We just stepped into a brand new year. So, what were some new year’s resolutions you have decided for 2022? Working out more often, eating more healthily, reading more books, learning a new language…
Wait, did I hear “learning a new language”?
Then knowing the most spoken languages in the world can be very helpful to you! Or to anyone who is curious to know what the newest language trend is.
There are usually two ways of ranking the most spoken languages: by the total number of native speakers, or just all speakers regardless of their mother tongues. We feel that it will give a more accurate overview of the newest language trend by accounting for both native speakers and language learners.
In this article, we will show you the top 10 most spoken languages in the world by the total number of speakers, while indicating the breakdown of native and non-native speakers. In addition, we will give some background info and fun facts about each language as well. The data has yet to be updated for 2022, but rest assured that this ranking is still a pretty accurate pointer, as per the Ethnologue guide.
What are the Top 10 most spoken languages in the world?
1. English (1.34 Billion)
- Total native speakers: 369.9 M
- Total non-native speakers: 978.2 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Early medieval England
- Official language in: 67 countries, the UN
- Language family: Indo-European; Germanic
- Related languages: German, Dutch, Frisian
- Fun facts: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (a lung disease) is the longest English word
We all know that English is seen as the lingua franca of the world; it is no wonder English is still #1 on the list of most spoken languages in the world. English has widely spread around the world, thanks to the British Empire’s colonization during the late 18th century.
Today, English remains the official language all the way from Australia and New Zealand, to Asia in Hong Kong, Singapore, and India, to Africa in Egypt, Sudan, and Nigeria, and of course, to the USA and Canada in North America. The economic and cultural influence of the USA also contributes a lot to the importance and popularity of English around the world.
Modern English has been heavily influenced by many different languages; the vocabulary is constantly developing and expanding. Much of the vocabulary is originated in Latin, while the sentence structure is closest to German and Dutch.
Furthermore, in terms of traveling and language learning, here are more fun facts: according to the EF English Proficiency Index in 2019, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Singapore are the 5 countries with the highest English proficiency nationally. So, where is your country on the list?
2. Mandarin Chinese / 中文/ 普通話 (1.12 Billion)
- Total native speakers: 921.2 M
- Total non-native speakers: 198.7 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: China
- Official language in: China, Taiwan, Singapore, the UN
- Language family: Sino-Tibetan; Sinitic
- Related languages: Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese
- Fun facts: There are 50,000 characters in total but only 2,500 are used in daily life
“Mandarin” can be directly translated as the “official language” or “common speech” in English. Even though Old Mandarin is dated back to 959, Mandarin, which is spoken in China and learned by most foreign learners today, was only established in 1932 after a process of National Language Unification.
Even though many people just refer to “Mandarin Chinese” as “Chinese,” it is far from being a singular language. In fact, the local varieties of Chinese can be roughly classified into seven dialect groups. Cantonese (廣東話), which is the native to Hong Kong and Macau, is the most well-known one that is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin.
Due to China’s gigantic population (1.4 Billion) and a rising economy, Mandarin has gained significant recognition in the last two decades. If you are considering picking up a new language in 2022 – for travel, work, or for fun – Mandarin could be a very good go-to! Swap Language will gladly start the journey with you too.
3. Hindi / हिन्दी (600 Million)
- Total native speakers: 342.2 M
- Total non-native speakers: 258.3M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Northern India
- Official language in: India
- Language family: Indo-European; Indo-Aryan
- Related languages: Bengali, Kashmiri, Nepali, Urdu
- Fun facts: Avatar, Guru, Pajamas, and Shampoo are all examples of loanwords from Hindi
India is another linguistically rich country, with Hindi being the most spoken among the 23 official languages. It comes from the northern parts of India with numerous varieties and dialects. In the 1950s, the Indian government completed the standardization of Hindi, especially in terms of grammar and orthography.
On September 14, 1949, Hindi, written in the Devanagari script, was recognized as the official language of India. As a result, this day is now celebrated as “Hindi Divas,” or Hindi Day.
You may have heard of “Bollywood” (Bombay+ Hollywood), which is the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai (previously called Bombay), India. Bollywood – not Hollywood surprisingly – actually owns the largest film production in the world. So if you like foreign movies, learning Hindi might help you enjoy these awesome Bollywood movies! And of course the Indian culture itself.
