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Most Spoken Languages in the World

I thought this was interesting - and there's a difference noted in this between language by population of most native speakers versus language by population of people who can speak it even if it isn't their native language.


For native speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the juggernaut with 1.3 billion native speakers, followed by Spanish with 460 million native speakers and then English with 379 million native speakers.

However, the most spoken languages in the world by people who know the language but are not necessarily native to it are English with 1.132 billion speakers, followed by Mandarin Chinese with 1.117 billion speakers and then Hindi with 615 million speakers.

Check out the article and read the text on each language where it describes some of the discrepancies, too. (As in Mandarin Chinese where the article says the "numbers vary widely" - it makes me wonder if a lot of its native speakers choose to speak English over Mandarin Chinese).

Fun bit of info for your Wednesday.

EDIT: Make sure you click on and read the entire article. I only took the top three languages for each category to share here. The map is only illustrative of native speakers, not most spoken (which the title on the map makes VERY confusing. Big flub on the designer's part.) The article lists many other languages, and again in popularity between native and most spoken. If you're thinking it's missing something, there's a possibility its listed further down in the article. Happy discovering!

November 6, 2019



Babbel needs to Proofread. The population does not mean native speakers and they correct for that farther down in the article that not everyone in China speaks "Chinese" (see, "Chinese" is an umbrella term that can also mean Cantonese and dozens, even hundreds of other dialects mostly unique to China but not actually Mandarin, and then there is Urdu...). So Mandarin is at just under 1 billion.

It further says:

...but there’s no doubt it’s the most spoken language in the world. If you wish to learn a language that one in six people in the world speak, this is the one for you.

Well, one in six people but concentrated in a very specific part of the world. Not nearly 1 in 6 in the Americas, or Europe, or even all of Asia, and certainly not Africa. English is far more widespread as a language one might have in common with another somewhere in the world.

Then Babbel goes on to assert that English is the most spoken in the world...

I do however, find it comical that Babbel managed to wholly avoid mentioning Portugal in their assessment of the Portuguese language. ::sigh::


I might add for those who do not know much about Europe, that Portugal is not a province of Spain but a country on the Iberian peninsula, as Spain is too. Portugal is an interesting, beautiful and historic country and I urge people to visit if they can.


It is indeed lovely and requires more than a couple days (even in each city/region) despite its seemingly small size. It is the oldest established country in Europe with the same borders. And, it is the most Westerly of the European countries (as they like to joke here) with Cabo da Roca for mainland Europe but also Açores (for the islands).

Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe - Having the same defined borders since 1249, almost 800 years ago. The name Portugal first appears in 868, during the Reconquista over the Muslims. Lisbon is older than Rome - Around four centuries older to be precise.

It has a fascinating history too which explains a lot of the rest of the world:

And, so much to see:


Not to mention "pasteis de nata", which are to die for!


I went to Portugal on my honeymoon and have been traveling there ever since. Their pasteis de nata are amazing!! I love their malasadas and biscoitos too. One thing that grinds my gears is that Portuguese spoken in Portugal has a different accent compared to Brazilian and Azorean speakers of Portuguese.


I am laughing so hard right now!! I love that lol!


Portugal is the Canada of Europe. Easily overlooked.


Don't hate on Canada.


Canada isn't that easily overlooked, Greenland however... or Central America, Caribbean countries if we're talking in general.


They say it was spread by Portuguese traders... so... Portugal? You can see its blue portion on the map by Spain when viewing their full map. Are you confused just by the cropped-in portion of the map that they provided above the Portuguese description?


Thank you. Not really confused. Just amused that Portugal was not actually listed among the countries that speak Portuguese (name of the people yes, but also name of the language so others overlook Portugal as the source).

When I first had this crazy idea to go to Portugal I started telling people about my plan. That somehow made it more concrete and pushed me into action to do what needed to be done but it was over a year before I was ready. I would sometimes see people I had previously told and they would ask me if I had already come back from Brazil. Now that confused me. :D


I want this as a poster.


