian, Southern - India 35.8 million 35.7 million 38 million native, 10 million second language = 48 million 30
Kannada Dravidian, Southern 35.4 million 35.4 million 55 million native, 9 million second language, = 64 million total[citation needed] 31
Tamazight (Berber) Afro-Asiatic, Berber, Northern National language in Algeria, Mali and Niger (Tuaregs); unrecognized in Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. Large migrant communities in France, Benelux, Spain and Germany . 32.3 million (2006) 37+ million (1998) 32
Oriya Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 31.7 million 32.3 million -- 33
Azerbaijani Altaic, Turkic, Oghuz 31 million 31.4 million 25–35 million native, including Qashqai (data for Iran uncertain); 8 million second language (outside Iran) 34
Hakka Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 29.9 million -- 34 million 35
Bhojpuri Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan 26 million (included in "Hindi") 126 million total 36
Burmese Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Lolo-Burmese 22 million (1996) 32.3 million (2006) 32 million native, 10 million second language, = 42 million total 37
Gan Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 21 million -- 48 million, 29 million in Jiangxi[24] 38
Thai Kradai, Tai 20.05 million (1996) 46.1 million (2006) ~31 million native (1983 SIL, 1990 Diller, 2000 WCD) (dated data), = ~60 million first and second language (2001 A. Diller). Includes Southern Thai, Northern Thai/Western Lao, but not Shan, Isan, or Lao. 39
Sundanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Sunda-Sulawesi Native to Indonesia (origin in western Java) 27 million (2006) 27 million (1990) 40
Romanian Indo-European, Italic, Romance Official in Moldova, Romania, Serbia (Vojvodina). Significant communities in Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, USA. 26.3 million (2006) 26 million native,[2] 4 million second language. The total is about 30 million.[25] 41
Hausa Afro-Asiatic, Chadic, West Official in Niger, north Nigeria. Significant communities in Chad, Benin, Ghana, Sudan 24.2 million (2006) 24 million native, ~15 million second language, = ~40 million total 42
Pashto Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Eastern Official in Afghanistan. Native to Pakistan. Significant communities in Iran, United Arab Emirates. 60 million (2006) 65-70 million (data uncertain; ethnic population ~60 million) 43
Serbo-Croatian Indo-European, Slavic, South Official in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, under names Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian respectively. Significant communities in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia. 21.1 million (2006) 17 million 44
Uzbek Altaic, Turkic, Eastern Official in Uzbekistan. Native to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan 20.1 million (2006) 20 million (1995) 45
Dutch Indo-European, Germanic, West Official in Belgium, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Suriname. Significant communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa (excluding Afrikaans). 20 million (2006) 25 million[26][13] 46
Yoruba Niger-Congo, Benue-Congo, Defoid, Yoruboid Official in Nigeria. 20 million (2006) 19 million native, 2 million second language, = 21 million total (1993) 47
Amharic Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, South Official in Ethiopia. Significant communities in Israel. 17.4 million (2006) 27 million native (32.7% Ethiopia [1994 census] and 2.7 million emigrants), 10% (7 million) as a second language = 34 million total 48
Oromo Afro-Asiatic, Cushitic, East Cushitic National language of Ethiopia. Significant communities in Kenya 17.2 million (2006) 24 million native (31.6% of Ethiopia [1994 census]), ~2 million second language, = 26 million total (1998 census) 49
Indonesian Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 23.1 million, national language in Indonesia 17.1 million 140 million second language 50
Filipino Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Borneo-Philippines Official and Native in Philippines. Significant communities in Canada, People’s Republic of China (Hong Kong), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United States (Alaska, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands). 17 million (2006) 22 million native (2000 census), ~65 million second language, = 85 million total 51
Kurdish Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Western, Northwestern Official in Iraq. Native to Armenia, Iran, Syria, Turkey. Significant communities in Germany, Lebanon. 16 million (all varieties) ~31,417,000[citation needed] (see article for full list) 52
Language  ↓ Family  ↓ Official status and where spoken natively, or as an immigrant language, by more than 1% of the population  ↓ SIL estimate[2]  ↓ Number of speakers  ↓ Ranking by number of native speakers  ↓
Somali Afro-Asiatic, Cushitic, East Official in Somalia. Native to Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya. Significant communities in Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen. 9.8 million (2006) 10-16 million native and at least 500,000 second-language speakers.million (2004 WCD) 49
Lao Kradai, Tai Official in Laos. Native to Thailand. 3.2 million (2006) ~19 million Lao-Phutai dialects (including Isan) (data dated) 50
Cebuano Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Borneo-Philippines Native to Philippines 15 million (2006) 18.5 million native, ~11.5 million second language, = 30 million total (2000 census) 51
Greek Indo-European, Greek Official in Cyprus, Greece. Significant communities in Albania, Australia, Canada, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA. 15 million (2007) 12 million (2004), up to 10–12 million more second language 52
Malay Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Sunda-Sulawesi, Malayic Official in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore. Native to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand. Significant communities in Australia, Bahrain. 23.6 million (2006) 18 million native, 3 million second language, = 21 million total (not counting Indonesian) 53
Igbo Niger-Congo, Benue-Congo, Igboid Official in Nigeria 18 million (2006) 18 million native (1999 WA), unknown number second language. 54
Malagasy Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Borneo-Philippines, Barito Official in Madagascar. Significant communities in Mayotte, Réunion. 10.5 million (2006) 17 million 55
Nepali Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan Official in Nepal, India (Sikkim). Significant communities in Bhutan. approx. 30 million in Nepal, 16 million as native tongue and 15 million as a second language (2006) 40 million (2006) 56
Assamese Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan Official in India (Assam). Significant communities in Bhutan and Bangladesh. 15.4 million (2006) 15 million (1997). Assamese is spoken and/or understood by most everyone in the state of Assam. Assam had a population of 26.7 million in 2003-04. So, Assamese has another 8-10 million second language speakers. Assamese is also understood and spoken widely in Arunachal Pradesh with a population of 1.1 million. These are mostly second or third language speakers. Various tribes in Nagaland with a population 2 million use Nagamese, a variant of Assamese, for communication. Thus, a total of approximately, 28-30 million people speak and understand Assamese. 57
Shona Niger-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantu National language of Zimbabwe. Significant communities in Botswana, Mozambique. 14 million (2006) 15 million native, 1.8 million second language, = 16–17 million total, including Ndau, Manyika (2000 A. Chebanne) 58
Khmer Austro-Asiatic, Mon-Khmer, Khmer Official in Cambodia. Significant communities in Thailand, United States (California), Vietnam 8 million (2006) 14 million native, 1 million second language, = 15 million total (2004) 59
Zhuang Kradai, Tai Official in People's Republic of China (Guangxi) 14 million (2006) 14 million native (1992), unknown number second language 60
Madurese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Sunda-Sulawesi Native to Indonesia (Originally Java, Madura) 13.7 million (2006) 14 million (1995) 61
Hungarian Uralic, Finno-Ugric, Ugric Official in Hungary, Serbia (Vojvodina), Slovenia, Austria. Significant communities in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, United States, Israel 14.5 million (2006) 14 million native (1995) 62
Sinhalese Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan Official in Sri Lanka. Significant communities in United Arab Emirates 13.2 million (2006) 13 million native, 2 million second language, = 15 million total (1993) 63
Fula Niger-Congo, Atlantic, Northern, Senegambian Official in Niger, Nigeria. National language in Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal. Significant communities in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sierra Leone. 11.4 million (2006) ~13 million (all varieties) 64
Czech Indo-European, Slavic, West Official in Czech Republic. 12 million (2006) 12 million (1990 WA). 65