Top 10 Most Spoken Languages in the world (and 10 of the Least Spoken)
Let’s play a game. Try to name off the top 10 most spoken languages in the world. Ready, set, go!
If you are like me, your list probably went “English, French, Spanish, ummm German, Chinese, and maybe Italian?” your confidence waning with each subsequent language.
Have no fear. Below is the complete list of the top 10 languages in the world. This list includes the most widely spoken languages around the globe, and some of the most common languages might surprise you.
What is the most spoken language in the world?
Lets start off with the most spoken language in the world. Are you surprised?
1. Mandarin Chinese
Total Number of Speakers: 1.051 Billion
Number of Native Speakers: 873 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 178 million
Where Chinese is spoken: People’s Republic of China, Republic of China, Singapore, Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong
Mandarin Chinese is number one on our top 10 languages in the world! That’s right, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. However, Chinese is actually a collection of different dialects. Of the dialects, Mandarin is the most common. According to Enthnologue, there are 13 dialects of Chinese spoken in 39 total countries. Around one third of the population, or 1.3 billion people, speak Chinese.
Written Chinese is composed of ideographs. Globalization Partners International states that there are around 50,000 ideographs found in the Chinese dictionary. However, don’t let that big number deter you from learning Chinese. By learning just 1,000 of the most common ideographs, you can read 90% of a Chinese newspaper.
Total Number of Speakers: 577 million
Number of Native Speakers: 460 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 117 million
Where Spanish is spoken: Spanish is the official language of 21 countries, including Spain, Mexico and most of South and Central America. Check out our Spanish Speaking Countries post to learn more.
The Spanish language originated near the Castilla region of Spain, which is why the language is also called Castilian. The Latin and Arabic languages greatly influenced Spanish.
Today, Spanish is the most widely spoken romance language, spoken by 7.6% of the world’s population. El País predicts that by the year 2060 there will be 754 million Spanish speakers.
Total Number of Speakers: around 1.5 Billion
Number of Native Speakers: 379 Million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: Over 1 Billion
Where English is spoken: According to World Atlas, 35 Countries speak English as their main language. However, English is the leading international language and is the common ground for international business and trade. As a result, more people speak English as a second language than as a native language.
English is one of the most popular languages in the world and number three on the top spoken languages.
The English language began when three Germanic tribes invaded Britain around the 5th century A.D. Those living in Britain already spoke a Celtic language at the time. The invaders pushed the Celtic speakers west, toward Wales. The Germanic tribes spoke different but similar languages, which soon combined to form Old English.
However, Old English is very different from the English we speak today. Through migration and the exposure to other languages, the English language continued to evolve. In fact, the first English dictionary was not published until 1828. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the English language, check out the The English Club’s detailed explanation.
Total Number of Speakers: 490 million
Number of Native Speakers: 341 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 150 million
Where Spoken: India and Fiji
Coming in at number 4 on the most common languages around the globe is Hindi. Although most Hindi speakers reside in India, Hindi-speaking communities also exist in South Africa, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Yemen, and Uganda.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, modern day, standard Hindi evolved from Khari Boli. When Muslim invaders settled in India, their languages enhanced Khari Boli and formed standard Hindi. However, in northern India, known as the Hindi Belt, you will find several other dialects of Hindi.
Total Number of Speakers: 420 million
Number of Native Speakers: 319 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 100 million
Where Arabic is spoken: Arabic is the official language for more than 20 countries, including Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Arabic originated in the nomadic tribes in the desert area of the Arabian Peninsula. Consequently, the word “Arab” means nomad.
There are technically three versions of Arabic: Modern Standard Arabic, Classical Arabic and Colloquial Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is the version taught in schools and used for business. Each country also maintains its own colloquial version of the language. Arabic is written right to left in cursive form.
