Updated 1/18/2022

Have you ever been wondering about how many languages there are in the world? Well, the answer might surprise you. With “only” 195 countries in the world, the total number of different languages spoken is impressive.

According to the Ethnologue guide, there are 7,139 officially known languages in the world, but this number is declining.

We still discover new languages in specific unexplored parts of the world. However, many languages are in danger of being lost.

Around 40% of all languages have less than 1000 speakers, and they are no part of the school curriculum. Therefore, we expect these languages to become extinct within the next century.

When counting the total number of global languages, it is essential to distinguish between what is a language and what is a dialect. Do you know the difference?

The Difference Between Language and Dialect

7,117 different languages is a high number, and you might wonder whether it includes different dialects around the world? No, surprisingly not! The statistic refers to officially known languages that all have the characteristics of a language.

A language is, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, categorized as a communication system that people use in a particular country.

A dialect, on the other hand, is defined as a language form used by people living in a specific part of a country. To distinguish between a language and a dialect, you can say that a language is both spoken and written. A dialect is usually only spoken.

For instance, Denmark is a small country in Europe with 5.6 million people who speak 32 different dialects. These dialects are similar to a certain level and therefore categorized as an official language, Danish.

How do different languages spread out?

There are 2,294 different languages registered in Asia and 2,144 in the African continent. In America, people speak 1,061 different languages, and in the Pacific- 1,313.

In the 44 different countries in Europe, there are 287 different languages, according to the Ethnologue Guide.

These numbers tell us that each continent is an individual and complex universe of different communication systems and forms. And seen from an overall perspective, the different languages and dialects play a vital role in creating linguistic and cultural diversity all around the world.

Which one is the universal language?

When talking about the total number of languages, it is relevant to look at the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.

In the following we will give you a sneak peek at the top 5 most spoken languages in 2022:

1: English is the language with most speakers

When talking about the most prominent language, it is necessary to clarify whether you refer to the language with most native-speakers or speakers in general regardless of their mother tongues.

In 2022 English had the bigger number of speakers in the world- 1.34 billion, both native and non-native. 369.9 million people have English as their mother tongue, and 978.2 million people speak English as a secondary language.

English is a lingua franca, which means that it is the language we use when talking to people with whom we cannot communicate in any other language. This role of the English language is probably why it’s the most spoken language in the world today.

Are you an English learner? Check out How to Learn English Fast: 10 ways that work.

2: Mandarin Chinese is the second biggest language

With 1.12 billion speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the second biggest language. The proportion of native- and non-native speakers is quite different from the English language.

The total number of people who speak Mandarin Chinese as their native language is 921.2 million people and 198.7 million non-native speakers. Besides China, Mandarin Chinese is the official language in Taiwan and Singapore.

This means that even though English cannot compete with Mandarin Chinese in native-speakers, the English language is very predominant thanks to its role as lingua franca.

3: Hindi is the third most spoken language in the world

Out of the 600 million people in total who speak Hindi, 342.2 million people have Hindi as their mother tongue, and 258.3 million people are non-native speakers. Hindi is the language of India, but actually, in India alone, there are 23 official languages.

4: Spanish comes in as the fourth biggest language

Learn Spanish for beginners

Spanish is the official language in 20 countries, and it used to be the universal language in the world. Today 543 million people in total speak Spanish, 471.4 million native speakers, and 71.5 million non-native speakers. Are you an eager Spanish learner? Check out the Best ways to learn Spanish fast.

5: Arabic is the fifth biggest language in the world

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) has 274 million speakers in total, all of whom are considered non-native speakers. This standardized version of Arabic removes dialect specific vernaculars to create a common language that can be used by all Arabic speakers. However, it is learned in school as a secondary language to supplement the students’ native Arabic dialects, and this means that no speakers of MSA are “native”.

If you’d like to read more about MSA, and the top 10 spoken languages in the world, click here!

Now you are ready to impress

Next time your friends talk about which language is the most spoken in the world, now you can enter that discussion.

If you want to take on the role of the language specialist in your group of friends, here is an idea. Lead with name-dropping the top five most spoken languages in the world, and then explain the difference between language and dialect. Then we are sure you will earn some street credit.

With 7,139 different languages in the world, there is also a language for you to learn. Go to Swap Language and find out more about how to learn a new language in the best way possible: talk to natives.

Happy language-learning!