What are the most widely spoken languages in the world? That depends on how you rank them, of course.
The number of people in the world who speak English, for example, is far greater than the number of people who have English as their first language.
RedLine’s infographic uses L1 population numbers. In other words, we compiled our list based on populations of first-language speakers.
The Most Widely Spoken Languages in the World
Below is additional information about the languages that are most commonly spoken in the world.
With more than 1.2 billion native speakers in the world, Chinese is the linguistic juggernaut of the list. (Ethnologue lumps Mandarin, Hakkan, Min Nan, Wu, and others into the collective category of “Chinese.” It’s important to note that not all of these are mutually intelligible. A few readers have pointed out that we shouldn’t have a macro Chinese category if, for example, a Hakkan speaker can’t understand a Wu speaker or vice versa. But Mandarin, with its 900 million speakers, would still dwarf other languages on our list.)
Spanish occupies the No. 2 spot and is spoken in approximately 30 countries—among them Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Uruguay. Spanish is also the primary language in Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States.
Speakers of English might think that their language is the global leader. But while English is certainly a cultural force, its native speakers number “only” 335 million worldwide—about 5% of the world’s population. To put that in perspective for you, Mr. American, if you picked 100 people from around the world at random and put them in a room, 95 of them would not have grown up with monster trucks, for example.
Over 260 million people speak Hindi, making it one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet. In addition, it shares co-official status with 21 other languages in India.
Spoken in almost 60 countries around the world, Arabic has many dialects: Egyptian, Moroccan, Levantine, and Iraqi, for example.
If it weren’t for Portugal’s colonial past, Portuguese may not even appear on a list of major living languages. Why? Because the number of native speakers of European Portuguese is much smaller than the number of Brazilian Portuguese speakers. The population of Brazil is over 200 million, but the population of Portugal is just over 10 million. Portuguese is also an official language in the African nations of Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau.
Right behind Portuguese is Bengali, the main language of Bangladesh (pop. 155 million) and one of India’s many official languages.
While most speakers of Russian are (surprise!) in Russia, the language has minority status in some two dozen countries, from Finland to Israel. This helps makes Russian one of the world’s most widely spoken languages.
With over 122 million native speakers, Japanese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
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