What are the most commonly spoken languages in the world?
Most Common by Native Speakers
1. Mandarin (1.1 billion)
2. Hindi (360 million)
3. Spanish (340 million)
4. English (322 million)
5. Arabic (206 million)
Most Common by Total Speakers*
1. English (2 billion)
2. Mandarin (1+ billion)
3. Spanish (500 million)
4. Hindustani (460 million)
5. Arabic (452 million)
Most Common Widely Spoken (in many countries)
More people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese than any other language. Its usage is mainly restricted to China. The most widely used language is English. It is the secondly most widely spoken language and the language most commonly used to conduct business. French is widely used. Spanish is widely used. Arabic is important. German is important. And Portuguese is important.
*These numbers include those who speak the language with only marginal fluency.
This question is a very interesting one that has a rather complicated answer. Estimates of how many people speak a language are quite general and can vary considerably. For example, English estimates vary from 275 to 450 million, Spanish from 150 to over 300 million, Hindi from 150 to 350 million, and Russian from 150 to 180 million.
To further complicate matters, the definition of "speaker" can be vague. Some surveys of languages give information on native speakers only. Others count both native speakers and secondary speakers (those who use the language regularly or primarily even though it is not their native language).
Lastly, it is important to consider not only the population (number) of language speakers, but also the geographic distribution of these languages. Some languages have relatively large populations of native speakers but are used almost exclusively in a few countries. On the other hand, other languages have relatively small populations of native speakers but are used in many different countries as an official or national language.
The Chinese with over 1 billion people speak many different dialects, India also has many different types of dialects.
In case you were wondering, here is a list of the 30 most spoken languages in the world and the areas in which they are spoken.
- Mandarin / China, Malaysia, Taiwan
- English / USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand
- Hindi / North and Central India
- Spanish / The Americas, Spain
- Arabic / Middle East, Arabia, North Africa
- Russian / Russia, Central Asia
- Portuguese / Brazil, Portugal, Southern Africa
- Bengali / Bangladesh, Eastern India
- Malay, Indonesian / Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
- French Indo-European / France, Canada, West Africa, Central Africa
- Japanese / Japan
- German / Germany, Austria, Central Europe
- Farsi (Persian) / Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia
- Urdu / Pakistan, India
- Punjabi / Pakistan, India
- Vietnamese / Vietnam, China
- Tamil / Southern India, Sri Lanka, Malyasia
- Wu / China
- Javanese / Indonesia
- Turkish / Turkey, Central Asia
- Telugu / Southern India
- Korean / Korean Peninsula
- Marathi / Western India
- Italian / Italy, Central Europe
- Thai / Thailand, Laos
- Cantonese / Southern China
- Gujarati / Western India, Kenya
- Polish / Poland, Central Europe
- Kannada / Southern India
- Burmese / Myanmar
The Summer Institute for Linguistics (SIL) Ethnologue Survey (1999) lists the following as the top languages by population:
(number of native speakers in parentheses)
1. Chinese* (937,132,000)
2. Spanish (332,000,000)
3. English (322,000,000)
4. Bengali (189,000,000)
5. Hindi/Urdu (182,000,000)
6. Arabic* (174,950,000)
7. Portuguese (170,000,000)
8. Russian (170,000,000)
9. Japanese (125,000,000)
10. German (98,000,000)
11. French* (79,572,000)
1. Mandarin Chinese: 885 million
2. Spanish: 332 million
3. English: 322 million
4. Bengali: 189 million
5. Hindi: 182 million
Mandarin is spoken by more people than any other language in the world.