Want to know which is the most spoken language on our planet? The answer depends on whether you count native speakers only or if you rank the most spoken languages in the world by the total number of speakers.
What is the most spoken language in the world?
Chinese (Mandarin) is the most spoken language in the world with 1.3 billion native speakers.
How many languages are there in the world?
Expert linguists estimate that there are 6500 spoken languages in the world.
Most spoken languages in the world by native speakers
This is the updated list of the most spoken languages in the world in 2020 by first-language speakers.
If you include all forms of the Chinese language, there are about 1.3 billion native speakers, which makes it the most spoken language in the world. However, Chinese is not really a single language, but rather a related group of languages where Mandarin is by far the most spoken version.
Mandarin (Putonghua) is the native language of about 1 billion people, mostly living in China. It is also the official language of Taiwan and Singapore as well as the co-official language in Hong Kong and Macau.
Native speakers: 1.3 billion
Spanish explorers and the conquistadors spread their language worldwide during colonial times and because of that more than 460 million people have Spanish as their native language.
Spain has only a population of 46,7 million people, so only about 10% of the total native speakers live in Spain. It’s the primary language in most of South- and Central America and has quickly increased in the U.S as well.
Native speakers: 460 million
English might be the universal language of the world, but when it comes to native speakers, only 379 million people have English as their first language, whereas most are from the United States and the United Kingdom.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely one of many in the world who’s learned English as a second language.
Native speakers: 379 million
Hindi is one of the most spoken languages in the world when it comes to native speakers. It’s the primary language in Northern India and some parts of Pakistan.
As India’s population grows, the world will see more Hindi speakers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also seeks to spread the language and increase its status and usage in the country.
India currently has 23 official languages, and Hindi is one of the most spoken languages in India.
Native speakers: 341 million
Just like Chinese, the Arabic language is not really a single language, but rather a group of related languages with local varieties. The
Modern Standard Arabic in the script is more or less the same as the classical Arabic, found in the Quran, but when it comes to speech, some forms of Arabic can be so different that two speakers from two separate countries might not understand each other fully.
Native speakers: 319 million
This is the main language of Kolkata in India, as well as the 170 million Bangladeshis who speak Bengali as their first language. The population growth here is increasing rapidly, so in the near future, there will likely be a lot more Bengali speakers.
Native speakers: 228 million
Another colonial powerhouse that spread its language is Portugal and the Portuguese language. It is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
More than 221 million people have Portuguese as their first language.
Native speakers: 221 million
Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world with more than 154 million native speakers. Most of them are living in Russia or former countries of the Soviet Union.
Many of the world’s most famous authors, poets and writers had Russian as their first language.
Native speakers: 154 million
Almost all of the Japanese native speakers live in Japan, and the language is quite unique since the script consists of three different alphabets, hiragana, and katakana (transcript for foreign words) as well as Kanji (Chinese characters).
It is the world’s most highly geographically concentrated language. Outside of Japan, most native speakers can be found in Brazil, The Philippines, and the U.S, which all have a history of embracing Japanese immigrants.
Native speakers: 128 million
The Punjabi language is spoken in parts of India and Pakistan. Lahnda is simply the Pakistani Punjab, and what’s fascinating about this language is not only that it is one of the most spoken languages in the world, but also the fact that more than 50% of the chart-toppers in India are sung in Punjabi.
Native speakers: 119 million
Most spoken language in the world by the total number of speakers
English is the most spoken language in the world by the total number of speakers. Numbers vary, but English is spoken as a second language in more than 146 countries, and the number of people worldwide learning English is still increasing.
However, indications are that the Chinese language will overtake the first position among the total number of speakers, soon as well. But English is likely to remain the most influential language in the world for a long period of time.
English was primarily spread during colonial times and has continued to be important because of the fact that the United States of America has been the world superpower for centuries along with the United Kingdom.
List of the world’s most spoken languages by the total number of speakers
More info about the most spoken languages in the world 2019
Numbers can vary a lot because the information is usually gathered by various sources and dates. Most national censuses don’t collect statistics on native speakers and second-language speakers.
So, the numbers are just estimates, and can thus be off by a few percentages up or down. With that said, it’s also hard to draw a line for when someone can be included as a speaker of a language. Should only fluent speakers count? Or should you also include those who can speak almost fluently that are able to have daily conversations on various topics?
It takes some time to become fluent in a language and depending on who you ask, the bar for being accounted as fluent in a language can be quite high, that some natives won’t even be able to meet.
As you see, the answer on which is the world’s most spoken languages is not set to stone. But with the current numbers, you can get rough estimates and insights on how many speakers the most spoken languages in the world have.
One other interesting aspect is the fact that there are countries with rapid population growth, which means that some languages will get even more speakers in total numbers in the future, and then there is a shift in global dominance where Chinese and Spanish is taking grounds from English.
While English is still de facto the universal language, more and more learn Chinese and Spanish. My estimate is that Spanish will gain more importance since it’s such a widespread language, and also because of a big share of the U.S population has Spanish as their native language alongside English.
And then we have a situation where China is increasing their power and influence around the world, especially in Africa and Asia. China is the most populated country on Earth with 1.4 billion inhabitants, and the government is making efforts to unify the country with one language.
How many of the most spoken languages in the world did you know? Leave a comment below!