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Most Spoken Languages in the World

The most spoken languages in the world include English, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, French, and Arabic. Farther down the list of most-spoken languages, you find languages like Russian and Bengali.

Keep in mind that you can define “most spoken” in several ways. You can rank languages based on the number of countries that list the language as an official language. You can count how many people speak a language as their first language. However, the most common way to rank languages is based on the number of total speakers of that language. 

Of course, these counts may fluctuate daily based on factors like population growth or decline, or language students like you learning a new language! 

One of the best places to find accurate data about modern languages is Ethnologue, which provides up-to-date info on a number of total speakers of global languages. 

Keep reading to discover the 35 most spoken languages in the world!

35 Most Spoken Languages in the World

This list ranks the most-spoken language based on the total number of speakers globally. 

1. English

Total Speakers: 1.452 billion

Official Language: 67 countries

The global population has reached 7.88 billion in 2023, meaning that one in every four people in the world speaks English. The dark secret of this powerhouse language is that it owes much of its dominance to a long history of colonization by English-speaking nations.

English has its roots in Romance languages like French as well as Germanic languages, originating in the Germanic tribes who invaded Britain in the 5th century.

The College of English Language notes that the English language includes over a million words, with roughly 4,000 new words added annually.

2. Mandarin

Total Speakers: 1.118 billion

Official Language: 3 countries

Mandarin Chinese comes in a close second as one of the most spoken languages in the world. China’s vast population of 1.45 billion people actually speaks a number of languages, several of which you will find later in this list. But Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the nation, and of Taiwan and Singapore.

Mandarin uses a writing system called Hanzi, in which every character represents a word. It is also a tonal language, meaning that speaking a word with a different pitch can change its meaning.

3. Hindi

Total speakers: 602.2 million

Official language: 1

India’s 1.42 billion people speak over 20 different languages, but Hindi serves as one of the official languages of the nation. Many native speakers also live in the United Arab Emirates, Fiji, Nepal, and South Africa, among others. 

Yale University explains that Hindi and Urdu (one of the second-most spoken languages in India) share a lot of grammar, but Urdu uses many words drawn from Arabic, while Hindi vocabulary evolved primarily from Sanskrit.

4. Spanish

Total speakers: 548.3 million

Official language: 20 countries

While only about 6% of the world’s population speaks Spanish, it is the official language of 20 different countries, including Spain, Peru, and Mexico. Spanish is also one of the official languages of Puerto Rico, and over 40 million people in the United States speak Spanish.

Of course, just like with English, the main reason Spanish has such a global reach is because of colonization. The Library of Congress explains how colonization shaped the spread of the Spanish language here.

One of the most popular dialects of Spanish is called Castellano, or Castilian Spanish.

5. French

Total speakers: 274.1 million

Official language: 29 countries

If you want a career in international politics or simply want to travel the globe, you can’t go wrong learning French! French is the official language of both the UN and the EU. It is also the official language of 29 countries including France, Haiti, Belgium, and Monaco, among others.

As a romance language with its roots in Latin, French also shares many words with languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and English. This makes it easier to learn for a native English speaker.

All languages evolve over time, but French stays more stable than some because it is protected by the Académie Francaise, which strives to maintain the beauty of the language.

6. Standard/Classic Arabic

Total speakers: 274 million

Official language: 26 countries

Every country that speaks Arabic has its own dialect or version of spoken Arabic, but Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the formal version of the language found in classical texts. People who grew up speaking different Arabic dialects often use MSA to communicate with each other.

MSA was standardized in the 8th century as a way of preserving the language of the Quran in order to promote Islam. You can read more about the history of classical Arabic in this article from the University of California.

7. Bengali

Total speakers: 272.7 million

Official language: 2 countries

Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh and is also one of the official languages of India. In fact, it is also the second-most popular language in India, and the Indian National anthem “Jana Gana Mana” is written in Bengali. 

Though Bengali has its roots in Sanskrit and is thousands of years old, in more recent times the language faced many difficulties. The Bengali Language Movement of 1952 protested Pakistan’s decision to promote Urdu as the official language. This eventually led to the separation of Bangladesh as its own country.

8. Russian

Total speakers: 258.2 million

Official language: 4

Only four countries list Russian as an official language, but it is still the most-spoken language in Europe. This complex language uses its own writing system called the Cyrillic alphabet and features a famously complex grammatical structure.

