The most common languages in the world

Hello lovely students! Knowing what the most common languages in the world are is interesting, but it is more difficult than you might think to put together a list.

Sure, Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish are bound to make an appearance, but what about all those other languages that made the list that you may not know about or be surprised about making the top 10 (I’m looking at you Portuguese)?

Before we look at the world and the most spoken languages in it, I think it would be best for me to let you know that you will be looking at two lists: a list of the top 10 languages with the most native speakers and a list of the top 10 for the most widely spoken languages (whether it be for a native speaker or if you speak the language as a second language).

All the data here has been taken from Ethnologue, which has the most up-to-date language information.

Let’s take a look at some of the most spoken languages on Earth.

There are so many languages across the globe

Top 10 most widely spoken languages

All the languages on the list below are compiled based on the number of people who speak these languages, including non-native speakers and native speakers.

1) English – 1.4 billion speakers

This shouldn’t come as a shock. As the world’s lingua franca, English is the most widely spoken language around the globe. It is spoken in the business and technology worlds, and it is one of the United Nations’ official languages along with Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.

Many other languages borrow English words for daily conversation too (such as the slang term top in Italian which means cool). As English is the most studied language, English speakers are spread all around the globe. It is an Indo-European language and comes from the same language family of the same name.

Learn what countries have English as an official language here.

English has the most speakers in the world

2) Mandarin Chinese – 1.3 billion speakers

This Chinese language is the second most spoken language in the world, and Mandarin Chinese is the first language of more than half of China, which is more than any of the country’s other Chinese dialects. 

Mandarin Chinese has similarities to other languages too, such as the Malay language.

Mandarin is a tonal language and is spoken predominantly in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

Written Mandarin Chinese

3) Hindi – 602 million speakers

Hindi is one of two official languages in India. The other is English. Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language and is one of the many Indian languages in the state (Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati and the Tamil language etc being some of the others). 

They are all closely related languages, but Hindi remains the one that is officially used in India. Outside of India, it is predominantly spoken in Mauritius, the US and South African countries.

Hindi carved into the wall

4) Spanish – 548 million speakers

Most people expect this to be further up the list given that Spanish is a common language in South and Central America. Spanish speakers are widespread around the globe, particularly thanks to the fact that the language is taught a lot in schools. 

It is a romance language and has close links with Italian, French and Portuguese, making it a popular second language to learn for people who are native speakers of those languages.

Spanish book

5) Arabic – 274 million speakers

Modern Standard Arabic is a really interesting language, especially when you consider the history and branches of the language. Did you know for instance that there are 25 countries that consider Arabic as a co-official language? 

These include Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Arabic speakers can be found further afield too, especially in countries where Arabic speakers move to. Modern Standard Arabic is closely related to the classical Arabic of the Qur’an.

 It must be remembered that modern standard Arabic is a new language that was created in the late 19th century so that people with different Arabic dialects could understand each other.

Arabic is spoken in a lot of places

6) French – 274 million speakers

It is not only French citizens who speak the French language. This beautiful romance language can be found all over the world. Many African countries speak French along with African languages, with Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Burundi being a few. 

In Europe, it’s also spoken in Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and all the way across the Atlantic it is a national language spoken in Canada. French has reached every corner of the globe.

The French national flag in Paris with the Eiffel tower in the background

7) Bengali – 273 million speakers

Bengali is mostly spoken in Bangladesh and India, but of course, it is spoken by many people who have roots in these areas too. Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language and it is the official language of Bangladesh.

A book with Bengali in it

8) Russian – 258 million speakers

Russian is part of the Slavic family of languages along with Ukrainian and Belarusian. It is also spoken in former republics of the Soviet Union and was taught extensively in many Eastern European countries. It is the eighth most spoken language in the world.

Books with Russian on them

9) Portuguese – 258 million speakers

Portuguese is not only the official language of Portugal. Portuguese speakers are found in Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor, among other places. Moreover, Brazil is the only country in South America that has Portuguese as an official language. 

Old book with Portuguese in it

10) Urdu – 231 million speakers

Urdu is the official state language of Pakistan and is also recognised in the constitution of India. It exists in communities found in the United Kingdom, the United States and the United Arab Emirates too. 

A little-known, interesting fact is that Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible.

Now that you know the most widely spoken languages in the world, let’s take a look at languages with the most native speakers.

Words on the walls of a building

Top 10 languages with native speakers

The languages below have the most mother-tongue speakers.

  1. Mandarin – 900 million native speakers
  2. Spanish – 475 million native speakers
  3. English – 373 million native speakers
  4. Arabic – 362 million native speakers
  5. Hindi – 344 million native speakers
  6. Bengali – 234 million native speakers
  7. Portuguese – 232 million native speakers
  8. Russian – 154 million native speakers
  9. Japanese – 125 million native speakers
  10. Lahanda – 101 million native speakers
There are many native speakers in these languages

And there you have it! Not one but two complete lists of the most common languages in the world. I hope you’ve learnt a lot.

Is that everything?

Absolutely not! Take a look at the video below on my youtube channel, English with Lucy.