4. Spanish / Español / Castellano (543 Million)
- Total native speakers: 471.4 M
- Total non-native speakers: 71.5 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Iberian Peninsula in Europe
- Official language in: 20 countries, the UN
- Language family: Indo-European; Romance
- Related languages: French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian
- Fun facts: The USA has more Spanish speakers than Spain
Número cuatro (4): Español! Spanish has always been one of the most spoken languages in the world. It is the official language in Spain and 19 other countries (mostly in the Americas) that were Spanish colonies during the 16-19th century. If you are thinking of a useful language to learn for travel’s sake, Spanish may be a good choice!
Spanish is also the unofficial second language in the US, because of previous Spanish settlements in several states, and emigration from Mexico, Central & South America. Therefore, knowing Spanish is a huge advantage if you are seeking jobs in the US as well.
There are notable differences among different varieties of Spanish in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation/accent. For example, “computer” is called “ordenador” in Spain-Spanish and “computadora” in American Spanish. “Gracias” is likely pronounced as “gra-See-ahs” in Latin America but “gra-THee-ahs” in Spain. Fear not, they are still all mutually understandable, like Australian English and American English.
5. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)/ ٱلْعَرَبِيَّة (274 Million)
- Total native speakers: 0
- Total non-native speakers: 274 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Northwestern Arabia
- Official language in: 25-27 countries (depending on sources), the UN
- Language family: Afro-Asiatic; Semitic
- Related languages: Hebrew, Amharic, and Aramaic
- Fun facts: “zaay” in the abjad (alphabet) system looks very much like a semi-colon:
” ز ”
Standard Arabic is a special language in different ways. You probably looked at that “Native Speakers: 0” and thought that was a mistake, right? Nope, it’s not. Ethnologue is one of the leading resources for linguistic information and statistics, and they categorize native speakers as zero.
MSA is a standardized version of Arabic that removes dialect specific vernaculars to create a common language that can be used by all Arabic speakers. All Arabic speaking countries use MSA for written text, formal speech, media, law, etc.
There are actually 315 million Arabic speakers, if you count all varieties. However, the standard version is what is taught in formal education in most Arabic states. Lingo24 says that many speakers mix MSA and their local dialect for everyday use, and that no one speaks just MSA. For this reason, it’s also sometimes referred to as a “standard” rather than a language.
Learning MSA could be your gateway to learning to speak several Arabic dialects – how cool is that? Let’s look at some of the common traits in any Arabic variety. Firstly, many of you may know, Arabic is written and read from right to left. And there are unique sounds in Arabic that do not exist in any other languages; for example. “ح” (an exaggerated “H” sound).
Unlike English or many western languages, Arabic words are constructed based on roots. For example, “كَتَبَ” (k-t-b) means “writing,” and other words related to writing are built on this root: kataba (he wrote); kātib (writer). It’s different but very systematic.
Besides that, if you have a creative mind that wants to try reading things “backward”, and explore new sounds, Arabic could be your next language!
6. Bengali / বাংলা (268 Million)
- Total native speakers: 228.7 M
- Total non-native speakers: 39M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Bengal, now part of India & Bangladesh
- Official language in: Bangladesh and 4 states of India
- Language family: Indo-European; Indo-Aryan
- Related languages: Hindi, Kashmiri, Nepali
- Fun facts: Bengali is often called the 2nd most beautiful language after French.
The languages you have read about so far may not be a big surprise, but Bengali??! Did you expect Bengali to be among the most spoken languages in the world? That’s right, #6!
Bengali may not be a familiar language to many, so here is some quick history. It originated from the Partition of Bengal, which was divided in 1947 – West Bengal is now part of India, while East Bengal is now part of Bangladesh. In fact, the national anthem of both Bangladesh and India are written in Bengali.
Bengal uses its own special script, Bangla (or Bengali) script. Historically, it was used to write Sanskrit in Bengali and is now one of the world’s most widely used writing systems. Related languages in the region also use the Bengali alphabet, with minor or no changes to fit the dialect.
It has also become the honorary official language of Sierra Leone since 2002 in remembrance of the Bangladeshi peacekeeping forces’ contribution during SL’s civil war.