Total Number of Speakers: 300 million
Number of Native Speakers: 228 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 72 million
Where Spoken: Bangladesh, India
Though mostly spoken in only two countries, Bengali is one of the most common languages in the world. Another name for Bengali is Bangla. Bengali evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit, Pali, and Sanskrit languages. Bengali is mainly spoken in eastern South Asia. It is the official language of Bangladesh and the second most spoken language in India.
Bengali serves as a bond for the diverse people groups of South Asia. In 1952, Bangladesh was part of East Pakistan. The Bengali speakers, recognizing their language as an important part of their identity, fought hard to keep it alive. On February 21st 1942, as a part of the Bengali Language Movement, people risked their lives to protect their mother language. Several people lost their lives during the protest and the days that followed. Now, February 21st is International Mother Language Day to commemorate their struggle and sacrifice.
Total Number of Speakers: 260 million
Number of Native Speakers: 221 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 39 million
Where Portuguese is spoken: Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Macau, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Cape Verde, São Tomé, Príncipe
Portuguese is another common language, and number 6 on the list. Portuguese was developed 2,000 years ago when the Romans arrived in the Iberian Peninsula- modern day Portugal and Spain. Like Spanish, Germanic and Arabic languages also influenced Portuguese. In fact, modern Portuguese has over 400 words that originated from Arabic.
Due to their similar origins, Spanish and Portuguese are very similar languages. So, if you can speak Spanish, then Portuguese should be easier for you to learn.
Total Number of Speakers: 264 million
Number of Native Speakers: 154 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 110 million
Where Russian is spoken: Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Russian is also an unofficial language of Ukraine and several former Soviet countries.
Russian belongs to the Slavic family of languages and is one of the three main East Slavic languages. Around 2.3% of the population speaks Russian.
Ironically, even though it is the eighth most commonly spoken language in the world, as of 2013, Russian was the second most commonly used language online, making up for 5.9% of websites.
Total Number of Speakers: 128,350,830
Number of Native Speakers: 128 million
Number of Non-Native Speakers: 121,500
Where Japanese is Spoken: Japan, Okinawa
Although Japanese is one of the most widely spoken languages, the origin of the Japanese people and language are relatively unknown. In fact, the first Japanese books were actually written in Chinese.
The Chinese writing method was introduced to the Japanese around 6th century. During that time, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans were involved in a diplomatic and religious collaboration, according to Accredited Language Services. As a result, the Chinese culture flooded Japan and greatly influenced the region. Around 40% of Japanese words were adapted from Chinese.
Number of Native Speakers: 119 million
Where Lahnda is Spoken: Pakistan and India
Many people have never heard of the Lahnda language, however it is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
Lahnda is also known as Lahndi or Western Punjabi. It is technically a group of Indo-Arayan dialects. A linguist George Grierson created the term Lahnda to classify these similar dialects for a language survey.
Locally, the term Lahnda never stuck. The locals call Southern Lahnda Siraiki and Northern Lahnda is Hindko. Ethnologue also lists Pahari-Potwari and Western Punjabi under Lahanda. Due the diversity of languages listed under the Lahnda umbrella, statistics for total numbers of non-native speakers are not available.
10+ Languages with less than 50 remaining speakers
If the top 10 most spoken languages in the world surprised you, wait until you see the bottom ten. There are actually 6,909 documented languages. Some are big, like our top 10, and some are very small. In fact, UNESCO lists 393 languages that have fewer than 50 speakers. Here are just a few of the least spoken languages in the world:
Number of Speakers: 1
Where Taushiro is Spoken: near the Aucayacu River in the Loreto region of Peru
As of 2017, Amadeo Garcia Garcia was the only remaining Taushiro speaker. He and his family lived deep in the Amazon jungle, far from medicine and technology. Slowly the difficulties of living off the land took its toll and left Aamdeo as the last living Taushiro speaker.
Total Number of Speakers: 1
Where Tanema is Spoken: Vanikoro in the eastern province of the Solomon Islands.
