There are over 5 billion people that live in Asia and they speak more than 2,300 languages. This article takes a look at the 20 most spoken languages on this vast continent. We’ll see how many people speak the language, where it’s spoken, and some unique facts about each one.
Asia is the largest and most populated continent in the world. Because of its large geographical area, the diversity in culture, climate, people, and religion is enormous. And language is no exception. The languages on this list are about as diverse as can be, and come from many different language families.
Learning an Asiatic language can help you talk to millions, if not billions, of people and open up a new continent for you to explore. In fact, most of the languages on this list are also some of the most spoken languages in the world.
Speaking one of the languages on this list can be beneficial in many ways. It can offer professional opportunities, help build diplomacy, make travel more meaningful, and even make it easier to speak with people in your own country. Due to globalization, you might be surprised to find large communities of people who speak an Asiatic language in your hometown.
Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about the most spoken languages of Asia and also check out some of the best ways to learn each one.
The data included in this article is from a variety of sources including official documents, constitutions, and foreign affairs reports, amongst others. There is also some debate about what is considered a language and what is considered a dialect. Because there isn’t one official source for worldwide language speakers, there may be some discrepancies between sources.
Without further ado, here are the 20 most spoken languages in Asia. Scroll down to learn more about each one.
|Language||Number of Speakers|
Mandarin Chinese – 1.2 Billion Speakers
There are over 1.2 billion people who speak Mandarin, making it the most spoken language in Asia and the language with the most native speakers in the world. It’s the official language of China and Taiwan and is one of 4 official languages in Singapore. Within China, people speak many different dialects, some of which have significant differences from Mandarin and can be considered their own language. But Mandarin is the only official language of China and is spoken by over 70% of the population.
Mandarin consists of over 50,000 characters, although you only need to know 2-3,000 characters to be considered fluent. It’s also a tonal language with 4 different tones that affect the meaning of a word. It’s considered a difficult language for English speakers to learn, but being able to speak Mandarin can open doors in many sectors like business and diplomacy.
If you want to learn the language, you can check out the best ways to learn Mandarin Chinese.
Hindi – 550 Million Speakers
Hindi, along with English, is the official language of India. It’s mostly spoken in the northern part of India in the states of Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. You can also find large communities of Hindi speakers in countries like Nepal, Mauritius, Fiji, and South Africa.
Each letter of the Hindi alphabet has its own sound, so words are pronounced exactly like they are written. There are many commonly used words in English that are borrowed from Hindi, like yoga, typhoon, nirvana, and khaki. Hindi also has its own holiday that celebrates when it was adopted as an official language of India. People celebrate Hindi Day on September 14th.
To start learning it, you can check out these apps to Learn Hindi.
Indonesian – 260 Million Speakers
Indonesian, also referred to as Bahasa Indonesia, is spoken by more than 260 million people. Indonesia is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with over 700 dialects used across the islands. Because of this diversity, Indonesian was adopted as the lingua franca, or adopted common language. More than 94% of Indonesians speak it, but only 20% consider it to be their primary language!
Learning Indonesian is useful if you plan to live or travel in Oceania and southern Asia because it’s widely spoken in many other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, and Australia. The United States considers Indonesian to be a critical need language for economic and diplomatic reasons, meaning that there is a current need for more people that speak Indonesian in the United States.
This list of the best apps to learn Indonesian can help you start speaking today.
Russian – 260 Million Speakers
Russian is spoken by more than 260 million speakers. It’s the official language in four countries: Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, but it’s commonly spoken in other surrounding countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and more.
Russian is the most spoken language in Europe. It’s a useful language to learn because it can bridge the gap between Europe and Asia, as the country of Russia does geographically. It’s also the second most commonly used language on the internet, used on 6% of all websites. Russian authors have produced some of the most famous literary works like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Doctor Zhivago, and more.
If you want to start learning the language, you can check out this list of apps to learn Russian.
Arabic – 230 Million Speakers
Arabic is the official language of more than 20 countries including Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and more. It spans a vast geographical area from northern Africa to the Middle East. Because of the distance, there are many dialects. Modern Standard Arabic is understood by most Arabic speakers, but it’s a bridge language and isn’t spoken by most people on a daily basis. The Egyptian dialect is the most widespread and is understood in other Arabic-speaking countries.