A poster would be great! Maybe you can get the Duo Design Department to clean it up for making big on their [decaf] coffee break. :) :)


The least spoken language in the world is sign language.


not really I know you may think it is but I'm pretty sure its Vietnamese


Lol guys there are seriously endangered languages spoken by just a handful of people...


However, the most spoken languages in the world by people who know the language but are not necessarily native to it

It doesn't seem very clear either from the article, or the Ethnologue page it links to, how "spoken" is defined. What level of competence constitutes "speaking" the language for the purposes of this study?

  • 135

In short, if you want to be able to speak to the most people in the world, learn the languages of the main colonial powers over the past 500 or so years. (Not just the European ones, although those will take you a long way.)


With English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, you cover a lot of ground. The German, Dutch and Italians had colonial empires but left little linguistic imprint. The Arabs, Turks, Persians, Russians and Chinese also had vast empires. If you speak these languages too, you cover much of the rest!


Why French ? It's not on the chart, aside from France, half of Belgium and some parts of Canada and remote african countries, no one speaks French. Spanish is more useful.


There are a lot of African countries that use French as the language of government, though often it's only the elites that speak it. The French language organization (I'm not bothering to look up the name) claims that French will have the most speakers in the world in the decades to come, because of population growth (and presumably better education) in Francophone Africa.


French-speaking West African countries like Chad and Niger are expected to become among the most populated nations in the world.




Niger has a population of 17,8 million people (est. 2013), it is the country with the highest total fertility rate (7,6 children each woman). Capital and largest city is Niamey, spoken languages are French (official), but also Hausa, Zarma, Songhay, Arabic and half a dozen other languages.



Chad has a population of 11.3 million people (2009 census). Capital and largest city is N'Djamena, spoken languages are French and Arabic (both official), over 120 languages and dialects in use by 200 distinct groups, Chadian Arabic is lingua franca.

As has already been said on this discussion, French is the language of the elite in Africa. To call them "French-Speaking" is to dismiss their native languages that they do actually speak.

Even if they do become the most populated, that does not mean the amount of French speakers will rise much, if at all (and likely the percentage will fall).

  • 1044

That's an interesting insight. Why do you suppose the Germans, Dutch, and Italians left so little imprint?


At least for the Netherlands, they usually had a policy of not wanting to teach Dutch to the natives to keep them from seeing themselves as equals. That was the case for Indonesia, and is one reason why Dutch isn't spoken there and never was really.

Dutch is more widespread than 99% of languages in the world though. Outside of the (mainland) Netherlands it's an official language in Belgium, Suriname and various Dutch territories in the Caribbean. You could also include Afrikaans in there which is a daughter language of Dutch and that adds South Africa and Namibia.


Well, of the Dutch colonies, the only one that still has Dutch as only official language is Surinam, for Italian ex-colonies none speak Italian, same for German. Also possibly because at the start of 20th Century they didn't cover much of the world like Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and UK did.


This is neat! I'm taking a German class but I am quite interested in Spanish as well since most of my friends are taking it and more people speak Spanish than German. :)


Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

I was a bit surprised to see Japanese on that list, I would have thought there are other languages with more native speakers.


Totally outlandish to include Japanese among the most spoken languages...!! This is especially so, when French is excluded! If one uses the liberties taken to include Cantonese as being Chinese, one would have to consider, Azeri, Turkmen, Ouzbek, Kirzig and Ouighur as being part of Turkish. They are all mutually understandable. We live in an era of selective facts and "fake news". Whatever appeals to a person becomes an alternate fact!


There is a difference between most native speakers and most spoken and both are included separately in the Babbel article. Yes Japan does have more native speakers (French is at #15):


And yes, French is number 5 of total number of speakers (French is not always a native language in other countries even if recognized as official).


So, the Babbel article is correct in regards to French.

