By: Nicole On: January 9, 2019 In: Languages Comments: 60
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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, Hindi, 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 — of course — 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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Dylan
Dylan
3 years ago

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

Steve
Steve
3 years ago
Reply to  Dylan

Yeah me too

Russ
Russ
3 years ago
Reply to  Dylan

Thanks. This answers many questions!

Carrot
Carrot
2 years ago
Reply to  Dylan

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

yak
yak
7 months ago
Reply to  Dylan

Severely is the wrong word. It is used to describe something in an undesirable or negative context..

uuiuu
uuiuu
3 years ago

it helpd me in quiz i am in class 1

Roger
Roger
3 years ago

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
Admin
3 years ago
Reply to  Roger

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
Carrot
2 years ago
Reply to  Chelsea

You have really nice sentence structure Chelsea.

Jay
Jay
1 year ago
Reply to  Chelsea

Arabic has it’s roots in Sanskrit.

Rafel Jaume
Rafel Jaume
3 years ago
Reply to  Roger

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
Rebecca
3 years ago
Reply to  Rafel Jaume

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
Daniel Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca

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
Marie-Paule Donsimoni-Bupp
3 years ago

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?

Tom
Tom
3 years ago

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

lloobo
lloobo
2 years ago

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
Anonymous
2 years ago

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
Rafel Jaume
3 years ago

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
Lala
2 years ago
Reply to  Rafel Jaume

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
TRIALNERROR
2 years ago
Reply to  Lala

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
Daniel Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  TRIALNERROR

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.

Parmandil
Parmandil
1 year ago
Reply to  Lala

Catalonia is not a country.

lilly
lilly
3 years ago

wrong English is the most commen langage

Grammar Nazi
Grammar Nazi
3 years ago
Reply to  lilly

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
Bruv
3 years ago
Reply to  lilly

ur wrong mate

Lala
Lala
2 years ago
Reply to  lilly

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
baka
2 years ago
Reply to  lilly

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
Seda
3 years ago

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

James
James
3 years ago
Reply to  Seda

Well you are wrong, my friend

Jay Dow
Jay Dow
3 years ago

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
Σ Math
3 years ago
Reply to  Jay Dow

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
sree
3 years ago

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

rararjesh
rararjesh
2 years ago
Reply to  sree

Ha HAHAHAH funny!!!!!!!!

Elisha Rasputkov
Elisha Rasputkov
3 years ago

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
Admin
3 years ago

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
Rene Carre
3 years ago

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
Santosh Kumar Shrivastava
3 years ago

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
Nick D
3 years ago

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.

Bob
Bob
3 years ago

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
Augusto Quintana-Mejía
2 years ago

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
Cameron b
2 years ago

thanks this helped with my project about buddism

rajesh
rajesh
2 years ago

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

SURULIVEL
SURULIVEL
2 years ago

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

bill
bill
2 years ago

ding dong this is wrong. English is number 1

gabriel
gabriel
2 years ago

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

marta
marta
2 years ago

yeah this is super helpful

samosa
samosa
2 years ago

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)

Matt
Matt
2 years ago

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

Philip Innes
Philip Innes
2 years ago

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
Surashan
2 years ago

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??

Blogr
Blogr
2 years ago

A fascinating article. Thank you very much!

Telma Stanbery
Telma Stanbery
2 years ago

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Alma Rona
Alma Rona
2 years ago

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Ali Candogan
Ali Candogan
1 year ago

Turkish language is spoken by 200+ million people as their native tongue. Major countries that use Turkish as their official language are:
Turkey
Azerbaycan
Kazakhistan
Uzbekistan
Turkmenistan
Kirgizistan
The following countries have Turkish speaking minorities in 7 digits:
China (in NW Uygur Region)
Iran (in NW region)
Russia (Caucasia, Asia South)
The following countries have Turkish speaking minorities in 6 digits:
Germany
Bulgaria (+10% of population)
Iraq
Turkish speaking people in Greece, Cypress, Macedonia, Austria, Switzerland, France, Holland, Belgium. UK, etc are in 6 digits. In many, they are represented in their Congress.

Scott
Scott
1 year ago

No matter where I go in the world, EVERY airport has signs in English. Almost always, the pilot gives his/her speech in the carriers language and English for International flights. Whenever I go to a meeting of various foreigners I notice that we all use English to communicate. This was true when I was a NATO soldier. It seems to me that travelers generally learn English as one of their additional languages.

Beth
Beth
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott

Hi Scott, this list is composed of a ranking by native speakers. It is not a list of all speakers. For example in southern India many children are taught English primarily in school. But they are not counted as English speakers for this ranking . When arranged by total speakers English is number one. Just barely nudging out Mandarin Chinese. You can find that ranking in a different area of the site.

It is fascinating how these statistics change over time. I’m a little older than most of you so when I was still in school French was the most widely spoken language. This was due to the vast colonial holdings of France, and all the peoples in those areas still speaking French as their primary official language. Since that time the world has changed, oh has it changed!

Sujon
Sujon
1 year ago

Hindi and Urdu are not the same language. If you separate them out then Urdu will be out of the top-10 list and Hindi will fall closer to Bengali/Bangla.

Jule Thames
Jule Thames
1 year ago

Hindu isn’t actually a language. There is a typo in the first paragraph. It should be Hindi. On the contrary, Hinduism is a religion and a Hindu refers to a practitioner of that religion.

Chelsea
Admin
1 year ago
Reply to  Jule Thames

Thanks for the catch!

ericjmurdo
ericjmurdo
1 year ago

i don’t unserstand that