09Sep
globe featuring countries where the most common languages are spoken
By: Nicole On: September 9, 2016 In: Languages Comments: 50
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What are the world’s most commonly spoken languages?

This can be a very difficult (and highly contested) question to answer. There is a range of data available, all collected at different times by different sources. This can lead to differences in total numbers and provides us with, at best, estimates of the most common language populations. Fluctuations in 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. And then, of course, there’s the problem of what constitutes a dialect vs a language vs a creole.

Still, there are some things we can assert with a degree of certainty. For instance, although the estimates of total number of speakers may vary depending on the source you consult, Mandarin, English, Hindu, and Spanish are all likely to appear in the top 10 of any list.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the ten most commonly spoken languages as recorded by Statista in 2018. 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 1,299 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 15 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 an estimated 442 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 20 years. Still, scholars have named English the world’s “most influential language,” due to the number of speakers (378 million) and the number of countries in which it is spoken.

When doing business in English, however, it’s important to remember the key role that localization plays since there are many variations on the language depending on the region you’re targeting.

4) Arabic

Arabic, spoken by 315 million speakers worldwide, is also the language of Muslim holy writings. Additionally, the influence and legacy of Arabic is far-reaching. Many other languages on this list have words with Arabic roots, including Spanish which features approximately 4,000 words with Arabic roots.

5) 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 260 million people speak one of the two.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that your marketing strategies in India can rely on just a Hindi and/or Urdu translation. India is home to a large variety of languages and, as studies show, it’s natives are preforming searches online in their local languages.

6) Bengali

With 243 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.

7) Portuguese

Out of the 223 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.

8) Russian

Russian’s 154 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 128 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 due to its geographic concentration.

Another interesting fact about the Japanese language is that it’s written form consists of three different alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

10. Punjabi

Not too long ago, German held the tenth spot, though Punjabi has now surpassed it. With 119 million speakers, Punjabi is mainly spoken in India and Pakistan, and is a native language of almost 2 percent of the world’s population.

Languages That Just Missed Out on the Top 10

As stated above, the top ten estimates provided here are just that — estimates. There are many other languages around the world that are spoken by an equally high number of native speakers. When data estimates fluctuate due to the method of collection and total number of participates, among other things, we see these top ten shift as well.

Past iterations of this list have included such languages as French and German, which also have near 100 million native speakers worldwide.

Did any of the languages above surprise you? Let us know in the comments below!

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50 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!

      • Carrot
      • July 20, 2018
      • Reply

      You coulda just said greatly, but whatever floats your boat.

    • 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

        • Carrot
        • July 20, 2018
        • Reply

        You have really nice sentence structure Chelsea.

      • 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.

        • Rebecca
        • May 15, 2017
        • Reply

        Hi,

        Although Spanish is a romance language, Arabic did heavily influence the Spanish language we know today, as Chelsea mentioned. There are hundreds of Spanish words with Arabic origin, for example, all the words beginning al- and of course “ojalá” which references the arabic god “Allah”. This article highlights several others (http://www.spanishdict.com/blog/the-arabic-influence-on-the-spanish-language/). Hopefully you will see that Arabic did in fact shape the Spanish language, it was not simply tangential to the development of the language.

        Credentials: Hispanic Studies major having spent a considerable amount of time in Spain

          • Daniel Martin
          • July 30, 2018
          • Reply

          Rebecca: Arabic didnt shape Spanish, some words were integrated but Spanish is very Latin based. English is half Latin and half Germanic/Saxon but we have words like admiral that come from Arabic. piano from Italy, pajamas from India, tea from China, mosquito from Spanish. The Romans were in Spain and England for 500 years and the Moors for 700 in Spain but the language was already formed and Arabic didnt stick in Spain the same way Germanic/Saxon did in England.with Anglo-Saxon. The Normans in 1066 perpetuated French based Latin in England but the Catholic Kings in Spain eradicated Moorish influence from 1492.
          Credentials : English Teacher, living in Spain for 25 years

    • 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?

    • No because most people in the Francophone countries do NOT speak French, but a native language.

      • lloobo
      • November 30, 2017
      • Reply

      yeah ur right 229 million french speaker in the world !! … but wait 76 million speaker as first language and 153 million speaker as a second languge (native languge)

      • Anonymous
      • December 10, 2017
      • Reply

      I don’t think so. Africa has different dialects of French. I am fluent in French and I know that the French spoken in Africa is a bit different to the French spoken in France.

    • 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.

      • Lala
      • October 05, 2017
      • Reply

      Actually, it is a dialect of Spanish. Check out the country Catalonia; they speak that language there, and the country is in a Spanish district; Spain.

        • TRIALNERROR
        • June 16, 2018
        • Reply

        This is wrong. Catalan developed from Vulgar Latin not Spanish. They are more like cousins than parent/child. Geographical location is irrelevant regarding the linguistic evolution. Just because Barcelona is in Spain does not make Catalan Spanish, any more than Breton s a dialect of French or Cornish a dialect of English.

          • Daniel Martin
          • July 30, 2018
          • Reply

          TRIALNERROR Catalan is also spoken in southern France, could have been an alternative retort, but youre right geographical location is irrelevant. Catalan and Spanish both derived from Latin, as did Italian and Portuguese, but they all came from vulgar Latin
          Spanish Gallego, French Breton and English Cornish as Celtic languages could also have been an argument against political location.

    • 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

      • Lala
      • October 05, 2017
      • Reply

      Nope. Think about the continents. Are the places with the most English speakers the biggest? No. Spanish is closer to latin roots than English.

