Which Languages Are Recognized as World Languages?

English, Spanish and French are spoken throughout the world.

What Is a World Language?

The term world language refers to a language that is used by a large number of people across a large geographical area. World languages are important in international affairs and allow a variety of individuals to understand each other despite cultural differences. These languages often gain their status due to linguistic imperialism, which is usually the imposition of the language of a dominant group of people over a conquered group of people. Historically, this often occurred as a result of military occupation and colonialism. Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Egyptian have all held importance as world languages. Today, linguistic imperialism is established through the increasing number of global business transactions. This article takes a closer look at some of the most widely used European world languages today.


English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It is estimated to have around 372 million native speakers, 611 million second language speakers, and around 600 million foreign language speakers around the world. It is often referred to as the global lingua franca due to its importance in the international communication of business, financial institutions, academic research, media outlets, and the entertainment industry. This language is categorized as the (or one of the) official language of 59 nations. English reached its status as a world language in large part due to the invention of the printing press and the spread of the British Empire.


Spanish is the second most widely spoken world language. It is estimated to have around 437 million native speakers, 91 million second language speakers, and around 21 million foreign language speakers around the world. Spanish, which is spoken in North America, South America, Africa, and Europe, is the 2nd most common native tongue in the world and is also considered the 3rd most commonly used language for online information. It was once an official language of the Philippines as well, until the government removed its official status in 1987. Currently, it is the most widely taught foreign language in the US. The spread of the Spanish language was facilitated by the growth of the Spanish Empire. Today, it is considered an official language in 20 sovereign countries.


French is the third most widely spoken European world language, although its occurrence has been declining since the end of World War I. Currently, this language has approximately 80 million native speakers, 153 million second language speakers, and around 274 foreign language speakers. It is considered an official language of the United Nations (as are the previously mentioned English and Spanish) and has been declared by 29 sovereign governments as an official language. Historically, French was revered as the elite language of Europe and used by the ruling class and the most highly educated populations. The elitism associated with speaking French was also held across the Ottoman Empire, in Russia, and as far away as South America, Egypt, and Iran. Today, it is the 4th most common native language spoken in the European Union. The use of French as a current world language was made possible by the far reaches of French colonialism.

Which Languages Are Recognized as European World Languages?

RankLanguageNative speakersSecond speakers of the languageStudents as a foreign languageTotal speakers
1English372 M611 M600 M1500 M
2French80 M153 M62 M274 M
3Spanish437 M91 M21 M567 M

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