28 Dec '18
Top Global Languages
This list is organized by the total number of speakers and countries in which the language is spoken or widely used. Different lists that have been published online in recent years will vary, depending on the priority given to native language or second language speakers. This list has relied upon statistics from multiple sources cited below, though numbers may vary depending upon the source one uses.
- Chinese: 1.3 billion speakers mean China is the exporter of the world’s top language. The Middle Kingdom uses Mandarin as the main dialect, with over 800 million speakers.
- Spanish: 442 million speakers worldwide, with the colonial legacies of Spain still being felt centuries later.
- English: Number three with an asterisk, as there are approximately 380 million native speakers, with 500 million or so second-language speakers and counting, depending on the level of fluency one uses to calculate that number. Most experts still see English as the dominant language of business, travel, diplomacy and technology for the foreseeable future. It is the most connected language in the world, and has the largest global language network (most widely translated and disseminated) as tracked by linguistic scholars.
- Arabic: 315 million native speakers, with numerous dialects (Maghreb, Egyptian, Levant, Gulf etc.). Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the main and formal form of communication that is generally used in the media, and the only written form of Arabic. It is also the official language in both the Middle East and North Africa alike.
- Hindi: 260 million native speakers. Hindi is the leading native language of India (one of 23 official languages) with Urdu number two. Some Indian leaders want Hindi to displace English in the southern region as the main language of public communication and education, a policy that has seen some domestic resistance.
- Bengali: 243 million speakers, found mainly in India and Bangladesh.
- Portuguese: 223 million speakers, mainly in Portugal and Brazil, but also widely spoken in former Portuguese African colonies such as Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau.
- Russian: 170 million speakers worldwide, mainly in the Russian Federation and the global diaspora. Russian is taught in schools in Mongolia and is still taught in schools and distributed through media publications in former Soviet bloc countries such as Ukraine, where there is a large ethnic Russian population.
- Japanese: 128 million speakers, most of whom live in Japan, makes this the most geographically concentrated language. With a steadily declining birth rate, it is expected that Japan’s population and ranking among global languages will decline sharply by the year 2050.
- Punjabi: A mainstay of India with 100 million speakers, spread across the world with the diaspora found in many Western nations. The term Punjabi may also refer to the art, philosophy or food of the Punjabi people.
Other languages deserving honourable mention to round out the top 20: German, Turkish, Korean, French, Urdu, Vietnamese, Tamil, Italian, Marathi and Javanese.