The history of the Russian language stretches back six thousand years to the Proto-Slavonic languages, though the writing system is considerably newer with its roots in the 7th century. You can learn how Russian evolved in this article from the Liden & Denz Institute of International Languages.

One of the unique things about the Russian language is that changing what word or syllable you stress can alter the meaning of a whole sentence.

9. Portuguese

Total speakers: 257.7 million

Official language: 9 countries

Portuguese has several distinct dialects, with the two most prominent including European and Brazilian Portuguese. As with any European language that spread around the world, the popularity of Portuguese stems from colonization.

Portuguese is a romance language and shares a lot of vocabulary with Spanish. However, due to the invasion of Islamic Moors in the 8th century, Portuguese also has a lot of words with Arabic origins like marfim (ivory) and sofá (couch).  You can learn more about the Islamic heritage in Portugal here.

10. Urdu

Total speakers: 231.3 million

Official language: 2 countries

Urdu is both the official language of Pakistan and one of the official languages of India. Pratha Cultural School explains that Urdu evolved from both Persian and Hindi. 

Many famous works of poetry and literature were originally written in Urdu from the 14 century on, like the novel Umrao Jaan Ada and the poem Dasht-e-Tanhai.

11. Indonesian

Total speakers: 199 million

Official language: 1 country

Indonesian evolved from the Malay language and is one of the easiest South Asian/Asian languages to learn. Dutch colonization also impacted the language, mixing in a smorgasbord of words like kopi (coffee). You can find out more about the origins of Indonesian in this article from McGill University.

That said, while standard Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia, most native speakers blend a colloquial mix of Javanese, Sudanese, and Chinese into everyday conversation due to the melting pot cultural mix that makes up Indonesia’s population today.

12. German

Total speakers: 134.6 million

Official language: 6 countries

While about 80% of the German speakers in the world live in Germany, German is also the official language of other European countries including Austria and Switzerland. 

German has many eccentricities when you compare it to other European languages. For example, it uses three genders for nouns–male, female, and neuter. And when you write in German, you capitalize every noun, not just names!

Despite the prominence of German villains in movies and TV shows (a trend spawned after WWII, for understandable reasons), the German language has a long history of beautiful poetry, remarkable philosophers, and famous operas. Boston University reports that German is also the second-most useful language for scientists today.

13. Japanese

Total speakers: 125.4 million

Official language: 1 country

Japan’s population of roughly 125 million people speak Japanese, as do about 2% of the population of the United States, and many Chinese and Korean people who lived during the Japanese occupation of their nations during WWII. But Japan does not list an official language for the nation.

Japanese has an ancient history and shares linguistic roots with Korean. Today, the Japanese language uses three different writing systems: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Sometimes all three show up in one sentence!

14. Nigerian Pidgin

Total speakers: 120.7 million

Official language: 

Nigerian Pidgin mixes English with words from the 250 dialects spoken in Nigeria, allowing people to communicate easily with each other. It is not the official language of Nigeria, but it has millions of speakers regardless!

The University of Hawaii explains that a Pidgin language is a simple version of two or more languages that evolve so people from different linguistic backgrounds can communicate with each other.

15. Marathi

Total speakers: 99.1

Official language: 1 country

Marathi is one of India’s official languages and the official language of the state of Maharashtra in western India. While Marathi is the third most-spoken language in India, it actually consists of 42 dialects including prominent dialects like Maharashtrian and Varhadi. 

Besides being one of the most prominent Indian languages, Marathi is one of the oldest, dating back more than a thousand years. The first known sample of written Marathi came from 1012 C.E., as you can learn in this history of Marathi.

Marathi uses two different alphabets: the Modi script and the Balbod script. Marathi evolved from Sanskrit much like Hindi, but the different alphabets and different grammar make it quite distinct from the Hindi language.

16. Telugu

Total speakers: 95.7 million

Official language: 1 country 

Telugu is the fourth most-spoken language in India and is also the official language of the Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Unlike many Indian languages, Telugu did not evolve from Sanskrit and has a unique writing system as well as a unique grammatical structure.

But just like Marathi, Telugu is an ancient language dating back thousands of years. One interesting fact about Telugu is that traditionally, some female Brahmins tell the stories of the Ramayana from the perspective of King Rama’s wife Sita. This has led to some people calling Telugu a feminist language!

