The 27 Most Spoken Languages in the World (2021)

We are living in an increasingly globalized world, and as a result of this globalization, many different languages have been introduced into our lives. Of course, some have emerged as the most spoken languages in the world.

Different countries, cultures, and ethnicities all have their own languages which they use to communicate with others in their area or region. In fact, we live in a diverse world where more than seven thousand different languages exist!

Let’s take a look at the top 27 most spoken languages in the world, including facts about them that you may not know!

What Are The Most Spoken Languages in the World?

The list below shows the 44 most spoken languages in the world, ranked by total number of speakers. These numbers include people who are native speakers of the language as well as people who have learned the language.

This pictures shows how to say "welcome" in many different languages.

English – 1.35 Billion Speakers

In total, there are approximately 1.135 billion people who speak English.

It’s the official language of 67 countries, and is also an official language of many large international organizations. These include the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund.

Additionally, 55% of the internet is in English, and it’s the most studied language in the world. The benefits of speaking English are endless!

RELATED: Best Apps to Learn English

Mandarin Chinese – 1.12 Billion Speakers

A man writing Chinese characters

There are around 1.12 billion speakers of Mandarin Chinese, and it has been spoken in China for more than 3,000 years. Chinese is also the official language of Singapore and Taiwan.

Many people mistake Mandarin as the most spoken language in the world. In reality, it’s the language with the most native speakers. This means there are a lot of great advantages for people who speak Mandarin.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Chinese

Hindi – 600 Million Speakers

Hindi is one of the two official languages of India (the other is English). There are many different dialects of Hindi, but not all dialects can be understood by each other.

Interestingly, even though Hindi is an official language in India, not everyone in the country speaks it. There are over 22 languages in India!

People speak different variations of Hindi around the world. You can hear Hindi in Fiji (where it’s an official language) and also some Caribbean countries, like Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Hindi

Spanish – 543 Million Speakers

Spanish, also known as Castilian in Spain, is the official language of 20 countries. It’s one of the official languages of the United Nations, as well as other international organizations, including the African Union and the European Union.

If you’re in the United States, you may be surprised to find out that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the country. There are over 40 million Spanish speakers in the US!

Over the past couple years, Spanish has become more influential in pop culture, too. If you listen to an English-language radio or television station, chances are you’ll hear some Spanish-language songs.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Spanish

Standard Arabic – 274 Million Speakers

A woman standing against a wall with Arabic text projected over her.

Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, but most countries and regions have their own dialects of Arabic. Standard Arabic is the main dialect spoken between Arabic speakers so they can understand each other.

That’s why there are zero native speakers of Standard Arabic! It’s the only language on this list that has zero native speakers but is still one of the most spoken languages in the world.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Arabic

Bengali – 268 Million Speakers

Bengali, also known as Bangla, is the official language of Bangladesh, and it’s the second most spoken language in India, behind Hindi.

Some people have never heard of the Bengali language, and they definitely don’t know it’s one of the most spoken languages in the world!

People who speak Bengali are very proud of their language though. In fact, people around the world know Bengali for its language movements, and many people have sacrificed their lives for the sake of this language. The country of Bangladesh actually got its name from the language!

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Bengali

French – 267 Million Speakers

French is not only one of the most spoken languages in the world, it’s also an official language of the UN, EU, and other major international organizations. French is the official language of 29 countries and territories around the world, including Haiti and Rwanda.

The French vocabulary has also had a tremendous impact on other languages around the world, including English. Around 40% of English words have a French origin.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn French

Russian – 258 Million Speakers

Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It was the official language of the Soviet Union, and people still use it in public life in all the former Soviet states, as well as Israel and Mongolia. It’s also the second most used language on the internet!

Language experts consider Russian to be one of the richest and most complex languages in the world. Surprisingly, all words in the Russian language that begin with “A” come from other languages though!

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Russian

Portuguese – 258 Million Speakers

Portuguese is the official language of nine countries: Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe. Because of its colonial history, there are also many Portuguese speakers in parts of India.

In writing, a lot of Portuguese and Spanish words are usually mutually intelligible. Portuguese can also serve as a solid foundation if you want to learn other romance languages.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Portuguese

Urdu – 230 Million Speakers

Urdu is an Indo-Iranian language with 230 million speakers. It’s the official language of Pakistan and it’s also recognized as an official regional or secondary language in India, where speakers of both languages can understand one another.

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.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Urdu

Indonesian – 199 Million Speakers

A street sign in the Indonesian language. Indonesian is the 11th most spoken language in the world.