Tanema was the native language of a tribe in the Solomon Islands, which still includes around 150 people. Within the tribe, Tanema has been replaced by Teanu, the main language of Vanikoro. As of 2012 only one person still spoke Tanema, Lainol Nalo.
Although the idea of being the last living speaker of a language sounds extreme, Amadeo and Lainol are not alone in their plight, according to UNESCO there are actually 19 other languages with only one remaining speaker: Apiaká, Bikya, Bishuo, Chaná, Dampel, Diahói, Kaixána, Lae, Laua, Patwin, Pazeh, Pémono, Tinigua, Tolowa, Uru, Volow, Wintu-Nomlaki, Yahgan, Yarawi
Number of Speakers: 2
Where Ayapenco is spoken: In the village of Ayapa in Tobasco, Mexico
Ironically, the two remaining speakers of Ayapenco do not actually converse with each other. They live only 500 meters apart but do not enjoy one another’s company. One of the two men, Miguel Segovia, speaks Ayapenco with his wife and son, even though they cannot respond to him in Ayapenco. There have been several, so far unsuccessful, movements to revive the language but Segovia says the pupils quickly lost interest.
Number of Speakers: 2
Where Lemerig is Spoken: Vanuatu, Banks Islands, island of Vanua Lava
Lemerig is one of 110 languages spoken in Vanuatu, the most linguistically diverse place on earth. Since the original tribe of Lemerig speakers is now scattered, the language is dying off. Linguist Alexandre François, who discovered the language in 2003, is working to help save Lemerig from extinction.
Number of Speakers: 8
Where Chamicuro is Spoken: Peru, Pampa Hermosa
Chamicuro was believed to be in the same boat as Lemerig, with only two elderly speakers remaining. However, in 2008, five more Chamicuro speakers were located. According to Ethnologue, all inhabitants of Pampa Hermosa are ethnically Chamicuro. There are currently around 120 people remaining in the tribe.
Number of Speakers: 6
Where Njerep is Spoken: Nigeria, the Taraba State
Njerep speakers now speak Mambila, leaving only the elderly with remaining knowledge of Njerep. However, of the six remaining speakers, only one remembers the language well enough to semi-converse. The last know fluent speaker died in 1998.
Number of Speakers: 8
Where Ongota is Spoken: Southwest Ethiopia
The speakers of Ongota transitioned to speaking Ts’amakko. As of 2007, there were a total of 10 Ongota speakers but only 8 native speakers. Aklilu Yilma is studying the language to help keep it alive.
Number of Speakers: 11
Where Liki is Spoken: Indonesia, on offshore islands of Papau province
Liki is also known as Moar. Although only 11 native Liki speakers remain, there are around 320 people in the ethnic population.
Number of Speakers: 22
Where Paakantyi is Spoken: Australia, in New South Wales along the Darling River
The term Paakantyi came from the native name of the Darling River, Paaka. As a result, the Paakantyi language is sometimes also known as Darling. Currently, several schools are teaching Paakantyi to help keep it alive. One school created a CD of the language and another offers an 18-month course.
Number of Speakers: 48
Where Tsuut’ina is Spoken: Southwest of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
Previously, the language was called Sarcee, which is believed to come from a Blackfoot word meaning “Woody Country Indian”. However, in 2015 the tribe decided to change the name to Tsuut’ina, which means “nation tribe”.
The tribe is dedicated to passing Tsuut’ina down to the younger generation. They are building a new high school for members of the tribe where the Tsuut’ina language and culture will be part of the curriculum.
Languages spoken around the world
Our diverse world is full of languages. Some are widely spoken, while others are small, intimate secrets that bind a group of people together. Yet all languages are equally important.
Now that you know the top 10 most popular languages, along with some other less common languages around the world, which are you going to learn?
Author: Vanessa Ruiz is a language lover with a BA in Spanish and English as a Second Language. When she isn’t working to support immigrant families to raise bilingual children, you will find Vanessa writing or playing with her own bilingual child.