17. Turkish

Total speakers: 88.1 million

Official language: 2 countries

Turkish is the official language of both Turkey and Cyprus, but it is also the first language of people in many other countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 

Turkish is an agglutinative language. The University of Pittsburgh explains that this type of language forms phrases with complicated meanings by adding prefixes or suffixes rather than adding new words. Hungarian, Finnish, and Mongolian also have this unique characteristic.

Like French, the Turkish language also has a protector today–the Turkish Language Association, which has tried to promote native Turkish words over assimilated words from other languages. 

18. Tamil

Total speakers: 86.4 million

Official language: 3 countries

Tamil is the 5th most-spoken language in India and is also one of the official languages of Singapore and Sri Lanka. This ancient language dates back to around the 3rd century BCE and has a history of many famous works of literature and religious texts like the Thiruvasagam. In fact, Tamil is the oldest living language in the world today!

Tamil has a unique script consisting of 18 vowels and 12 consonants, though the alphabet has changed over the centuries. 

19. Yue/Cantonese

Total speakers: 85.6 million

Official language:

Yue Chinese originated in the South of China. Technically, this language is more like a group of dialects including Cantonese, which is the second-most spoken language in China, though Cantonese is extremely different from Mandarin.

Cantonese has six phonetic tones, unlike the four tones and one neutral in Mandarin. Mandarin commonly uses simplified characters in its written form, while Cantonese uses an older and more complex written form. On top of this, the two languages even use different sentence structures.

Cantonese also has a history as a revolutionary symbol, as the Chinese government has tried to enforce Mandarin as the official language. Locations like Hong Kong continue using Cantonese instead as a sign of resistance, as the Hong Kong Free Press explains. 

20. Vietnamese

Total speakers: 85.3

Official language: 1 country

Like Cantonese, Vietnamese is a tonal language that uses six tones. It has no native written form and began using the Latin alphabet in the earth 20th century when a Jesuit priest named Francisco de Pina inscribed the sounds of the language using the Roman alphabet. 

Because of China’s long history of invasion, the Vietnamese language also borrows a lot of Chinese words. Today, Vietnamese has three dominant dialects, with the dialect spoken in the capital city of Hanoi considered the standard form. 

Did you know that Vietnamese is the 6th most spoken language in the US as well as an official minority language in the Czech Republic? 

21. Tagalog

Total speakers: 82.3 million

Official language: 1 country

Tagalog, also sometimes called Filipino, is the official language of the Philippines. Technically Filipino and Tagalog are both dialects, with Tagalog originating on the Island of Luzon in the Philippines. 

Tagalog has an ancient history, with its earliest written record dating to 900 CE. The Philippines have endured many occupations over the years by Mexico, Spain, as a territory of the United States for a brief period, and then by Japan during WWII. This means that Tagalog also encompasses words from multiple languages.

As another interesting fact about the Tagalog language, it is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States today, following English, Spanish, and Mandarin. 

22. Wu

Total speakers: 81.8 million

Official language:

You could describe Wu Chinese either as a dialect of Southern China or as a language comprised of a variety of dialects like the popular Shanghainese dialect. This ancient form of Chinese originated in what was then the State of Wu. 

Today, people speak Wu Chinese dialects primarily in Zhejiang Province, Shanghai, and the south of Jiangsu Province. Like Cantonese, Wu Chinese dialects have enough differences from Mandarin that you can’t understand one without knowing the other.

Most Wu dialects, including Shanghainese, use five tones. However, Wu speakers use the modern Chinese writing system.

23. Korean

Total speakers: 81.7 million

Official language: 1 country

Korean is the official language spoken in both North Korea and South Korea today. Like Japanese, the language uses an intricate honorific system, meaning that you use different word endings to demonstrate various levels of respect for the person you speak to. Aside from that, Korean has a simple grammatical system.

Like so many other languages, Korean has enveloped many words from other languages because of violent invasions. Throughout history, Korea endured occupation by both China and Japan. 

While the spoken Korean language is one of the oldest living languages in the world, its written form is only about 600 years old. The Korean writing system, called Hangul, uses just 24 letters, each corresponding to a sound. It is one of the easiest writing systems to learn in any modern language because of this.

24. Farsi

Total speakers: 77.4 million

Official language: 1-4 countries

Farsi, or Iranian Persian, is the official language of Iran. Very similar forms of Farsi serve as the official languages of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Dagestan, though Iran and Afghanistan use the Persian alphabet while Tajikistan uses a unique writing system called the Tajik alphabet.

