There are nearly 7,000 languages 1 across the world. There are 230 languages spoken in Europe, but nearly 2,000 across Asian countries. In Papua New Guinea, with a population of just barely 3.9 million, there are more than 830 different spoken languages! So, with all of this diversity, what are the most widely-spoken native languages across the world (number of native speakers)? Are these languages the most influential?
The 10 most widely-spoken languages in the world
No. 1: Chinese
According to the website Ethnologue.com, there are nearly 1.2 billion native speakers, including 1 billion who speak Mandarin. This includes populations from China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and large communities in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Mauritius Island, Mongolia, the Philippines, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vietnam, France.
No. 2: Spanish
You may be surprised to learn that spanish accounts for nearly 400 million native speakers, more than English. The second most widely-spoken language in the world, it is the official language of the majority of Latin American countries, Spain, and a part of the North American population.
No. 3: English
English as a native language is the third most widely spoken in the world (approximately 360 million people). But as a second language, 1 billion people speak English, the language of business, travel, and international relations.
No. 4: Hindi
While India has 23 official languages, the primary is Hindi/Urdu. Sometimes considered as one single language (Hindustani) or as two separate dialects (in the North and a part of Pakistan, they speak Hindi, elsewhere they speak Urdu), the question of Hindi/ Urdu hasn’t been completely solved yet.
What if we were to tell you you already know a few words in Hindi? Well, bungalow, jungle, shampoo, and pyjama all come from Hindi!
No. 5: Arabic
Today, we can count around 250 million native speaker. But, it should be noted that “Arabic” isn’t just one homogeneous language for all of these native speakers because a number of different dialects are placed under the umbrella of the “Arabic language”, despite the large differences.
No. 6: Portuguese
Thanks to its former colonies, Portugal has imposed its language on the world. Thus, Portuguese slides into 6th place in the ranking with 215 million speakers across the world, in Brazil, Goa, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Macau.
The next languages on the list include:
- in 7th, Bengali: Spoken in Bangladesh, part of India (the language of Kolkata), and in the Andaman Islands by approximately 170 million people.
- in 8th, Russian: Around 130 million native speakers (according to a 2010 estimate) Russian is the eighth most widely-spoken language in the world.
- in 9th. Japanese: Nearly all native speakers live in Japan (130 million native speakers).
- in 10th, Punjabi (100 million native speakers) spoken in certain regions of India and Pakistan, and sung in half of the musical successes!
Is French losing its power?
What place on the ranking did French take?
Of course, there are less native French speakers (only 76 million) spread mostly across Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, and Italy (Aosta Valley)), but also in America (Canada, the United states (Louisiana, Maine), Haiti, and French Guiana (France)), an official language in Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Réunion (France), Mayotte (France), etc..).
Yet, French is the third most used language in business across the world. According to a new study led by the business school INSEAD, French is just behind English (no. 1) and Mandarin (no. 2) in terms of the most powerful languages in the world.
In order to “measure the power” of languages, the author of the study, economist Kai Chan, spent 6 months studying and classifying languages using around 20 criteria including their geographical distribution, economic, touristic, and cultural strength.
He explains “French is associated with countries like Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, France, very powerful countries thanks to their culture and GDP”.
The study also shows that French remains a prestigious language, still often used within international organizations and in diplomacy, notably including within the United Nations.
Therefore, the French needn’t leave this post with hurt egos; French remains a strong and influential language!
1 According to the 2009 Ethnologue catalogue