The 15 Most Spoken Languages And Why You Should Learn Them

When you decide to learn a language, the first step is usually deciding which one you want to learn. The most spoken languages are usually a great place to start since you can easily find people who speak them around the globe.

Every language on earth can open new doors if you learn it as a second language, but not all languages are created equally when it comes to their advantages.

Whether you want to travel, study abroad, work internationally, or find a job teaching English online or abroad, choosing to learn certain languages can help you achieve your individual goals more quickly.

If you want to start now, you can use this guide to learn a language effectively.

According to Enthnologue, there are 7,117 languages spoken in the world today. Sadly, around 40% of those languages are endangered and have less than 1,000 speakers.

On the other side of the spectrum, the top 23 languages account for over half of the world’s population.

Some languages have gained reputations as “the language of business”, “the language of art”, or even “the international language”.

Other languages have ancient roots while some have gained popularity during more modern times. 

No matter how they have risen to become the world’s most spoken languages, each of the top 15 languages plays a vital role in our societies today. To see how these languages compare by their number of speakers around the world, take a look at the visualization below.

The Most Spoken Languages In The World (2020)

The list below shows languages in order of their total number of speakers (native speakers and people who have learned the languages), using the most recent data from SIL International.

How many people speak English?

There are around 379 million native speakers of English. An additional 753.3 million people speak English as a second language. In total, there are approximately 1.132 billion people who speak English. 

Where do people speak English?

English is the most spoken language in the world, and is the global lingua franca, or common language. 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. 

Reasons to learn English

In addition to its global reach, English is also the most commonly used language in several industries. Some of these industries include international business, education, science, technology, diplomacy, entertainment, radio, seafaring, and aviation. If you speak English, you’ll also be able to access a wide range of language jobs in Europe.

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!

The five countries with the largest English-speaking populations are: the United States, India, Nigeria, China, and the Philippines.

Fun facts about the most spoken language

Even though it’s the most widely-spoken language on the globe, around 75% of the world’s population don’t speak a word of English.

The letter “E” makes up 11% of the entire English language.

It’s the most commonly spoken language in the United States, but it’s not actually the official language (although a bill has been introduced in the US Congress to change this).

Mandarin Chinese (1.116 Billion Speakers)

How many people speak Mandarin Chinese?

There are 917.8 million people who speak Mandarin as a native language. An additional 198.7 million people learn Mandarin as a second language. In total, there are around 1.116 billion people who speak Mandarin Chinese. 

In China, 70% of people speak at least one dialect of Mandarin. That is a huge group of people!

Where do people speak Mandarin?

People predominantly speak Mandarin in China. Mandarin Chinese is actually a group of languages from northern and southwestern China. There are also many different dialects of Mandarin, and speakers of different dialects may not always understand each other.

Standard Chinese, which is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, is also an official language in Taiwan and Singapore. It’s also one of the working languages of the United Nations.

Reasons to learn Mandarin Chinese

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.

China is a global economic power, and speaking Mandarin Chinese can open endless business opportunities. There are also a lot of possibilities for people to work in China for international corporations, especially if they can communicate in Mandarin. 

Even if you don’t have plans to work in China, speaking Mandarin can boost your job prospects no matter where you are. 

Outside of business, Mandarin Chinese allows you to unlock the mysteries of Chinese culture. There is a lot to discover because China has one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures. It’s over 5,000 years old!

Fun facts about Mandarin Chinese

Here are some interesting facts about Mandarin Chinese:

  • Mandarin has the most native speakers in the world.
  • Today, writing commonly uses about 20,000 different Chinese characters.
  • Written Chinese is over 3,000 years old.
  • The following English words come from Mandarin Chinese: brainwashing, tea, tycoon, and ketchup.

Are Mandarin and Chinese the same language? 

No. The Mandarin group of languages includes Standard Chinese, which is the dialect spoken in Beijing. Standard Chinese is the official language of China.

