Most Spoken Languages Around the World
There are over six thousand languages in existence around the world! This may seem like a lot but many of them, the guess is 2,000 only have less 1,000 thousand people who speak in that language. We want to look here not on those but on what are the most spoken languages.
By “most spoken” we are talking about the numbers, how many people actually speak in that language. Let’s take a look at the top ten, some of them are not surprising but a few may be a surprise. We’ll start at number ten and work backwards.
French comes in as number ten. This may be a surprise because French is so well known and widely studied. French is known as one of the Romance languages which were derived from what is call “vulgar Latin”. Vulgar Latin was the Latin spoken by the common people during the time of the great Roman Empire. French is the primary language in France, Brussels Belgium, Monaco, Wallonia, parts of Switzerland and Canada, in total 29 countries. French is also the second language in many parts of Africa like Algeria, the island of Mauritius and Côte d’Ivoire. Not only in Africa but where ever the French influence went especially during colonial times the language followed. The estimate is that there are between 70 and 110 million native speakers and approximately 190 million people who have French as their second language.
Number nine belongs to the Indonesian language which puts it as one of the most spoken languages. We may not think of the country of Indonesia in terms of a Super Power but it has a large population estimated at 245,613,043. One hundred percent of the people there speak Indonesian. The people there may also speak additional languages like Javanese or Sudanese; there are actually 300 native languages in Indonesia. These three languages may are spoken in casual situations but Indonesian is the language spoken formally in schools, the press and government business in general. The Indonesian language is an important part of what binds this very diverse country together.
Number eight is the Portuguese language. Portuguese is another romance language that also came from Vulgar Latin roots. Portuguese is the official government language and of trade which allows them to conduct business with other countries who speak Portuguese like Brazil more easily. Portuguese is recognized as an official European Union language as well as the OAS, Organization of American States, the African Union and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries also call the CPLP. There are eight member countries that make up the CPLP which works to find solutions to problems that come up and has been successful in doing so. The estimate is that there are 240 million people globally who speak Portuguese.
Next at number seven is Bengali also called Bangla. This may be a surprise especially for people in the West. Bengali is what is known as an Indo-Aryan language. Today we call the region formerly known as Bengal, Bangladesh where Bengali is the primary language. To give you some idea of where it is located, Bangladesh is a sovereign country that is bordered on all sides by India and a small southeast border with Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal. Bengali is also spoken in India as a second language, no doubt because the countries are so close together. The number of people who speak Bengali is estimated at 300 million. Here is yet another example of a country’s language binding people together who have different ethnicities.
The Arabic language comes in next as number six and it can be a little confusing to understand. Arabic is used in the Holy Book of Islam, the Quran also called the Koran. Arabic is broken down into two forms. First is the literary language known as Modern Standard Arabic that is also called Literary Arabic. This is for formal use in documents and in official situations. There is also spoken Arabic which comes in a large number of varities this is where Arabic gets tricky. It depends on which country the Arabic is spoken and although it is Arabic it may not be mutually understood among the people. If put under one umbrella however there are estimated 200 million people who have Arabic as their first language and one of most spoken languages. An interesting note is that Arabic is very similar to Hebrew.
Russian is number five. Russia did reign as a Super Power for a number of years and engaged in the infamous Cold War with the United States. The former USSR covered a tremendous amount of territory and thus still remains the primary language of those countries it occupied before the break up in 1991. Russian is one of the Slavic languages and is the primary language in Russia, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. When you count the number of people in Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus alone there are approximately 160 million who have Russian as their first language. The countries that gained their independence have been encouraging their native languages, therefore the Russian language numbers may go down in time, we’ll be watching.
The Spanish language, which is number four, the type I learned in school, is called Castilian Spanish. Spanish is another one of the romance languages. It is one of the official United Nations languages as well as the European Union and Mercosur. Mercosur is comprised of the countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Spanish has approximately 500 million native speakers all over the world and that number is growing. Spanish speakers have been immigrating in large numbers to the United States and other parts of the world. Due to this fact more and more people are learning to speak Spanish as a second language for economic an political reasons. People are also moving to more Spanish speaking countries for economic reasons and warmer climates.
Modern Standard Hindi comes in next at number three. Standard Hindi is the official language of the Republic of India. When you consider the very large population of India the numbers are not surprising. Closely related and extremely similar to Hindi is Urdu. People who speak these languages try to insist that they are separate because of religious and nationalistic problems but actually you can’t tell them apart. There is an estimated over 250 million people who speak Hindi. Standard Hindi used for formal religious and scientific purposes gets a lot from Sanskrit writing. Less formal spoken languages blends different versions of Hindustanti. The more everyday spoken Hindi also includes some English words.
English is number two on our list. English originated in England and spread to Scotland. The history of the spread of the English Empire is reason enough to explain how extensive the English language is today. Next to our upcoming number one language, it is the most studied and primary spoken language of native speakers, approximately 375 million people. English is the language of learning, business, and science. English is also an official language of the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee as well as many others. English literature can be found in most countries and it is one of the most studied in non-English speaking countries.
And finally we finish our list with the number one most spoken language globally which is Mandarin Chinese. In terms of population and land mass of Mainland China, plus Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia gives Mandarin Chinese the numbers hands down. Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China although there are many dialects that could also be called versions of Mandarin. And finally the big number, the 2011 CIA World Factbook has the population of China at an estimated 1,337,798,957 people, that’s billion. China wins!
As promised some of these most spoken languages such as Chinese, Spanish and English were not a big surprise. Bengali and Portuguese being some of the most spoken languages did surprise me. It really all is in one’s perspective, the way you see the world. A more traveled person such as a business man or woman would find these as no surprise. As we open up our world which is taking place these days, we get to look at all corners of the globe. Learning a second or third language really helps us to better understand each other better and see another’s point of view.
Filed under: Foreign Languages
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