Arabic is considered a difficult language for English speakers to learn. It uses a completely different alphabet than that of Romance languages. It’s also written from right to left and in a cursive script which might make it difficult to distinguish the different letters.
To learn more, you can take a look at the best apps to learn Arabic.
Bengali – 230 Million Speakers
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and is spoken in many of the northern states of India. It’s such an important language in India that the national anthem was originally composed in Bengali. Native speakers of Bengali are passionate about their language and protested to make sure that it would remain an official language in Pakistan. Now, UNESCO honors this event by celebrating February 21 as International Mother Language Day.
It’s considered to be the sweetest language in the world according to a UNESCO study. It received this title because of its simplified pronunciation and nice expressions of emotions. The Bengali language doesn’t have different genders, which makes it easier for English speakers to learn.
If you want to learn it, you can read through these apps to learn Bengali.
Persian – 130 Million Speakers
Persian, also known as Farsi, is referred to by many names. It’s the official language of Iran (where it’s called Persian), Afghanistan (where it’s called Dari), and Tajikistan (where it’s called Tajik). It’s also commonly spoken in other countries such as Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Turkey, and Kuwait.
Persian is one of the oldest languages that’s still in use today. The country of Iran used to be called Persia until 1935 when the government changed the name to Iran, which is the country’s name in Farsi. And because of its historical ties to France, there are hundreds of French words that are commonly used.
You can check out these Persian learning apps to start studying the language today.
Japanese – 120 Million Speakers
Believe it or not, Japanese is not the official language of Japan! That’s because Japan doesn’t recognize an official language. Many people might think that Japanese is derived from Chinese because of its proximity, but it’s a unique language that was used orally until it was written down by scholars using Chinese characters.
There are 3 different writing systems used in Japanese. Hiragana and katakana are Japanese alphabets, and kanji uses Chinese characters. Often, a sentence may include all 3 types of characters! Many loan words from other languages are written in katakana. It gets even more complicated because there are different levels of formality used when speaking Japanese. You don’t want to offend anyone!
Take a look at some of the best ways to learn Japanese if you want to learn quickly.
Punjabi – 100 Million Speakers
Punjabi, the third most common language in India, is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India. This means it’s protected and the government will ensure its use and development. Interestingly, Punjabi is the most commonly spoken language in Pakistan, but it’s not recognized as an official language there. English and Urdu are.
Because of the exodus from India and surrounding countries, Punjabi is the 3rd most spoken language in the United Kingdom and the 4th most spoken language in Canada. It’s one of the few languages that can be written in more than one script. It can be written in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi scripts.
Marathi – 99 Million Speakers
Marathi is only commonly spoken in India. It’s one of the 22 official languages of India and is the official language of the Maharashtra and Goa states.
It’s an Indo-Aryan language, which means it’s closely related to languages like Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati, and more. It’s the oldest language belonging to this group. It came from Sanskrit, and the grammar is similar to Pali and Prakrit.
Check out these Marathi learning apps if you want to start learning the language.
Filipino – 93 Million Speakers
There is some debate if Filipino is the same as Tagalog. The best answer is…it depends on who you ask. Because Tagalog was spoken in the capital region of Manila, it became the basis of the Filipino language that is the standard today.
But the Philippines is a diverse country and there are many other dialects that are more commonly used than Filipino in specific areas. These include Cebuano, Ilocano, and Hiligaynon. In these regions, Filipino and English are lingua francas, adopted to allow people to speak with the rest of the country.
If you want to start learning the language, you can pick one of these Tagalog learning apps.
Turkish – 88 Million Speakers
Turkish is spoken by over 88 million people and is the official language of Turkey and Northern Cyprus. Because Turkey acts as a bridge between Europe and Asia, its language has been influenced by both European and Asiatic languages such as Arabic, Farsi, and French. The Turkish Language Association is the official entity responsible for regulating the Turkish language.
There is also a whistled form of Turkish used in some northern villages. It’s meant to help people communicate across long distances and can be heard for up to 4 kilometers. The language was added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage List, and there are currently efforts underway to teach the language to the younger generation.
You can hear this unique language in the video below:
To start learning it, you can check out some of the best ways to learn Turkish.
Korean – 80 Million Speakers
Korean is the official language of both North and South Korea, but there are quite a few differences. Words are pronounced, and sometimes spelled, differently between the two countries. The Korean language uses honorifics and varying levels of formality when talking to different people.
