What is the Most Spoken Language in the World?

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on June 7 2019 in World Facts

Greetings written using different languages of the world.
Greetings written using different languages of the world.

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 StatesCanadathe United KingdomIrelandNigeriaAustraliaNamibia, 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 ArgentinaEl SalvadorChileMexicoGuatemala, 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 EmiratesIraqSaudi ArabiaYemenSudanQatarAfghanistanIran, 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 BelgiumLuxembourgSwitzerland, Canada, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Haiti.

Languages By Number of Speakers

RankLanguageEstimated Total Number of Speakers
1English1.39 Billion
2Mandarin Chinese1.15 Billion
3Spanish661 Million
4Hindustani544 Million
5Arabic422 Million
6Malay 281 Million
7Russian267 Million
8Bengali 261 Million
9Portuguese229 Million
10French229 Million
11Hausa150 Million
12Punjabi148 Million
13German129 Million
14Japanese129 Million
15Persian121 Million
16Swahili107 Million
17Telugu92 Million
18Italian87 Million
19Javanese84 Million
20Wu Chinese80 Million
21Korean77 Million
22Tamil75 Million
23Marathi 74 Million
24Yue Chinese72 Million
25Vietnamese95 Million

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