Ever wondered what the most widely spoken languages are in the world? Although there are currently more than 7,000 languages, more than half of the world's population speak 23 of them only.
Knowing this information is essential to understand if you’re planning a global expansion strategy and levelling up in the business world. Additionally, whether in the workplace or personal development, knowledge of more than one language offers us new horizons and the opportunity to expand our cultural understanding.
From the languages that English speakers will find easy to learn, to the more difficult languages, we've compiled this all-encompassing list for you based on real data.
So keep reading to find out what the most spoken languages are.
1. English (1,132 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 379 million
- Non-native speakers: 753 million
According to Ethnologue, English is the largest language in the world for both native and non-native speaker.
Like Latin or Greek at the time, English is the universal language of today. It is the default language in international business, tourism, technology, and much more.
2. Mandarin (1,117 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 918 million
- Non-native speakers: 199 million
Adding native and non-native speakers, Mandarin is the second most widely spoken language in the world. However, it's the most spoken language in the world if you count only first language (native) speakers due to China's significant population.
Mandarin is not actually a language, but a set of dialects of the Chinese language. What unifies these dialects under the same name is that their speakers can understand each other.
Interestingly, 20% of people who connect to the internet speak Chinese, but only just over 1% of the content available on the web is in the Chinese language.
3. Hindi (615 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 341 million
- Non-native speakers: 274 million
Hindi is, along with English, one of the 22 official languages of India, the second most inhabited country in the world. The region’s linguistic diversity (more than 1,600 languages coexist) explains the high rate of non-native speakers who use it as a lingua franca.
4. Spanish (534 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 460 million
- Non-native speakers: 74 million
Spanish is the second of the most widely spoken languages globally in terms of the number of native speakers. In addition, it is the most spoken of the Romance languages, and is the third most used on the internet.
Its enormous colonial expansion took it not only to America, but also to Africa and Asia. Due to migration, the United States is the second country with the largest number of Spanish speakers in the world.
5. French (280 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 77 million
- Non-native speakers: 203 million
Colonialism allowed French to spread throughout the world. Today it is the official language of 29 countries on different continents.
If English is the language of business, French is considered the language of culture. Its enormous importance is also reflected in the fact that it is the third language with the largest number of non-native speakers.
6. Arabic (274 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 245 million
- Non-native speakers: 29 million
Arabic is the official language of 26 countries. Due to this territorial coverage, it is actually a set of dialects. It is also the liturgical language of Islam.
It is not only the language that treasures the enormous cultural legacy of the Arab world, but also a necessary tool for the field of business in that region of the world.
7. Bengali (265 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 228 million
- Non-native speakers: 37 million
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh. In addition, people speak it in some areas of India and Burma. It may come as a surprise that a language spoken in such a small territory appears in a list of the most spoken languages in the world. However, it makes sense when you think about the population density of that region.
8. Russian (258 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 154 million
- Non-native speakers: 104 million
Less surprising is the inclusion of Russian among the most widely spoken languages globally if we think about Russian history and territories. It is the official language of four countries, but people also speak it in all those part of the former Soviet Union. It is the language with the largest number of native speakers in all of Europe.
9. Portuguese (234 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 221 million
- Non-native speakers: 13 million
Portuguese is another of the languages that expanded in the European colonial period. Today it’s the official language of nine countries divided between Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Brazil is the largest country out of those nine and has the most amount of Portuguese speakers. In addition, it is the most widely spoken language in the southern hemisphere.
10. Indonesian (198 million speakers)
- Native speakers: 43 million
- Non-native speakers: 155 million
Bahasa Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world. Peculiarly, it’s not the native language of most of its speakers. Rather, it’s a second language necessary for mutual understanding in a country with more than 200 languages.