Hindi (615.4 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Hindi?

341.2 million people speak Hindi as a native language. An additional 274.2 million people learn it as a second language. In total, there are roughly 615.4 million Hindi speakers in the world.

Where do people speak Hindi?

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. 

Spoken Hindi is mutually intelligible with Urdu, which is number 11 on this list.

Reasons to learn Hindi

The country of India has one of the biggest populations on earth, so it’s no wonder that Hindi is one of the most spoken languages in the world.

India also has a booming economy, and speaking Hindi will unlock opportunities in business, academia, and the arts.

In fact, most Bollywood movies are in Hindi. Haven’t heard of Bollywood? Check out the video below!

Who wouldn’t want to learn Hindi after watching that!? 

If you still need some convincing, it’s actually a lot easier to learn Hindi than you may think. You spell words exactly as they’re pronounced, and some English words actually come from Hindi (more on that below).

Fun facts about Hindi

The following English words came from Hindi: avatar, bandana, bungalow, dinghy, guru, jungle, khaki, karma, loot, mantra, nirvana, punch, pajamas, sorbet, shampoo, thug, typhoon and yoga.

Other Hindi Language Facts:

  • Many people in Afghanistan (where Dari and Pashto are the official languages) can understand Hindi because of how popular Bollywood movies are.
  • There are over 800,000 native Hindi speakers in the United States.
  • The Hindi alphabet has 11 vowels and 33 consonants.

Spanish (534.3 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Spanish?

There are 460.1 million native speakers of Spanish. An additional 74.2 million people learn it as a second language. In total, 534.3 million people around the world speak Spanish.

Where do people speak Spanish?

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.

Reasons to learn Spanish

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!

South and Central America are also some of the US’s biggest trading partners, so speaking Spanish can open up many international business and job opportunities.

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.

Fun facts about Spanish

There is an organization in charge of making decisions about the Spanish language – The Royal Spanish Academy. The Academy is located in Madrid, Spain, and it’s the reason why Spanish uses upside-down question and exclamation marks. Here are couple examples:

  • ¿Hablas inglés? (Do you speak English?)
  • ¡Feliz cumpleaños! (Happy birthday!)

Other Spanish Language Facts:

  • Spanish is the third most-used language on the internet after English and Russian.
  • Nouns have a gender (male or female) in Spanish.
  • The countries with the most Spanish speakers are: Mexico, the United States, Colombia, Spain, and Argentina.
  • Analysts expect the United States to become the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world by 2050.

Arabic (310 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Arabic?

There are around 270 million people who speak Arabic as a native language. An additional 40 million learn it as a second language. In total, there are around 310 million Arabic speakers in the world.

Where do people speak Arabic?

Arabic is the official language of 26 countries. It’s also the main language of the religion of Islam, which has 1.8 billion followers around the world. It’s one of the official languages of the United Nations, too.

During the Middle Ages, Arabs had a big influence on science, math, and philosophy in Europe, and because of that, many European languages borrowed words from Arabic. They still use many of them today!

A picture of a bag of spices labeled in Arabic. When you learn Arabic, you can access a whole other part of the world and learn about Arabic culture and cuisine.

Reasons to learn Arabic

Due to its history and its status as one of the most spoken languages, Arabic has influenced many other languages around the globe. It has greatly influenced languages like Persian, Turkish, Hindi, Spanish, German, and Urdu. It also borrows words from other languages, including Greek, Hebrew, English, and French. 

Government agencies around the world also have a high demand for people who can speak Arabic. The language is significant in the Middle East, as well as in trade, business, and politics. 

Fun facts about Arabic

The following English words originate from Arabic: alcohol, candy, coffee, cotton, ghoul, hazard, jar, magazine, and sofa.

Other Arabic Language Facts:

  • Arabic is a language of dialects, and the standard form of Arabic doesn’t actually have any native speakers.
  • The Arabic language is written and read from right to left.
  • There are no capital letters in Arabic.