Indonesia is the fourth most populated nation in the world, which is why Indonesian is one of the most spoken languages in the world. You may also hear people refer to Indonesia as bahasa baku, which is the standard dialect in Indonesia.

When you speak Indonesian, you will also be able to communicate with people in Malaysia and Brunei because it is very similar to the Malay language.

It is also by far one of the easiest Asian languages to learn when compared to other widely-spoken languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.

RELATED: Best Apps to Learn Indonesian

German – 135 Million Speakers

German is an official language of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg. People also speak it in parts of Italy and Poland.

German is a language of business, and speaking German can open up many opportunities to work in large companies anywhere in the world. Some of the biggest car manufacturers come from Germany, including Audi, Volkswagen, and Mercedes.

It is also the second most spoken language in scientific research. Germany is a significant contributor to international research and development efforts, and welcomes scientists from abroad to work in fellowships throughout Germany.

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn German

Japanese – 126 Million Speakers

You can probably guess that Japanese is the most common language spoken in Japan, but did you know it’s not actually the official language? Japan does not recognize any language as its official language.

Japan is a very technologically-advanced nation, so if you’re interested in technology, especially robotics, learning Japanese will be very advantageous. Japanese inventors file around 420,000 technology patents every year!

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Japanese

Marathi – 99 Million Speakers

Marathi is the language of people in Maharashtra, India. It’s also a common language in the state of Goa, as well as several government and semi-government organizations throughout India.

Even though it’s one of the most spoken languages, Marathi’s geographical reach is relatively small compared to some of the other languages on this list. It’s one of the oldest languages on the planet though, which is cool in and of itself!

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Marathi

Telugu – 96 Million Speakers

Telugu is a language with approximately 96 million speakers in India. Telugu is an interesting language for a variety of reasons. It has its own script – this helps it be an independent language and there are very few similarities to other languages.

Its words are also written in syllables rather than letters. In fact, there are 60 different symbols in the Telugu writing system. Telugu is also one of the oldest languages on the planet, like Marathi.

Turkish – 88 Million Speakers

A woman writing in Turkish. Turkish is one of the most spoken languages in the world.

Even though Turkish may not be the most popular language to learn, it is an important language to learn. It’s related to languages like Azerbaijani, Turkmen, and Uzbek. Learning Turkish will open up many opportunities for trade and business in these regions.

The Turkish language itself has a rich history that stretches back nearly 1,500 years. One of the most interesting aspects of the Turkish language is that it has 29 different letters, and it only started using the Latin alphabet in 1928.

Tamil – 85 Million Speakers

The Tamil language is one of the oldest languages on the planet (like the other Indian languages on this list), with roots that stretch back nearly 1,500 years! It’s one of the most spoken languages in India with 85 million speakers.

As Tamil belongs to the Dravidian family, it has a lot of similarities with other languages like Kannada and Malayalam. It is also related to some of the languages spoken in Sri Lanka.

Yue Chinese – 85 Million Speakers

Yue Chinese is a language with origins from ancient Chinese. It has 85 million speakers primarily in the Guangdong province of China, Taiwan and also in Malaysia.

Yue was originally brought to coastal areas of what is now called southern China by traders when it first developed around 1000 BC – 400BC. Yue descends from both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, so there are strong similarities between these languages which developed independently for over the past 2,500 years!

Wu Chinese – 82 Million Speakers

Wu is a group of dialects that are part of the larger language family called Sino-Tibetan. The Wu dialects have been spoken for over 2,500 years and are related to languages like Cantonese and Mandarin, which developed independently.

Wu is classified as a literary language in the modern era, but it’s not used in schools primarily because there was no unified written form for the entire dialect for many centuries.

Unlike Mandarin, Wu speakers don’t use simplified Chinese characters. There are few similarities to Mandarin, and Wu’s vocabulary has many loan words from other languages like Japanese or Vietnamese.

Korean – 82 Million Speakers

Writing in the Korean language. Although Korea is a relatively small country, it's popularity in several industries helped it become one of the most spoken languages in the world.

The Korean language is related to the Altaic languages, which are spoken in countries like Turkey, Russia and Japan. The earliest written form of Korean appeared in 1446 CE during the Joseon Dynasty.

There are at least 82 million speakers of Korean all over the world – more than half of them live in Korea, while others live in China, the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

The Korean alphabet is called Hangul and it was invented between 1443-1444 CE by King Sejong. Hangul’s popularity is largely due to its simplicity; it has 24 letters and each letter corresponds to a sound (unlike English, where there are 26 letters that can have multiple sounds).