Persian became one of the first languages to replace Arabic in parts of the Islamic world. Much of the beautiful literature from ancient to modern times in this part of the world is written in Persian, including the works of Rumi, and the poetry of Omarr Kayyham. 

25. Hausa

Total speakers: 77.1 million

Official language: 

While Hausa is not the official language of one specific country, it is the dominant native tongue of many people located in Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Cameroon, and Benin and Togo. 

Because the Hausa culture famously involves adopting people and ideas from other cultures, the language adopted two different writing systems over the years, inspired by Arabic and by the Roman alphabet.

Hausa is also spoken by many people as a lingua franca, or business language, as a second language. This helps people from different towns and countries communicate easily.

26. Egyptian Arabic

Total speakers: 74.8 million

Official language:

Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA, remains the official language of Arabic-speaking countries and is used by the government and in schools. But in day-to-day life, most Arabs speak a more colloquial version of the language, like Egyptian Arabic/Masri in Egypt. 

Masri has several key differences from MSA, including the pronunciation of certain sounds and even the grammar in a sentence.

One of the reasons Egyptian Arabic, or Masri, has become one of the most dominant modern Arabic dialects is the popularity of Egyptian movies and media. In fact, Egypt has such a bustling film industry that you may see it called the “Hollywood on the Nile!”

27. Swahili

Total speakers: 71.4 million

Official language: 4 countries

Swahili is the national language of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also called Kiswahili, this Bantu language includes multiple popular dialects including Kiunguja, Mombasa, and Kiamu. 

One of the reasons so many people speak Swahili today is that it became a lingua franca, or trade language, around this area as well. Today, Swahili is also one of the languages used by the African Union.

28. Javanese

Total speakers: 68.3 million

Official language:

Though Indonesian is the official government language on the Indonesian island of Java, most residents speak Javanese on a daily basis. Nearly half of Indonesian citizens speak Javanese, in fact! Plus, millions of people in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore also speak Javanese today.

Javanese uses three different writing systems, including one form using the Roman alphabet, one form using Arabic script, and another form in Javanese characters. 

If that does not seem complicated enough, Javanese also uses different tones and even different dialects to highlight social status, respectful address, or age differences in conversation.

29. Italian

Total speakers: 67.9 million

Official language: 3 countries (sort of)

Italian is the official language of Italy, one of the official languages of Switzerland, and the official language of Vatican City. Actually, Italian became the official language of Italy quite recently, in the 1880s. Before that, Italy existed as separate states, rather than as a unified nation.

Derived primarily from ancient Latin, the romance language also has a lot of French influence and is a popular choice for language students because of its lively speech patterns and wealth of literature and operas.

30. Western Punjabi

Total speakers: 66.4 million

Official language: 

Western Punjabi is primarily spoken in Pakistan, and it has its roots in both Sanskrit and Arabic. Western Punjabi is the most-spoken language in Pakistan but is not recognized by the government or used in schools, as the use of the Urdu language is officially enforced.

31. Kannada

Total speakers: 64 million

Official language:

Kannada is native to the south of India, where it emerged thousands of years ago, and remains one of the oldest languages still in use today. In this fascinating language, every word ends with a vowel.

India designated Kannada as an official classical language because of its historic importance and many great works of literature.

32. Gujarati

Total speakers: 62 million

Official language: 1 country

Gujarati is the official language of the state of Gujarat in India and is officially recognized as one of India’s languages. Gujarati primarily uses nasal vowels, giving it a distinct sound compared to other Indian languages. Plus, Gujarati uses 31 consonants!

33. Thai

Total speakers: 60.7 million

Official language: 1 country

Thailand’s official language is Thai, a tonal language that uses five different tones to convey word meaning. The Thai alphabet contains 44 consonants and 15 vowel sounds, many of which do not exist in the English language!

Today, English is one of the most-spoken languages in Thailand as well and is even taught in schools.

34. Amharic

Total speakers: 57.5 million

Official language: 1 country

Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia and also serves as a trade language for much of the surrounding area. Ethiopians speak over 80 different languages and dialects, making the lingua franca a necessity!

35. Bhojpuri

Total speakers: 52.5 million

Official language: 

Millions of people in India and Nepal speak Bhojpuri, a language descended from Sanskrit with a history of oral storytelling. Modern Bhojpuri shares some similarities with Hindi as well, especially in vocabulary. You can find out more about Bhojpuri and Hindi connections in this article from India Today.

Yes, we have language learning resources for most of these languages. Check out our homepage or other languages page to start exploring your language journey!

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