      • baka
      • January 09, 2018
      • Reply

      most people are learn english because its a rich country
      but that does not mean its the most commen language and btw you spelled language wrong

    • Seda
    • February 07, 2017
    • Reply

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

      • James
      • March 13, 2017
      • Reply

      Well you are wrong, my friend

    • 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???

      • Σ Math
      • March 13, 2017
      • Reply

      I can understand that you are a very butthurt english speaking person, but if you would have done your research, you would know that spanish has more people that speak it as their first language.
      Thank you

    • sree
    • February 10, 2017
    • Reply

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

      • rararjesh
      • December 20, 2017
      • Reply

      Ha HAHAHAH funny!!!!!!!!

    • Elisha Rasputkov
    • May 09, 2017
    • Reply

    This statistic is not correct. For example, it says that there are 360 million English speakers. That is way off! The United States has a population of about 320 million. England has another 53 million. Canada has 35 million. Australia has 23 million. Approximately half of Europe speaks English. Many Chinese study English. The list goes on and on. Many dwellers of India and they know English. Just wait one day and you’ll get a call from the “IRS” from some place in India. This is not racism just a fact. You do the math and you’ll see that there are far more than 360 million English speakers. The list above is off-putting.

      • Chelsea
      • May 09, 2017
      • Reply

      Hi Elisha,

      Just a reminder, this list is composed of native speakers only. That means anyone who learns a language, like English, as their second or third language, is not included in the total count. This data is also taken from a 2010 census. Here’s a look at some more recent counts: https://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size

      • Rene Carre
      • July 19, 2017
      • Reply

      I am Canadian and French speaking like 10 million of us in Canada, so do not count 35 million for Canada and by the way In India they speak Hindi so don,t count them either, just because most people around the world know more than one language does not automatically cancel their native tongue. In the US there is a great number of people for whom Spanish is their native tongue not English.

    • Santosh Kumar Shrivastava
    • May 14, 2017
    • Reply

    I think your study is either biased or only an assumption to know the population of English Speaking peoples viz-a viz Hindi Speaking people. In case of English you are considering its first speakers, second speakers and third speakers and In case of Hindi you are considering only people who have Hindi their Mother tongue and not considering the second and third speakers. If you keep both Hindi and English on same perimeter then Hindi will definitely surpass to the English.

    • Nick D
    • July 26, 2017
    • Reply

    To say Spanish is increasing more quickly than English is just a bizarre claim.

    Around 2 billion people speak English – it’s the global language being taught as the primary foreign language globally. Estimates of English are often bizarrely low both in Native speakers and non-native speakers.

    English is spoken by about double the number of Chinese, you should research better. David Crystal is a good accurate source for this information.

  • By the way Santosh – it’s quite funny you compare Hindi to English. English is a global language. Most people I met in India – don’t speak Hindi at all – let alone outside India.

    Probably at least 4x as many people speak english – 2 billion – as Hindi – maybe 500m MAX and not fluently. Try travelling round your country and tell me how many speak Hindi well – it’s not the majority, your country has 20+ languages.

    • Augusto Quintana-Mejía
    • October 28, 2017
    • Reply

    Language Percentage Millions of People
    Mandarin 14,40% 995
    Spanish 5,86% 405
    English 5,21% 360
    Hindi/Urdu 4,49% 310
    Arabic 4,27% 295
    Portuguese 3,11% 215
    Bengali 2,97% 205
    Russian 2,24% 155
    Japanese 1,81% 125
    Punjabi 1,48% 102
    Other 54,16% 3743

    • Cameron b
    • December 12, 2017
    • Reply

    thanks this helped with my project about buddism

    • rajesh
    • December 20, 2017
    • Reply

    Please consider Tamil Language also , which is not care by Indian Goverment and trying to destroyed from part of iNdia.

    • SURULIVEL
    • December 22, 2017
    • Reply

    Hi, more than 100 million Tamils are there in the world, please consider fresh list ASAP.

    • bill
    • January 24, 2018
    • Reply

    ding dong this is wrong. English is number 1

    • gabriel
    • January 28, 2018
    • Reply

    do you have a separate list for non-native languages ?

    • marta
    • February 26, 2018
    • Reply

    yeah this is super helpful

    • samosa
    • February 26, 2018
    • Reply

    I speak Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu, English (of course), Gujarati, Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin
    and what I wish to say is that in India there are more than 20 languages spoken – not everyone speaks Hindi
    and there is more I wish to say but I don’t want to take up to much space
    ਤੁਹਾਡਾ (Punjabi)
    धन्यवाद (Hindi)
    شکریہ (urdu)
    thank you (English)
    આભાર (Gujarati)
    gracias (Spanish)
    obrigado (Portuguese)
    谢谢 (mandarin)

  • Thanks for doing that research people. I won the bet. $20. Lol

    • Philip Innes
    • May 09, 2018
    • Reply

    What happened to Malay (Bahasa Indonesian, Bahasa Malaysian). Would have around 250 million speakers between Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (national language of all four countries). Also spoken in Southern Thailand.

    Mengecewakan!

    • Surashan
    • July 13, 2018
    • Reply

    But what about the Language TAMIL. i googled and asked some more peoples they are saying Tamil language is the first human spoken language from the beginner. Why The Tamil language is not quoted in the above list??

  • A fascinating article. Thank you very much!

    • Telma Stanbery
    • August 29, 2018
    • Reply

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    • Alma Rona
    • August 31, 2018
    • Reply

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