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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!