But, I am wondering what your source is for French being the second most learned after English? It seems that both Hindi and Standard Arabic beat out French as a second language.


Other flaws in Babbel's article: Bahasa (Indonesian-Malay) (250 million) is spoken by many more than Japanese or Punjabi. Source for French as the second most spoken second language: add up the inhabitants of Francophone countries that Babbel considers non-French speakers. Closer to home: check out Duolingo's users...But it in this case, it would be third after English and Spanish: https://jakubmarian.com/duolingo-number-of-users-per-language-statistics/


Bahasa = 43 million native speakers:

I'm not sure I understand this:

Source for French as the second most spoken second language: add up the inhabitants of Francophone countries that Babbel considers non-French speakers

But it does not seem a reliable source just some form of conjecture. And Duolingo is only measuring those who use Duolingo. So it would be interesting to know what parameters you are basing your claims on. Most learners from schools? Most learners from secondary education? From which countries?

As I said above, just being part of the population of any given country does not make one a native speaker of a certain language. English is an official language in India and for some reason a whole lot of people believe everyone there (and in Pakistan) all speak English natively. But the reality is only 10% or even less speak it at all let alone natively.

Sure, some countries have a French influence, but that does not mean they speak French there natively or exclusively. There are a lot in Morocco for instance who speak Arabic, Berber, Spanish, and English but very little French. French is not the only language in Belgium; Luxembourg (they have their own language really and are 16% Portuguese even); nor Switzerland (French, German, Italian, and yet another language, Romansh. Canada is mostly English. And, not a lot of population on the Caribbean Islands (they are pretty small actually, and now ravaged by hurricanes, but there is also Dutch, Spanish, and English among them). I won't even bother to look up all the other languages in the African countries (there are hundreds) but here's an idea from just one you count as being French:


The country has a population of 10.11 million people (2016). Capital and largest city is Bujumbura. Spoken languages are French (official 0.3%) and Kirundi (spoken by nine million people in Burundi and adjacent parts of Tanzania and Congo-Kinshasa), other dialects like Rundi and Kiga.

That means a bit over 30,000 French speakers in Burundi. Hardly a statistical bump.

Basically, French is the language of the elite in Africa (just as it used to be in England).

So it still stands. Official numbers:

  • French native speakers: 77.2 million.
  • Total French speakers: 202.6 million.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers


I agree there is nothing scientific about my estimates. Still, 200 million speakers would qualify French as a leading language.


I personally am not native Hindi speaker but to talk to someone other then my family I need to know Hindi. As a result I am proficient in three languages. Same is the situation everywhere else in India. I don't think the 615 million figure does it justice. If you know Hindi you can basically go anywhere in the country and communicate.


If you're an Indian living in India you know that's a loaded statement. Like many Indians I do not speak the language of our northern oppressors.


Who do you mean by "northern oppressors?"


Northern India is largely Hindi-speaking. Non--Hindi-speaking Indians do not want Hindi to be the nation's sole lingua franca, understandably. This, in turn, probably increases the use of English in India.


I am perhaps one of the "northern oppressors"(Gujarat), I don't mind any languages, the more the better.


Thanks for sharing, KellyRo77, very interesting!


I'm taking a French but I am very interested in English as well since most of my friends and colleagues are taking it and more than French


Thanks for this. I thought French and German would feature on such a map.


In the real world, they are. If you are a tourist, German can be useful in non-German speaking countries in Central Europe, in North Eastern Italy, in Turkey, etc. French is more widely spoken as a second language than several of the languages Babbel decided are major langugages, spoken only in one country (Japanese) or two countries (Punjabi). There is major bias in Babbel's article. Also, Bahasa the language of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei (and minority language in Thailand and Singapore) was forgotten (200 million speakers if you consider native and second language speakers). The second language criterion is given to the number comes up with for English, Mandarin and possibly Hindi (but not to French, Bahasa and Arabic). If Nigeria is English speaking, then definitely Algeria, Senegal and some thirty countries are French speaking. To consider Cantonese a dialect of Mandarin is fictional. A Cantonese who has not studied Mandarin cannot understand it. In general, all articles about number of speakers of languages are biased. So, do you own research to get a realistic number.


