What are the most widely spoken languages in the world? Well, that depends on how you rank them. 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 of the most widely spoken languages uses L1 population numbers. In other words, we compiled our list based on populations of first-language speakers. (If you like this infographic, check out how many languages are spoken in the United States. Thinking of learning a foreign language? Get info on 10 popular foreign languages.)
Below is additional information about the most widely spoken languages in the world.
- Chinese: 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.”)
- Spanish: 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.
- English: Speakers of English may be tempted to 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.
- Hindi: Spoken by over 260 million people and sharing co-official status with 21 other languages in India, Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet.
- Arabic: Spoken in almost 60 countries around the world, Arabic has many dialects: Egyptian, Moroccan, Levantine, and Iraqi are a few.
- Portuguese: If it weren’t for Portugal’s colonial past, Portuguese wouldn’t even appear on a list of the most widely spoken languages. Why? Because the number of native speakers of European Portuguese is dwarfed by the number of Brazilian Portuguese speakers. The population of Brazil is over 200 million. The population of Portugal? Just over 10 million. Portuguese is also spoken in the African nations of Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau.
- Bengali: Right behind Portuguese is Bengali, the main language of Bangladesh (population, 155 million) and one of India’s many official languages.
- Russian: 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.
- Japanese: With over 122 million native speakers, Japanese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
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