Top 10 World Languages

Wikipedia defines a world language as ” a language that is spoken internationally and is learned and spoken by a large number of people as a second language” and “… is characterized not only by the total number of speakers (native and second language speakers), but also by its geographical distribution, as well as use in international organizations and diplomatic relations”.

Not surprisingly, the major world languages originated in Western Europe and became so due to the colonial expansion “practiced” by the countries of western Europe for centuries.

According to Ethnologue, currently, there are over 7,000 known living languages.

English: the favorite child?

English is considered the official international business language.  It is one of the most widely spoken languages and continues to spread at a very fast rate.  English is the second language taught in many non-native-speaking (i.e. English is not their first tongue) countries.   English is also considered the dominant language of scientific research and many other industry sectors worldwide.

What are the most spoken languages?

There are numerous ways to measure the world’s most popular languages, depending on the criteria.  To further complicate the question, some languages have major variants (e.g. Chinese language variants). However, if we go based on the estimated number of native speakers in the world, this list below is widely viewed (in 2016) as the top 10 world languages.  Estimating the total number of native speakers is part science and part guesswork, but I will say that the top 3 (in order) are generally accepted to be Mandarin, Spanish and English.

The Top 10 (listed with no ranking order):

  • Mandarin (Chinese)
  • Spanish
  • English
  • Hindu/Urdu
  • Arabic
  • Portuguese
  • Bengali
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Punjabi

Here are 3 notable exceptions that fall outside the top 10, but are well-known in international circles.  (Listed with approximate number of native speakers in parentheses).

  • German [95 million]
  • French [80 million]
  • Italian [65 million]

Want to learn more?  The Ethnologue website is a very fascinating site with lots of great information on this topic and many more.

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