09Sep
globe featuring countries where the most common languages are spoken
By: Nicole On: September 9, 2016 In: Languages Comments: 15

What are the world’s most common languages?

Estimating these most common language populations can be tricky, and there is a range of data available.

Quiz yourself: See how many of these most common languages you can name before looking at the list.

Keep in mind that this list is composed of native speakers — so people who learned Mandarin in college, for example, are not included in the total number of Mandarin speakers.

You might find some languages that surprise you!

1) Mandarin

With more than 955 million speakers, Mandarin claims the top spot as the world’s most common language — and one that often requires professional translation services.

One of the five major dialects of Chinese, Mandarin is the official language of China and Taiwan, as well as one of the four official dialects of Singapore. Approximately 14.4 percent of the world’s population are native speakers of Mandarin.

2) Spanish

Its prominence in the Americas as well as in Europe makes Spanish one of the most common languages, with 405 million speakers. The Castilian dialect in Spain is held as a national standard, although Andalusian and Catalan are also spoken.

3) English

English used to be the second-most common language, but Spanish-speakers have increased much more rapidly over the past 15 years. Still, scholars have named English the world’s “most influential language,” due to the number of speakers (360 million) and the number of countries in which it is spoken.

4) Hindi/Urdu

Although they have different written forms, Hindi and Urdu share a history, many common words, and a grammar. Many linguists consider them different “registers” of the same common language. Over 310 million people speak one of the two.

5) Arabic

Arabic, spoken by 295 million speakers worldwide, is also the language of Muslim holy writings. It has also influenced other most common languages — Spanish has approximately 4,000 words with Arabic roots.

6) Portuguese

Out of the 215 million Portuguese speakers worldwide, nearly 150 million of them speak Brazilian Portuguese, the most common language variant. Portuguese is also the official language of other countries including Angola, Mozambique, and — clearly — Portugal, among others.

7) Bengali

With 205 million speakers, Bengali is also the second most widely spoken language in India, popular in the easternmost states. Bengali is an official language of both India and Bangladesh.

8) Russian

Russian’s 155 million speakers make it the world’s eighth most common language. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations, along with Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French and Spanish.

9) Japanese

Out of the approximately 125 million people who speak Japanese, 124 million live in Japan and the island group of Okinawa. This makes it unusual among the most common languages in its geographic concentration.

10. Punjabi

Fifteen years ago, German held the tenth spot, though Punjabi has recently surpassed it. With 102 million speakers, Punjabi is mainly spoken in India and Pakistan, and is a native language of 1.44 percent of the world’s population.

How Do We Know Who Speaks What?

Fluctuations in different estimates can be attributed to population growth, as well as how linguists choose to group dialects and microlanguages into larger groups. The most common languages can also vary depending on whether studies include only primary languages, or all languages spoken in a population.

These numbers were taken from the 2010 edition of Nationalencyklopedin, a Swedish language encyclopedia.

15 Comments:

    • Dylan
    • October 18, 2016
    • Reply

    I have been severely helped by this thank you so much!

      • Steve
      • October 18, 2016
      • Reply

      Yeah me too

      • Russ
      • December 27, 2016
      • Reply

      Thanks. This answers many questions!

    • uuiuu
    • October 19, 2016
    • Reply

    it helpd me in quiz i am in class 1

    • Roger
    • November 17, 2016
    • Reply

    I find it very interesting that Spanish and Arabic have 4000 words rooted in each other. Is there a way to tell if the Spanish came from the Arabic or if the Arabic came from the Spanish? I know English and Spanish have similar occurrences.

      • Chelsea
      • November 17, 2016
      • Reply

      Hi Roger,
      Arabic did, in fact, influence the Spanish language, specifically Castilian Spanish. During the conquest of 711 C.E. when Arab armies entered the Iberian Peninsula, they brought the language with them and it’s influences are still heard today. Here’s a great read on the history of how Arabic entered the Spanish language: http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/society/customs/arab-influence-on-spanish-language-and-culture

      • Rafel Jaume
      • January 12, 2017
      • Reply

      Hi, Roger.

      Actually, no one of them came from the other. Spanish is a Romanic, then Indo-European, language and Arabic is a Semitic one. Although, as says Chelsea, Arabic left many lexical influences onto Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan, mainly on the southern dialects.

    • Marie-Paule Donsimoni-Bupp
    • December 26, 2016
    • Reply

    How many people speak French? It seems that adding Francophone Africa, in particular the DRC, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Quebec, there might be more than 220m. That is according to the US Census Bureau

    Would that not make France a more spoken language than some mentioned above?

    • Rafel Jaume
    • January 12, 2017
    • Reply

    Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish. It’s a totaly different language. Instead, Andalusian doesn’t exist as a language nor a dialect. There are several andalusian dialects from Spanish, as Sevillano, Granadino, Jerezano… . You can’t put both words in the same sentence as if they were similar things.

    Moreover, Castillian or Castellano isn’t a dialect of Spanish, but a synonym. In Spain we say Español or Castellano to refer to the whole language, even though American Spanish speakers don’t use to do.

    • lilly
    • January 25, 2017
    • Reply

    wrong English is the most commen langage

      • Grammar Nazi
      • February 01, 2017
      • Reply

      How do you know that? It clearly states above that Mandarin is the most spoken language. Also, if you search it on Bing, the information is the same. By the way, you spelled “commen” wrong. It is supposed to be spelled “common.” Sorry if I’m being rude, but I’m a grammar Nazi. XD

      But, if you have evidence that your claim is right, I would really like to know the truth.

      I don’t know why I’m doing this right now. I’m supposed to be doing homework. XD

      • Bruv
      • February 12, 2017
      • Reply

      ur wrong mate

    • Seda
    • February 07, 2017
    • Reply

    I think it should be 1English, 2French 3. Spanish 4. Russian then China, Arabic

    • Jay Dow
    • February 09, 2017
    • Reply

    This article couldn’t be more inaccurate, this is just going of basic false general statistics, no research at all, how can English be second with 360 million??? The us population is about 316 million, there’s over 275 million people alone speaking fluent English if not more, U.K. Population of 64 mil at least 60 million fluent English , India about a billion + , 125 million fluent in English , Nigeria 160 plus million people with English as the official language 80 million speak English fluently, Ghana 18 million , Australia etc… no less than 800 people speak English fluently everyday almost forgot Mexico which borders with the USA , 15 million + , you can’t say that for Spanish so how can English be number 3 on the list???

    • sree
    • February 10, 2017
    • Reply

    why Hindi/urdu is not offical UN language, though 4th most spoken in the world…

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