Top 10 Languages

Of the world

Wikipedia defines a world language as a language spoken and “learned by a large number of people as a second language” and “characterized not only by the total number of speakers (native and second language speakers), but also by its geographical distribution, as well as use in international organizations and diplomatic relations.”

So what makes a top 10 language?

Importantly, the dominant world languages originate in Western Europe. Likewise, they became so due to colonial expansion that these countries practised. According to Ethnologue, currently, there are over 7,000 known living languages.

English: the favorite child?

Considered the official language of business, English is widely spoken and continues to spread at a rapid pace. Consequently, it is the second language taught in most non-English speaking countries and is considered a major language in the fields of science, industry, finance, and business.

What are the most spoken languages?

Ways to measure the world’s most spoken languages vary and depends on the criteria. For example, some languages have major variants (e.g. Chinese variants). However, if we base this on the estimated number of native speakers, the list below captures (circa 2016) the top 10 languages of the world. 

The Top 10 Languages (no order):

  • Mandarin (Chinese)
  • Spanish
  • English
  • Hindu/Urdu
  • Arabic
  • Portuguese
  • Bengali
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Punjabi

Estimating the total number of native speakers is part science, \part guesswork. The top 3 (in order) are generally accepted to be Mandarin, Spanish, and English. Here are 3 notable exceptions that fall outside the top 10, but are well-known in international circles. (Listed with approximate speakers).

  • German [95 million]
  • French [80 million]
  • Italian [65 million]

Want to learn more?  The Ethnologue website contains great information on the topic.


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