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Korean

Vietnamese – 77 Million Speakers

The Vietnamese language is a tonal language spoken by 77 million people. Vietnamese uses the Latin alphabet with a total of 29 letters, as well as a number of different accents.

Vietnamese evolved from ancient languages that were spoken in southern China and it has been influenced over time by Chinese, French, and English. It originated during the first millennium, but it was only written down in Romanized script in 1918.

However, it didn’t stop here- the Vietnamese continued to add to their script which led to new symbols being developed like six tones that are used in the language today.

Hausa – 75 Million Speakers

The Hausa language is one of the few African languages that has a literary tradition. In fact, there are over 75 million speakers of this Niger-Congo language! It also has two different writing systems – the Latin-style boko script and the Arabic-influenced ajami script..

There is no universal standard for pronunciation, however, so you’ll find that each country has its own way of speaking and writing the language.

Iranian Persian (Farsi) – 74 Million Speakers

The Persian language is a group of related languages that are spoken either in Iran or by Iranian people all over the world. The most widely spoken dialects of this language include Western and Eastern varieties, with other closely related languages like Kurdish, Pashto, Ossetic and Tati.

The earliest written form of Persian appeared during the Sassanid Era (226-651 CE). However, its usage declined during the Islamic era until it became popular again between 1925-1935 under Reza Shah’s dynasty. Reza Shah made Farsi a required school subject for all children in Iran.

Swahili – 69 Million Speakers

The Swahili language is a Bantu language spoken by 69 million people, primarily in Eastern Africa and the Comoros Islands. It’s also found in pockets elsewhere around the world. Swahili has different dialects, including Coastal, Kiunga, and Wete.

Swahili speakers have a vast variety of different pronunciations, so it’s difficult to create one standard that everyone could use!

The coastal dialect has heavy influences from the Arabic language and is mainly spoken by Muslims living on the east coast of Africa. Kiunga incorporates English words into its grammar while Wete contains words from Portuguese and Arabic languages.

Italian – 68 Million Speakers

Italian writing forbidding people to litter on the street. Italian is the 25th most spoken language in the world.

The Italian language is a Romance language spoken by 68 million people all over the world. It’s also the official language of Italy, Switzerland, and San Marino.

Italian developed from Latin and it has been heavily influenced by French. The Italian alphabet consists of 21 letters with 5 vowels and 16 consonants.

Italian has been a popular language to learn for centuries. It is a beautiful and romantic language that is full of history, food, art, and fashion!

RELATED: The Best Apps to Learn Italian

Thai – 61 Million Speakers

Thai is one of the most studied languages in Southeast Asia. The earliest written form of Thai appeared in 1292 CE during the Ayutthaya era.

Thai can be a little difficult for English speakers to learn. This is because Thai has many sounds that don’t exist in our language – such as consonants pronounced with a throaty sound or vowels opened almost like a whistle. Some are similar sounding while others are more difficult to distinguish at first glance.

Polish – 41 Million Speakers

Polish is a Slavic language made up of 32 letters, including seven vowels and 25 consonants. The letter “W” does not exist in Polish, but instead uses its two other vowels, “V” and “O”. The letters Q and X are also absent from the language.

You will find that people from different regions have different dialects that are similar but not quite the same. For example, people in Warsaw will speak Polish differently than people in Gdansk or those who live by the border of Germany.

A person who speaks Polish will also have a better understanding of other Slavic languages like Czech or Russian because they share many similar words with those languages.

Why Should You Learn the Most Spoken Languages in the World?

It’s important to learn another language because it can help you in many ways. For example, knowing about another culture is a huge advantage because it provides an opportunity to understand how others think and understand what they care about. Understanding their principles will allow you to see things from their perspective.

Learning another language can also help you to stay mentally focused. It’s stimulating for your brain and keeps your mind sharp! Learning another language also opens up new opportunities, like being able to move to a new country or work with international companies. You never know when opportunities will pop up so you should always be prepared for anything!

Conclusion

If you want to learn a new language, there are plenty of options. The most spoken languages in the world span all corners of the globe and include Thai (spoken by 61 million people), Spanish (spoken by 543 million people) and Mandarin Chinese (spoken by 1.12 billion speakers).

And if you’re not sure where to start, I can help! I’ve created these language guides to help you speak another language fluently, quickly, and easily. All it takes is deciding which language you want to learn!

Chad started Langoly to help others learn and teach languages more effectively. He's a language enthusiast, and loves reviewing language learning and teaching resources.

8 Comments
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