Ranked: The Most Spoken Languages

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As humans, we are all interconnected, socially and emotionally. It is a proven fact that to survive, communication is vital. Experts assert that there are many ways to communicate with one another, including verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual.

Languages around the World

Languages are an important aspect of verbal communication. Since there are billions of people around the globe speaking tons of different languages, it is interesting to know the most spoken languages in the world. The process of gauging the popularity of a language extensively depends on looking at the total speakers or the native speakers [1].

Most Spoken Languages in the World by the Number of Speakers (2021)

Most Spoken Languages in the World by the Number of Speakers (2021)

Most Spoken Languages in the World by the Number of Native Speakers (2021)

Most Spoken Languages in the World by the Number of Native Speakers (2021)

1. English 

English
English Hand drawn doodles and lettering English education concept

Owing much of the credit for being the first most spoken language in the world to the mass historical colonization by the British Empire, the English language has about 1.348 billion total speakers worldwide, with 370 million being native.

English language belongs to the sub-family of Indo-European and is closely related to German, Frisian, and Dutch. No matter what the numbers say about English as the third most spoken language by natives, it holds the position of the world’s lingua franca – implying that it is adopted as the second language by most non-native speakers.

The word “English” originates from Angles – a town where Germanic people settled during the first millennium AD. There is a region in northern Germany named Anglia, which is now known as England. Though English is primarily Germanic, a significant part of its vocabulary is derived from Latin. This is because of the influence of French-speaking Normans who conquered Britain in the 11th century AD.

2. Mandarin Chinese 

Mandarin; Learning New Language with Fruits Name Flash Cards
Mandarin Learning New Language with Fruits Name Flash Cards

Chinese is not a single language spoken by the people in China and other countries, including Taiwan and Singapore. Mandarin Chinese is the top one among all the types and kinds of Chinese language. It has over 1.120 billion total speakers globally and is also the official language of the People’s Republic of China.

Apart from the total speakers in the world, Mandarin Chinese has about 1.3 billion million native speakers and 1.120 billion total speakers. Chinese is called Putonghua in the actual language, and it belongs to the language family of Sino-Tibetan. The word Putonghua translates as “Common speech.” Its other name is Guoyu – meaning “national language.”

Mandarin Chinese uses the Chinese or Han Characters for written communication, entailing ancient pictorial systems. Each symbol in the language represents a different word that is used to communicate. Simplified versions of this language are also common throughout Malaysia, Singapore, and China. On average, a well-versed person in Mandarin Chinese knows about 2,000 to 3,000 of these characters to read a newspaper. However, to learn this language, one must understand about 8,000 symbols!

3. Hindustani 

Hindi Script Handwritten on Blackboard. Translation- Written hindi script letter as Ksha
Hindi Script Handwritten on Blackboard Translation Written hindi script letter as Ksha Tri Gya as JPG File

The third top language spoken the most throughout the world is Hindustani. It has over 600 million total speakers. It is mainly considered a combination of Urdu and Hindi [2]. About 342 million native speakers of this language communicate using Hindi, while about 215 million non-natives have learned this language.

The Hindustani language belongs to the Indo-Aryan family, derived from various languages, including Kashmiri, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, and Nepali. Collectively representing Urdu and Hindi, the Hindustani language is spoken across northern and central India. Hindi is the official language of India, and Urdu is the primary language of Pakistan.

There are many differences in both languages; however, speakers of Urdu and Hindi can easily understand and communicate with each other. Hindi utilizes the Devanagari Script, and Urdu uses the ones similar to Arabic/Persian alphabets.

4. Spanish 

Espanol
Espanol Translation Spanish Open book with language hand drawn doodles and lettering Education vector illustration

With approximately 543 million total speakers worldwide, Spanish is the fourth most spoken language. It has about 471 million native speakers, compared to only 72 million non-native speakers. If counted by the number of native speakers, Spanish stands second to Mandarin Chinese on the list. The Spanish language belongs to the Indo-European family and is very similar to French, Italian, Romanian, and Portuguese.

Spanish is also called Castilian or Castellano in its language as it originated in the Castile region. One of the significant contributors in making Spanish the second most spoken language by native speakers is the historic Spanish explorers. They took this language to South and Central America and the Caribbean. It is also the native language of some ethnicities dwelling in Southeast Asia and Africa. Equatorial Guinea is a country in Africa whose official language is Spanish.

It is also the second common language in the United States, having about 41 million Spanish native speakers [3]. American education also teaches Spanish in many schools. It is also predicted that Spanish will take over Mexico and become the most spoken language in the US, surpassing English.

5. Arabic 

Old ancient arabic calligraphy Koran words writings on white paper
Old ancient arabic calligraphy Koran words writings on white paper

Arabic belongs to the Semitic and Afro-Asiatic language family. It has about 315 million native speakers and 274 million non-native speakers. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Amharic heavily influence it. This language is called‎‎ “al-ʻarabiyyah” in Arabic and is the official language of about 26 countries. Arabic has numerous dialects adopted by various native speakers throughout the world [4].

