The 5 most spoken languages in the world
Are you thinking about learning a new language? If you are, then you’re probably trying to choose which language to learn. After all, it’s going to take up a lot of time and effort, so you have to choose wisely.
As language is all about communicating, choosing one of the world’s 5 most spoken languages is probably a good idea. You will want to have plenty of opportunities to practise your new language skills.
So what are the 5 most spoken languages in the world?
Thanks to the huge population of China and the thousands of Chinese communities around the world, Chinese is officially the world’s most spoken language with over 1 billion speakers!
Chinese is actually split into a variety of dialects and sub languages, but Mandarin is the main variety and is spoken by the vast majority of Chinese speakers in the world.
- Easy grammar with few tenses
- A rich culture steeped in thousands of years of history
- The tonal system means pronunciation can be tricky
- There’s no alphabet, just pictograms to represent words
The native language of Spain is spoken across the globe today thanks to the explorations of the Spanish conquistadors. Most people associate Spanish with Spain and South America, but it’s also spoken in the Caribbean, the Philippines and across huge swathes of the USA.
In terms of numbers, just counting native speakers alone Spanish is some 400 million speakers ahead of English. When you take learners and second language speakers into account, that number explodes!
- Tenses are similar in meaning and structure to English
- Vocabulary is often recognizable to an English speaker e.g. ‘conexión’ is ‘connection’
- It often sounds like it’s being spoken very quickly
- There are a lot of varieties with their own words and grammar, such as Argentine Spanish which has a completely different word for ‘you’
In terms of native speakers, English has around 360 million or so. This number comes mainly from some of the world’s larger countries, like Australia, the United States and Canada, which all happen to be English speaking – well, predominantly English speaking.
If you count those who speak English as a second language, you’re looking at around half a billion speakers world wide!
English has become very much the lingua franca of business, commerce, science, politics and research. It is the world’s global language. But for how much longer? With Spanish and Chinese on the rise, perhaps English will soon be replaced as the world’s lingua franca.
- Simple grammar with few forms and verb endings
- Vocabulary taken from many other languages, making it rich, varied and easy to learn
- The tense system is complicated with some used more than others
- An irregular spelling system, so a word is often pronounced and written completely differently
The Indian sub continent is huge and India alone has 23 official languages! Hindi is one of them and across the border in Pakistan Urdu is one of the official languages there. There’s also Bengali, spoken in both India and Bangladesh. Together, they’re often called Hindustani and it’s often debated whether this is the same language or not.
Hindi spoken in India is written with the devnagri script, while in Pakistan it is written with Persian notation. This makes learning the written language a challenge, but the spoken language is still incredibly similar.
With a booming population on the Indian sub continent and with communities spread across the world, this language is growing in terms of the number of native speakers and second language users day by day.
- You can use the spoken language in several countries
- Hindi speaking communities are spread across the world, so you will have plenty of opportunities to practise
- Different writing systems with their own scripts depending on which country you’re in
- Lots of dialects and varieties
A bit like Chinese, Arabic has many varieties. In fact, an Arabic speaker from Saudi Arabia would have difficulty speaking with an Arabic speaker from Morocco, unless they both agreed to speak to each other in Modern Standard Arabic. This is the kind of Arabic spoken on news channels and written in books, newspapers and magazines. It’s closely related to the classical Arabic written in the Quran.
That said, there is around a quarter of a billion Arabic speakers in the world, so whatever variety of Arabic you do learn, you’ll definitely be able to find plenty of opportunities to use it.
- A widely spoken language used across the world
- It uses a completely different script
- It isn’t an Indo-European language, meaning initially there will be lots of grammatical and vocabulary differences
So there you have it, the world’s 5 most spoken languages. People often expect to see French and German up there, but with the growing population of China, India and South America, these are no longer some of the world’s most spoken languages.
Which one would you choose to learn?
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A polyglot and international traveller. Anthony speaks 6 languages and loves sharing his passion of language learning through his writing.
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