French (279.8 Million Speakers)

How many people speak French?

There are 77.2 million native French speakers in the world, and 202.6 million people who learn French as a second language. In total, there are 279.8 million French speakers in the world. 

Where do people speak French?

French is the official language of 29 countries around the world. There is also an international organization, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, dedicated to supporting the French language throughout the 84 countries where it is used or taught officially.

Literature and scientific writing commonly use French. It’s also an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Reasons to learn French

According to Bloomberg, French is one of the most widely-used languages in business, and it’s the third most spoken language in the European Union. 

French is surprisingly also the third most spoken language in the United States, and according to a study cited by Forbes, French may be the most-spoken language in the world by 2050.

It is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance and architecture. The country of France is also the top tourist destination in the world and is visited by more than 87 million people each year.

Learning French can be a good starting point for learning other languages, especially the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian).

It’s also a good start for learning English, since a significant percentage of English vocabulary is derived from French (around 40%!).

Fun facts about French

Kinshasa is the world’s second largest French-speaking city after Paris and before Montreal and Brussels.

Between 6 and 11 million Americans speak French, as does half the population of Algeria, and 15 percent of Israelis.

Other French Language Facts:

  • There are no French words that begin with “w” (at least not words that are originally French).
  • R.S.V.P. is actually French – it means répondez s’il vous plaît (please respond).
  • French is generally easy for English speakers to learn because it has Latin roots. 

Bengali (265 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Bengali?

There are 228.3 million native speakers of Bengali, and an additional 36.7 million people who speak it as a second language. In total, there are around 265 million Bengali speakers in the world.

Where do people speak Bengali?

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

Reasons to learn Bengali

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! 

With its rich and passionate history, people commonly refer to Bengali as the language of selfless love.

A woman posing in traditional Bangladeshi attire. Bengali is one of the most spoken language in the world, and you can learn Bengali online!

Fun facts about Bengali

Bengali is the only language in the world known for its language movements and people sacrificing their lives for their mother tongue (Learn about the Bengali Language Movement).

Other Bengali Language Facts:

  • Bengali has its own number system.
  • In 2002, Bengali became an honorary official language of Sierra Leone to memorialize 5,300 Bangladeshi troops who were part of the Sierra Leone Peacekeeping Force.
  • The national anthems of both Bangladesh and India were composed in Bengali.

Russian (258.2 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Russian?

There are 153.8 million native Russian speakers in the world, and 104.4 million more people who learn it as a second language. In total, there are 258.2 million Russian speakers in the world.

Where do people speak Russian?

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. 

Russian is the second most used language on the internet, and it’s an official language of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization.

Reasons to learn Russian

Remember the race to space in the 1960s between the United States and Russia? Well, it’s still a requirement today for NASA applicants to speak Russian.

Don’t worry though, if English is your native language, you already know about 10% of Russian words.

In addition to its inclusion in a lot of international organizations, the Russian language also has a very rich literary tradition that includes works like War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, and Crime and Punishment.

A traditional Russian Orthodox church with colorful spires. Russian is one of the most spoken languages in the world, and you can learn Russian online!

Fun facts about Russian

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.

 Other Russian Language Facts:

  • Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which has 33 letters.
  • The verb “to be” only talks about the past and future in Russian, not the present.
  • The Russian language has approximately 500,000 words, but everyday speech only uses about 2,500 words.

Portuguese (234.1 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Portuguese?

There are 220.7 million people in the world who speak Portuguese as a native language, and 13.4 million more people learn it as a second language. In total, there are around 234.1 million Portuguese speakers in the world. 

Where do people speak Portuguese?

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.

A man holding a Brazilian flag at a soccer game. Portuguese is one of the most spoken language in the world, and you can learn Portuguese online!

Reasons to learn Portuguese

Portuguese is the most spoken language in the southern hemisphere, and is an official language of the European Union, the African Union, and Mercosur (a South American trade bloc similar to the European Union). 