That is very interesting thanks for sharing :)


Other than downgrading French, this source somehow forgets Germans. There are 126 millions speakers of Japanese, a language only spoken in Japan . German has just a few million less speakers: Germany (83 million), Austria (9 million), Switzerland (2/3 of 9 million), sizeable minorities in France (Alsace), Belgium (Eupen-Malmedy), Italy (South Tirol), Roumania (Transylvania).. What may be the reason to exclude French and German from the world's major languages?


German just felt short behind, according to an ethnology study I saw on wikipedia German takes the 12th place by number of L2 speakers.


And French doesn't have as much L1 speakers so that's why it's only included in the L2 speakers' list, behind two massively spoken languages like Hindi and Spanish.


No, the list does not downgrade the Germans. Japanese and Punjabi ar each spoken by ~125M people, while German is spoken by ~100M. (Only nativ speakers count.)


Does Australia have their own language?!?!?


I think it's Chinese


Wow, I never even though about that


english is one of the most spoken languages it might be the most


Here is a more muticulous listing, As suspected, FRENCH is the FIFTH most spoken languageEthnologue (2019, 22nd edition)[edit] The following 34 languages are listed as having 45 million or more total speakers in the 2019 edition of Ethnologue, a language reference published by SIL International, which is based in the United States.[3] Entries identified by Ethnologue as macrolanguages are not included in this section.

Wikipedia also lists other languages as having 45 million or more total speakers. For example, the Wikipedia page for the Tagalog language reports 70+ million speakers by as early as 2000 and 73+ million speakers by 2013: 28 million L1 (first language) speakers as of 2007 and 45 million L2 (second language) speakers as of 2013. However, Tagalog is not included in this section because Ethnologue reports it as having only 23+ million total speakers.[4]

Speaker totals are generally not reliable[according to whom?] because they sum estimates from different dates and sources, usually uncited.[citation needed] Language information is not collected by most national censuses.[citation needed]

