English, the most spoken language in the world, has 1.5 billion speakers across the world. Throughout history, languages have developed from various linguistic elements and spread through trade, conquests, colonization, immigration, and cultural interactions. However, English does not rank first in terms of the number of native speakers. It has mostly gained prominence due to its popularity as a subject of foreign language study. The following is an analysis of the world's most popular languages in terms of all speakers (both native speakers and those who have acquired a language). All numbers are estimates as it can be difficult to determine how many speakers exist of any given language.
1. English - 1.39 Billion Speakers
The history of the English language is rather storied. The earliest forms of English were introduced to Britain by a succession of invaders. From Germanic tribes, Celts, Vikings to Normans, English developed from several linguistic influences. From Britain, English spread through conquests, trade, and interactions. English today is the language of international business. English is the primary native language of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Nigeria, Australia, Namibia, and more. Mostly thanks to globalization and the popularity of American and British media, the popularity of English has been further increasing, particularly amongst younger people. Today, around 1.39 billion people possess some command of the English language, around 480 million of whom are native speakers.
2. Mandarin Chinese - 1.15 Billion Speakers
Chinese is the second most popular language in the world with a total of 1.15 billion speakers. Chinese is part of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family which stretches across much of Asia. From its origin in China, Chinese is also widely spoken in Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. The Chinese language consists of several dialects, which can vary considerably from one another. Chinese can either be written with simplified characters or in traditional characters, the former of which was created by a government initiative in the 1950s that was designed to make Chinese easier to learn.
3. Spanish - 661 Milion Speakers
Spanish is the third most spoken language in the world. Globally, it has 661 million speakers. Spanish emerged in the Iberian Peninsula (Hispania) as a result of linguistic interactions between the Celtiberians who spoke Celtic and the Latin-speaking Romans. After the invasion of the North-African Arabs and Germanic tribes, the Castilian dialect emerged which gave rise to standardized Spanish. Spanish is the official language in Spain and numerous Latin-American countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.
4. Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) - 544 Million Speakers
Hindustani refers to both Hindi and Urdu, two languages that are similar in grammar but have nuanced differences in function. Hindi traces its roots to Sanskrit, an early language spoken by Aryan settlers in northwest India. Over the centuries, Hindi was influenced by Dravidian, Turkic, Portuguese, Persian, Arabic, and English. Hindi is subsequently a modern Indo-Aryan Language. Hindi is the dominant language in India, and it is also spoken in Nepal, US, South Africa, Yemen, and Mauritius. Urdu has Persian influences and is the official language and the language of all school instructions in Pakistan.
5. Arabic - 422 Million Speakers
422 million people speak Arabic. It is part of the Semitic languages which originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Nomad tribes in the Arabian Peninsula facilitated the spread of the language as they moved from one region to another. The language is widely spoken in the Middle-East and several Asian countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Qatar, Afghanistan, Iran, and Indonesia.
6. Malay - 281 Million Speakers
The Malay language, which is also sometimes called Indonesian, counts 281 million speakers worldwide. It is the sixth most spoken language. It is estimated that the language has its origins on the island of Borneo. Malay is considered to be an Austronesian language, a language type found primarily in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region, although Malagasy, the official language of Madagascar, is also an Austronesian language.
7. Russian - 267 Million Speakers
The Russian language boasts 267 million speakers worldwide. Russian is a Slavic Language of the Indo-European linguistic family. Russian developed from the Polanian dialect, which was popular in the capital of the Russian State, Kiev. Russian, the official language of Russia, is also spoken in Ukraine, Latvia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Lithuania, countries which were formerly in the Soviet Union.
8. Bengali - 261 Million Speakers
Bengali counts 261 million speakers across the world. Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language which descended from the Sanskrit and Magadhi Prakrit dialects spoken in Bengal. Bengali is the official language in Bangladesh, and it is widely spoken in India, and Sierra Leone as well as in the UK, the US, and the Middle East.
9. Portuguese - 229 Million Speakers
Portuguese has approximately 229 million speakers, which makes it the ninth most commonly spoken language in the world. Portuguese is a Romance language which developed in the western region of the Iberian Peninsula (now Portugal). It is the official language in Portugal alongside Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.
10. French - 229 Million Speakers
The Romance Language of French is spoken by 229 million people worldwide. Historically, French was adopted by the invading Germanic group of Franks, and it was influenced by Germanic elements, Latin and the Gaulish language. From its origin in France, French is also spoken in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Haiti.
What are the Most Spoken Languages in the World?
With 1.3 billion speakers, English is the world's most spoken language. Mandarin Chinese closely follows behind with 1.1 billion speakers. However, English is not the most spoken language in terms of native speakers. Instead, Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language.
Languages By Number of Speakers
|Rank||Language||Estimated Total Number of Speakers|
|2||Mandarin Chinese||1.15 Billion|
|20||Wu Chinese||80 Million|
|24||Yue Chinese||72 Million|
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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