The Korean written script is Hangul. It was created by King Sejong to promote literacy and is simple and effective. There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels. With some focus and hard work, most people can learn Hangul in less than a day!
If you want to learn the language, here are some of the best ways to learn Korean.
Vietnamese – 80 Million Speakers
Vietnamese is spoken by over 80 million people. Due to China ruling the area for centuries, you might notice some similarities between the two languages. Vietnamese even used to be written in adapted Chinese characters. There are three distinct accents based on geography: northern, central, and southern. Typically, the northern accent is considered to be the most standard of the three.
Vietnamese uses the Latin script which makes it easier for an English speaker to learn. But it’s a tonal language that has 6 different tones, which is often quite challenging if you’re not used to this kind of language. Changing the tone can completely change the meaning of the sentence.
Check out the best apps to learn Vietnamese to start learning it today!
Telugu – 79 Million Speakers
Telugu is one of the most spoken language in India and is one of its 22 scheduled languages. It’s most common in the southeast and is the official language of Andhra, Pradesh, and Telangana states. Telugu is one of the world’s oldest languages. It’s part of the Dravidian language family which dates back 4,500 years.
Telugu is one of the fastest-growing languages in the United States. It rose by 86% between 2010 and 2017. This dramatic increase is connected with the need for qualified professionals to work in the IT sector. American companies recruited many Telugu speakers during this time.
Check out the best apps to learn Telugu to find the perfect app to help you learn.
Tamil – 77 Million Speakers
Tamil is the 5th most-spoken language in India, but it still makes it on the list of the top 20 most spoken languages in Asia with more than 77 million speakers. It’s the official language in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Puducherry territory. It’s also an official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Tamil is the oldest language that’s still in use today. It was the first language to be given a Classical status by UNESCO based on criteria such as antiquity and literary tradition. The first literature written in Tamil is more than 2,000 years old!
Urdu – 62.1 Million Speakers
Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and is an official language in several states of India such as Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, Hyderabad, and Uttar Pradesh. It’s also commonly spoken in other parts of the middle east.
Spoken Urdu and Hindi are very similar and knowing one of these makes learning the other easier. However, written Urdu is very different from Hindi. It’s more similar to Persian and Arabic because it’s also written from right to left, whereas Hindi is written left to right (similar to English).
If you want to start learning it yourself, you can take a look at these apps to learn Urdu.
Pashto – 60 Million Speakers
Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language that’s part of the Indo-European language family. It’s one of the two official languages of Afghanistan (the other is Dari Persian). According to the CIA World Fact Book, Dari is spoken by 77% of the people and Pashto is spoken by 44% of the people (percentages are more than 100% many people speak more than one language).
Pashto is often called Afghani and is most commonly spoken in the east, south, and southwest of the country. It’s written with a version of the Perso-Arabic script. It’s written in Arabic Naskh and has 46 letters.
Thai – 60 Million Speakers
Although there are more than 60 languages spoken in Thailand, Thai is the only official language. Lao, the official language of Laos, is also from the Tai language family and a speaker of one language can usually understand the other.
Thai is a tonal language and has 5 different tones. The Thai alphabet has 44 consonants and 15 basic vowel letters, which can make learning Thai can seem like a daunting task. However, Thai has no tenses like past and future that many Romance languages have so you have to add time words like yesterday, tomorrow, and next month to indicate time.
If you are interested in learning this language, check out the best apps to learn Thai.
Kannada – 51 Million Speakers
Rounding out the list of the 20 most spoken languages in Asia is Kannada with 51 million speakers. It’s one of the 22 scheduled languages of India. Kannada is the majority language in the state of Karnataka in Southern India, and is also spoken in the surrounding states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, and Goa.
Kannada is the name of both the language and the script it’s written in. It’s a Dravidian language, and is most similar to other Southern Indian languages like Telugu.
Learning an Asiatic language, such as the ones on this list, can be a rewarding experience. In addition to opening doors in business, politics, or other areas of work, speaking an Asiatic language can help you learn more about the rich history and culture of this area. Even if you don’t plan to travel to Asia, you’d be surprised how many speakers of Asiatic languages live in your country! Learning a language can help you communicate with more people right in your area.
While Asiatic languages are generally considered difficult languages for English speakers to learn, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Finding the right way for you to study can make the job much easier. If you need some help getting started, we’ve created many different language guides to help you find an effective and high-quality way to study.