There are more than 7100 spoken languages and about 300 writing systems all over the world. About 230 of these are spoken in Europe, and 2,197 are spoken in Asia. This makes it all the more difficult to point out the most widely spoken languages in the world.
Here are the top 10 most widely spoken languages in the world, in terms of native speakers:
- English (1.452 billion): English is the most widely spoken language in the world with a total number of 1.45 billion speakers. In terms of native speakers, English is the third-most spoken language in the world. An estimated 370 to 380 million people speak English as their native language. It is the official language of 67 countries as well as many international organizations including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. It’s also the official language of all international airlines – all pilots are required to converse in English.
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- Mandarin Chinese (1.119 billion): Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers. It is the official language of China, Taiwan, and Singapore. It is one of the most complex languages to learn with close to 50,000 characters. You need to learn about 2000-3,000 characters to read a Mandarin newspaper. In spite of this, it is the most spoken language in Asia.
- Hindi (602 million): Hindi is one of the official languages of India (apart from English) but is not the national language. More than 26% of India’s population speaks Hindi as their first language. Hindi is one of the 22 languages spoken in India. Hindi is also widely spoken by the Indian communities, in the USA, Mauritius, Yemen, Uganda, Singapore, Pakistan, Nepal and New Zealand. Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) is an official language in Fiji, and also in some Caribbean countries, like Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana.
- Spanish (559 million): Spanish also known as Castilian in Spain, is the official language of 22 countries across four continents, including Spain, Mexico, and Argentina. There are over 40 million Spanish speakers in the US. It is one of the official languages of the United Nations, as well as the African Union and European Union. It is the second most-studied language in the world. Spanish is the easiest foreign language for English speakers to learn as it takes just 22 – 24 weeks to gain proficiency in the language.
- French (274 million): One of the most widely spoken languages in the world, French is the official language of 29 countries and territories around the world, including Haiti and Rwanda. It is also widely spoken in many other countries, including Canada, Africa, and the Caribbean. It developed from Latin, spoken by the Roman soldiers and settlers in Gaul (modern-day France) during the Roman Empire. There are 26 letters in French, just like the English alphabet. Around 40% of English words have a French origin. French is one of the 10 fastest-growing languages in the world.
- Arabic (274 million): Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq. It is also widely spoken in countries like Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. It is also the language of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Arabic is the sixth most spoken language in the world and is written from right to left. There are 28 basic letters in the Arabic alphabet, and each letter can take a different form depending on its position in a word. Arabic has a rich vocabulary and has contributed many words to other languages, especially in fields like mathematics, science, and medicine. There at least 11 words for love in Arabic, each expressing a different stage in the process of falling in love. Arabic has left its mark on the English language, too. Many English words in maths and science, including ‘algebra,’ ‘alkaline,’ and ‘chemistry’ originated from Arabic. Even the word coffee, comes from the Arabic word Qahwa. Arabic remains an important language in international diplomacy and trade.
- Bengali (273 million): Bengali, also known as Bangla, is the official language of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, as well as being widely spoken in the Indian states of Tripura and Assam, and among Bengali communities around the world. Bengali has a rich vocabulary and has contributed words to various languages, especially in the fields of literature, science, and arts. It has a significant influence on the culture of the Bengal region. Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet and philosopher, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his collection of poems “Gitanjali” (Song Offerings). Bengali literature includes both classical and modern works of poetry, prose, and drama. Bengali script is the fifth most widely-used writing system in the world! It is also the seventh most spoken language in the world. Bengalis are very proud of their language. Many of them have sacrificed their lives for the sake of their language. Even the country Bangladesh got its name from the language!
- Russian (258 million): Russian is the official language of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It was the official language of the Soviet Union, and people still use it in all the former Soviet states, as well as Israel and Mongolia. Today, it’s the most spoken language in Europe and also one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Russian is the most widely spoken language in Europe and the eighth most widely spoken language in the world.
- Portuguese (223 million): Portuguese is primarily spoken in Portugal, Brazil, Angola and several other countries and regions around the world. It is the official language of several countries, including Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor (Timor-Leste), Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde (Cabo Verde), and São Tomé and Príncipe. It is derived from “Lusitania,” the ancient Roman name for the region that is now modern-day Portugal. While Portuguese is the official language of both Portugal and Brazil, there are differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. Portuguese is the fifth most spoken language in the world by a number of native speakers, and the sixth most spoken language in the world by a total number of speakers.
- Urdu (231 million): Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language that evolved from the interaction of Persian, Arabic, and local Indian languages during the Mughal Empire. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and one of the 22 officially recognized languages of India. Urdu is a language that reflects the rich history and diverse culture of the Indian subcontinent. It has a strong literary tradition, and poets like Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal are celebrated for their contributions to Urdu poetry. Urdu-speaking communities can be found in various countries with South Asian diaspora populations, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and the Middle East. Urdu has adopted several words directly from English, including airport, file, science, corrupt, bus, and library. English has also adopted words from Urdu and Hindi, like pajamas and khaki.
These are just the top 10 most widely spoken languages in the world. There are many other languages that are spoken by millions of people, such as Japanese, German, Japanese, and Indonesian.