This language is traced back to be originated in the Arabian Peninsula before it spread widely across the Middle East and North Africa. An important aspect of Arabic is that it is the language of Islam. The Holy Book of Muslims, Quran, is in Arabic, which holds great significance for Muslims worldwide even if they are no native Arabic speakers.

6. Bengali 

Beginner Bengali Bangla language learner writing Hello word Nomskar for homework
Beginner Bengali Bangla language learner writing Hello word Nomskar for homework on a notebook macro shot

Surprisingly, Bengali is also one of the most spoken languages globally, with about 268 million total speakers. It is spoken by 229 million native speakers, while only 39 million non-native speakers use Bengali as their mode of communication. It is a part of the Indo-European language family and draws significant influence from other Asian languages, including Hindustani, Marathi, Kashmiri, Punjabi, and Nepali. The name for this language is Bangla.

Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and is also commonly spoken in various states of India and Pakistan [7]. This language uses the Bengali alphabet, also known as Eastern Nagari or Bengali Assamese script. It is very similar to the Tibetan script. Though it stands on the 6th rank among the most spoken languages globally, Bengali script is not familiar in the West.

7. French 

French
Francais Translate French Open book with language hand drawn doodles and lettering Language education vector illustration

French has dropped to the 7th rank among the most spoken languages globally as Bengali and Hindustani entered the list. It has 267 million speakers, comprising 77 million natives. It also belongs to the Romance language family and is very similar to Romanian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian. It is called le francais in French.

The French language is the official language of 28 countries, including Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and France. This language draws significant influence from Celtic and Germanic languages. Many words in French are derived from its old version known as Frankish. Modern French also contributes a large chunk of vocabulary to the English language due to the Norman invasion of British in 1066.

Another language very similar to French is Haitian Creole [9]. Most of the Haitian population speaks this language. However, it is considered an entirely different language instead of a dialect of French.

8. Russian 

Set of KYRILITSA alphabet letters
Set of KYRILITSA alphabet letters on white background 3d effect Font Red blue sign

There are approximately 258 million total Russian speakers worldwide. Ukrainian and Belarusian languages majorly influence the Russian language. It is a member of the Indo-European family with over 154 million native speakers. It is called russkiy yazyk in Russian.

Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have Russian as their official language. You can find numerous Russian native speakers in several former Soviet Union countries with sub-national territory status [6].

The Russian language originates from the language common in the medieval state of Kievan Rus. It is most similar to Polish, Slovak, Czech, Bulgarian, and Serbo-Croat. Russian is the top European language if the number of native speakers is considered.

9. Portuguese 

Portugues. Open book with language hand drawn doodles
Portugues Presente o verbo oi mas eu O que um uns uma umas Translate Portuguese Present the verb hi but I What one Open book with language hand drawn doodles

The Portuguese language is spoken by 258 million speakers worldwide, with more than 200 million non-native speakers. It also belongs to the Romance family, an essential branch of the Indo-European languages. Its scripts are derived from Latin and modern Spanish, and its name originates from Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal.

Speakers of Portuguese are called Lusophone – related to the word Lusitania which was the Roman name of Portugal in the past. Brazil has the most numbers of Lusophones, as about twice the number of Portuguese speakers reside in this country [8].

10. Urdu 

Macro shot of a Pakistani coin showing Pakistan written in urdu language
Macro shot of a two rupee Pakistani coin showing Pakistan written in urdu language and magnified by a water drop with a very grungy and vintage surface

Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and is spoken in several countries around the world, including Iran, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. It is also recognized as a minority language in South Africa and the Netherlands.

Urdu is a Central Indo-Aryan language descended from Old Hindustani and has been written since the 12th century. The word Urdu is derived from the Turkish word ordu, which means “army” or “camp;” it was later borrowed into Persian as ordū. [10]

There are approximately 230 million speakers of Urdu worldwide.

Communication is Incomplete without Languages

The presence of tons of different languages has made it easier for us to communicate. Imagine a world where no one could understand each other. However, it is not the case. With English as the lingua franca, most speakers worldwide understand English no matter what. Languages form an essential part of communication, and the art of learning various languages is appreciated globally.

References

  1. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/100-most-spoken-languages/
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hindustani-language
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/29/us-second-biggest-spanish-speaking-country
  4. https://www.fluentin3months.com/msa-or-dialect/
  5. https://www.mustgo.com/worldlanguages/bahasa-melayu-malay/
  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/european_languages/countries/belarus.shtml
  7. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bengali-language
  8. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/portuguese-speaking-countries
  9. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Haitian-Creole
  10. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/atlas/urdu/language.html
  11. https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/
  12. https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/the-10-most-spoken-languages-in-the-world

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