Language is the foundation of all learning, a vital skill that we learn from a young age and carry with us for the rest of our lives. Meanwhile, learning a second, or even third, new language can be a powerful tool that opens up a wealth of new opportunities in far flung places, particularly in a world which is more globalized than ever before. Incredibly, studies suggest there are more than 7,000 different languages spoken by people all around the world. Of these thousands, only around 23 take up half of the world’s population. Of them all, these are the top 7 most spoken languages, according to 2023 analytical statistics.
Including both natives and non-natives, English is the most spoken language in the world, with approximately 1.4 billion speakers. Little wonder then that English is a native language across more than 60 different countries, while many, many more are fluent in English as a second language. Intriguingly, as far as native speakers go the numbers are less; there are nearly 400 million people in the world who speak English as their mother tongue. The most prominent of these are the United States, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand.
2. Mandarin Chinese
By comparison, approximately 1.118 billion people speak Mandarin Chinese worldwide. It is the official language of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore, while Mandarin Chinese is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Tibet. Chinese people and communities live all around the world and continue to speak Mandarin Chinese as either a first or second language, meaning the language is spoken in nations around the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius and Madagascar. However, it is worth noting that some Chinese communities also speak Cantonese, as is the case in New York’s Chinatown. As far as native speakers go, Mandarin is much higher than English, with 929 million first language speakers.
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Studies show Hindi is the third most spoken language in the world, with approximately 615 million speakers worldwide. This statistic from the 25th edition of Ethnologue includes both first and second language speakers. Hindi is the official language of India, and it is also spoken in numerous other countries in differing dialects. Many speak Hindi as a second language, including Mauritius, Suriname, Nepal, Trinidad, Tobago and the United States, among others. Meanwhile 343.9 million people speak Hindi as a first, native language.
According to a poll in 2022, Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world, with 548 million speakers including first and second language. However, Spanish has the second highest number of native speakers in the world, at 474.7 million, and is the most spoken of all the Romance languages (which are derived from ancient Rome). Looking at the world map, there are 21 different Spanish speaking countries, including Spain, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Peru and Puerto Rico. Many others have strong Spanish speaking communities, particularly the United States.
Coming in 5th place worldwide, French has at least 300 million speakers worldwide, and 79.9 million mother tongue speakers. 29 different countries use French as their official, formal language, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, Switzerland, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Rwanda and Senegal. Meanwhile France has 11 Overseas Territories spread across the world which speak French, including French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, and New Caledonia.
6. Arabic (Modern)
Arabic as a whole is spoken across 26 different countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, but each has developed their own distinct dialects that differ from one another. Curiously, the language known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is rarely actually spoken in day-to-day life, as it is reserved for written form, or a means of global communication for speakers of one dialect to communicate with another. This means there are no actual native speakers of Modern Standard Arabic, but there are 274 million speakers who do use this dialect for communication. Meanwhile, if we group together all the Arabic dialects, there are around 422 million native and non-native speakers worldwide.
The official language of Bangladesh, Bengali, is spoken by 233.7 million first language speakers, while 272.7 million people speak the language in varying dialects worldwide. Bengali is less widespread than many of the other languages on our list, spreading from Bangladesh into certain areas of India and Burma, and as a second language in areas including Canada and the United States. However, the high numbers of Bengali speakers reveal just how highly populated this part of the world really is.