Rank Language Family Branch L1 speakers L1 Rank L2 speakers L2 Rank Total 1 English Indo-European Germanic 379.0 million 3 753.3 million 1 1.132 billion[5] 2 Mandarin Chinese (incl. Standard Chinese) Sino-Tibetan Sinitic 917.8 million 1 198.7 million 5 1.116 billion[6] 3 Hindi (incl. all Central Zone languages) Indo-European Indo-Aryan 341.2 million 4 274.2 million 2 615.4 million[7] 4 Spanish Indo-European Romance 460.1 million 2 74.2 million 10 534.3 million[8] 5 French Indo-European Romance 77.2 million 14 202.6 million 4 279.8 million[9] 6 Standard Arabic Afro-Asiatic Semitic — — 273.9 million 3 273.9 million[10] 7 Bengali Indo-European Indo-Aryan 228.3 million 5 36.7 million 14 265.0 million[11] 8 Russian Indo-European Slavic 153.7 million 7 104.4 million 7 258.2 million[12] 9 Portuguese Indo-European Romance 220.7 million 6 13.4 million 16 234.1 million[13] 10 Indonesian Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian 43.3 million 29 155.3 million 6 198.7 million[14] 11 Urdu Indo-European Indo-Aryan 68.6 million 20 101.6 million 8 170.2 million[15] 12 German Indo-European Germanic 76.0 million 16 56.0 million 11 132.1 million[16] 13 Japanese Japonic — 128.2 million 8 121,500 26 128.3 million[17] 14 Swahili Niger–Congo Bantu 16.0 million 31 82.3 million 9 98.3 million[18] 15 Marathi Indo-European Indo-Aryan 83.1 million 10 12.2 million 17 95.3 million[19] 16 Telugu Dravidian South-Central 82.0 million 11 11.0 million 18 93.0 million[20] 17 Western Punjabi (Lahnda) Indo-European Indo-Aryan 92.7 million 9 — — 92.7 million[21] 18 Wu Chinese (incl. Shanghainese) Sino-Tibetan Sinitic 81.4 million 12 63,400 27 81.5 million[22] 19 Tamil Dravidian South 75.0 million 18 5.9 million 19 80.9 million[23] 20 Turkish Turkic Oghuz 79.4 million 13 380,300 24 79.7 million[24] 21 Korean Koreanic — 77.2 million 15 — — 77.2 million[25] 22 Vietnamese Austroasiatic Vietic 75.9 million 17 1.0 million 22 76.9 million[26] 23 Yue Chinese (incl. Cantonese) Sino-Tibetan Sinitic 73.1 million 19 402,000 23 73.5 million[27] 24 Javanese Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian 68.2 million 21 — — 68.2 million[28] 25 Italian Indo-European Romance 64.8 million 22 3.0 million 21 67.8 million[29] 26 Egyptian Arabic Afro-Asiatic Semitic 64.6 million 23 — — 64.6 million[30] 27 Hausa Afro-Asiatic Chadic 43.9 million 28 19.5 million 15 63.4 million[31] 28 Thai Kra–Dai Zhuang–Tai 20.6 million 30 40.0 million 13 60.6 million[32] 29 Gujarati Indo-European Indo-Aryan 56.4 million 24 4.1 million 20 60.5 million[33] 30 Kannada Dravidian South 43.5 million — 12.9 million — 56.4 million[34] 31 Persian Indo-European Iranian 52.7 million 25 — — 52.7 million[35] 32 Bhojpuri Indo-European Indo-Aryan 52.2 million 26 160,000 25 52.4 million[36] 33 Southern Min (incl. Hokkien) Sino-Tibetan Sinitic 50.0 million 27 387,000 22 50.4 million[37] 34 Filipino Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian — — 45 million 12 45 million[38]


The article says that under "Top 10 Languages By Total Number Of Speakers" - not sure why you're feeling there's some kind of a bias against French?


Even the above listing has it biases, it undermines Arabic, but considering Egyptian Arabic a distinct language!!! It undermines Persian by only counting unilingual Persian speakers in Iran (Iranian Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis are truly bilingual) and possibly excluding Persian speakers in Afghanistan (by calling their language Dari) and Tajikistan (by calling their language Tajik)...But if Dari, Tajik, Egyptian Arabic are distinct languages (which would surprise those who speak them), then Cuban, Argentinian, Australian, Texan and French Canadian are distinct languages!!


I can't wait for Texan to be in the incubator!


This a particularly Francophobic source. French is spoken in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxemburg in Europe, in Canada, Haiti, several Caribbean islands and French Guyana in South America, in Senegal, Gabon, Benin, Congo, DR Congo (Zaire), Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Burundi, Rwanda, Djibouti, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros in Africa (I probably missed a few countries) and Tahiti and New Caledonia in Oceania. It is also a second language in many countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia... There are many more speakers of French than Japanese. As a second language, it is the most learnt second language after English.


Not Francophobic. French is not widely spoken (except as a second language) outside France, Quebec, Belgium (part) and Switzerland (part). Therefore the global number of nativ French speakers is not that big, perhaps ~90 million.


So, Punjabi with 125 million speakers and Japanese with 126 million are more widely spoken than French! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punjabi_language How about Farsi, spoken in Iran (83 million), Afghanistan (15 million out of a population of 38) and Tajikistan (9 million)? Turkish? Hausa-Fulani? If Nigeria is considered English-speaking, then definitely all Francophone Africa is French speaking.


What about French??? Canada, France, Belgium, Africa, South Africa, parts of Australia, and the east coast speak it as their first if not second language!!! I wonder why it is not on this list.

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