The Portuguese language is beginning to gain prominence as a global language, and is currently part of public school curricula in 32 countries. It’s the fastest growing European language after English, and it has the highest potential for growth in South America, according to UNESCO. 

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

Fun facts about Portuguese

The Portuguese language can vary depending on where you are. In Portugal, for example, to say “you”, you say tu or vós. Brazilians never really use these words though. Instead, Brazilians use você and vocês.

Other Portuguese Language Facts:

  • The letters k, y, and w joined the Portuguese language in 2009 because of the words it borrowed from English.
  • Only 5% of Portuguese speakers live in Portugal.
  • Google Translate is notoriously bad at translating Portuguese to English because of the many different characteristics of the language.

Indonesian (198.7 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Indonesian?

Indonesian is the native language of 43.4 million people in the world, and 155.3 million other people learn it as a second language. In total, there are about 198.7 million Indonesian speakers in the world. 

Where do people speak Indonesian?

As you may have guessed, Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia.

Reasons to learn Indonesian

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.

Indonesia is a very beautiful country that offers amazing beaches, friendly people, and rural and urban lifestyles, too.

A traditional Indonesian pagoda on the water. If you learn Indonesian, you can communicate with native Indonesian people on your next vacation.

Fun facts about Indonesian

Indonesian has been influenced by many other languages, including Dutch, English, Arabic, Portuguese, and Hindi. It’s a very interesting language because its history is very closely related to its cultural history and past colonizers.

Other Indonesian Language Facts:

  • The language has switched its spelling system 3 times in less than a century.
  • More than 30% of its vocabulary is loan words from other languages.
  • Indonesian is a very colloquial and localized language, and people only speak official Indonesian in very important communications.

Urdu (170.2 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Urdu?

There are 68.6 million native Urdu speakers in the world and 101.6 million people who learn it as a second language. In total, there are around 170.2 million people who speak Urdu in the world.

Where do people speak Urdu?

Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and it’s also an officially recognized language in India. It’s very similar to Hindi, and speakers of both languages can understand each other, so Urdu’s reach extends beyond the borders of Pakistan. 

Reasons to learn Urdu

Large numbers of immigrants speak Urdu in the following countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Australia. It’s also widely spoken in Catalonia, Spain. 

Urdu is a literary language, and its literature has a global reach. It’s also an identity symbol for Indian Muslims. 

The Urdu language has been influenced by Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, and Turkish, so studying it will give you exposure to these other languages.

It is also one of the most polite languages in the world!

Fun facts about Urdu

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. 

Other Urdu Language Facts:

  • Only 8% of Pakistanis speak Urdu as a native language.
  • Similar to Arabic, Urdu goes from right to left (but it uses a different alphabet than Arabic).
  • Urdu is the fourth most spoken language in the UK.

German (132.1 Million Speakers)

How many people speak German?

There are 76 million native German speakers in the world, and 56 million people speak German as a second or other language. In total, there are just over 132 million German speakers in the world. 

Where do people speak German?

German is an official language of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg. It’s also spoken in parts of Italy and Poland. 

Some international organizations also use German as an official language, including the  European Union, the European Space Agency, Reporters Without Borders, and the World Association of Newspapers.

Reasons to learn German

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.

A German castle in a forest. German is a popular language, and you can explore Germany easier if you speak German.

The German language also has a rich cultural history, with many of the greatest composers and writers speaking German as a first language.

Some of these literary and musical masters include Beethoven, Goethe, Mozart, and Bach.

So in addition to German being one of the most spoken languages in the world, it’s a very important language that has a wide impact in the arts and sciences.

Fun facts about German

German is the third most taught language in the United States, and the most widely spoken native language in the European Union.

The German language shares many similarities with Afrikaans, Dutch, English, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

There are also only three vowels in German that have an Umlaut: ä, ö, and ü.

Japanese (128.5 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Japanese?

There are 128.2 million native speakers of Japanese, and around 150,000 people learning the language. In total, there are just under 128.5 million people who speak Japanese in the world.

Where do people speak Japanese?

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. 

Japanese is also commonly spoken in Palau.

There are dozens of different dialects in Japanese, but a standardized Modern Japanese is becoming more popular due to increased higher education and mass media in Japan.

Japanese technology sign with neon lights. One of the best ways to learn Japanese is to experience Japanese culture and technology.

Reasons to learn Japanese

The Japanese language is strongly tied to the culture of Japan. For instance, Japanese people tend to speak indirectly about things because they don’t want to appear too straightforward or direct. The language and vocabulary of Japanese reflect this cultural characteristic. 

Japan is also 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! 

Fun facts about Japanese

Japanese isn’t related to any other language, but it has adopted a lot of words from different languages over the years. 

In addition to being one of the most spoken languages, Japanese is one of the fastest spoken languages in the world.

Verbs aren’t conjugated in Japanese.

Swahili (98 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Swahili?

The exact number of Swahili speakers is unknown. Estimates suggest that there are around 16 million native Swahili speakers, and an additional 82.3 million people who speak it as a second language. In total, there are probably around 98 million Swahili speakers in the world. 

Where do people speak Swahili?

Swahili is an official language in the following countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. It’s also commonly spoken in Burundi, Malawi, Somalia, Zambia, and Mozambique.

International organizations that include Swahili as an official language include the African Union and the East African Community. 

Reasons to learn Swahili

With its large geographical reach, it’s not surprising that Swahili is one of the most spoken languages. It may be surprising to know that Swahili is the easiest African language for an English speaker to learn though.

It’s also the common trading language in several parts of Africa, so it’s very useful for people who will be studying, volunteering, or working in eastern Africa.

This region is experiencing a booming economy, and a lot of new technology startups are also located here.

A Kenyan woman smiling. Kenyans speak Swahili, like a lot of Eastern African countries. You can learn Swahili online today.

In fact, Swahili is becoming more and more associated with technology, arts, and culture.

Researchers and academics who can speak Swahili will be able to access critical insights into Africa’s growing economy, especially in social media, big data, and digital information.

Fun facts about Swahili

The Swahili vocabulary is heavily influenced by Arabic. 

It is one of the first African languages included in the development of language learning and translation apps. 

The Swahili language used to be written in the Arabic script.

Marathi (95.3 Million Speakers)

How many people speak Marathi?

83.1 million people speak Marathi as a native language. An additional 12.2 million people speak it as a second language. In total, there are around 95.3 million people in the world who speak Marathi.

Where do people speak Marathi?

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. 

Reasons to learn Marathi

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.

Speaking Marathi will allow you to communicate with people throughout Maharashtra and Goa, India.

Marathi is popular in culture and the arts in India, so you’ll be able to enjoy a wide variety of books, plays, movies, and songs.

Goa is a huge tourist destination in India, and since Marathi is an official language of the state of Goa, speaking it will help you find your way around more easily.

It’s also one of the oldest languages on the planet, which is cool in and of itself!

A beautiful Indian temple. The Marathi language is one of the most widely spoken languages in India. You can learn Marathi online if you will be traveling through this region.

Fun facts about Marathi

It is the 4th most spoken language in India.

The Marathi alphabet has 16 vowels and 36 consonants. 

The language is over 1,500 years old. 

How To Learn The Most Spoken Languages

And there you have it: The 15 most-spoken languages in the world and why you should learn one of them this year.

You may have guessed most of the languages on the list. If you’re like me, you were probably surprised by a couple, too! 

Now it’s time to put your new knowledge to use and decide which language you want to learn.

Think about your language learning goals, the cultures and countries you want to learn more about, and what opportunities you want to pursue with the help of your language skills.

To start your language learning journey, you should take a look at the best apps to learn a language first. 

Sign up below to receive expert tips and insights that will help you achieve fluency faster.

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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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