In addition, to all English speakers who want to learn Bengali in 2022, we’ve got some good news! The grammar of Bengali is gender-free, which means you won’t need to go through the pain of memorizing the gender of every word. (I still remember when I was first learning Spanish…)
7. French / Le français (267 Million)
- Total native speakers: 79.2 M
- Total non-native speakers: 187.4 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Northern France
- Official language in: 29 countries, the UN
- Language family: Indo-European; Romance
- Related languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian
- Fun facts: No genuine French word has the letter “w” in it!
French, often crowned as the most romantic language, is up to #7.
Besides France, there are also “francophone regions” in several countries around the world. For example, southern Belgium, the province of Quebec in Canada, western Switzerland, some parts of Luxembourg, and some states in the US, like Louisiana and Maine.
French is the third most spoken language in the EU, but the majority of the world’s French speakers actually come from Africa. It’s estimated that across at least 34 African countries, 141 million people speak African French as either their first or second language. This is the result of the history of violent French conquests in Africa and the following colonialism that lasted until around 1980.
French grammar can be seen as a simplified version of Latin grammar. Unlike Spanish, French is not spelled phonetically, and some letters are silent, for example, the final consonant of a word. This can be a bit challenging for new learners, but we’ve got a solution! You can find a native French speaker (or any other language partners) to practice with on Swap Language, for free!
8. Russian / русский язык (258 Million)
- Total native speakers: 153.7 M
- Total non-native speakers: 104.4 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Russia
- Official language in: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, The UN
- Language family: Indo-European; Slavic
- Related languages: Ukrainian, Belarusian
- Fun facts: “Vodka” is a loanword from Russian, oh yeahhh!
Even though Russian is the official language of only 5 countries, it is widely spoken throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian was and is still spoken as the first language of the older generation in all post-Soviet nation-states. In Kyiv, Ukraine, for example, many young people also prefer to still speak Russian in their daily lives.
Russian is certainly a useful language to learn if you are traveling around Eurasia. Or, if you happen to want to be an astronaut, you are required to have working proficiency in Russian. What? Yeah, that is because of Russia’s influence on space technology.
Most importantly, even though Russian grammar and stress patterns could be hard to learn, it is also a relief to know that 10% of Russian words are very similar to their English counterparts. For example: “Кофе” (kofi) is “coffee”, “аэропо́рт” (aeropórt) is “airport,” and a lot more!
9. Portugese / Português (258 Million)
- Total native speakers: 234.2 M
- Total non-native speakers: 25.2 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: Iberian Peninsula in SW Europe
- Official language in: 10 countries
- Language family: Indo-European; Romance
- Related languages: Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian
- Fun facts: The letters k, y, and w weren’t added to Portuguese writing until in 2009.
Portuguese is a close relative of Spanish and French because these all belong to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. Moreover. if you already know one of those, that means you are ahead of the game in picking up Portuguese.
As a result of Portugal’s colonial expansion, Portuguese is the most spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere and the second most spoken in Latin America after Spanish. It is also a co-official language of Macau, a special administrative region of China. Only 5% of Portuguese speakers actually live in Portugal.
If you are into Portuguese culture or Brazilian music, why not dive right in by starting to learn Portuguese in 2022? One tip, though – there are some differences in terms of accent, spelling and grammar between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. Consequently, which one you should choose will depend on your personal motives.
10. Urdu / اُردُو (230 Million)
- Total native speakers: 69 M
- Total non-native speakers: 161 M
- Country/ Geographic origin: India and Pakistan
- Official language in: Pakistan, India
- Language family: Indo-European; Indo-Aryan
- Related languages: Hindi, Persian, Arabic
- Fun facts: Urdu is famous for being a beautiful language on par with French, due to it’s gentle, poetic and descriptive nature, as well as the flow of it’s pronunciation.
Lastly, Urdu as the #10 most spoken language may or may not be a surprise, depending on your knowledge about the Indian subcontinent.
Urdu uses the Persio-Arabic script, which, as the name implies, is heavily adapted from the Arabic and Persian alphabets. The phonetic pronunciation is different in many cases though, and sounds a lot like Hindi.
In fact, Urdu and standardized Hindi can be very hard to distinguish for non-native speakers. They sound so similar, simply because they are slight variants of each other! They both have a vocabulary base derived from Sanskrit, and share similar grammar and phonology. Although, Urdu has more influence from Persian, while, Hindi draws more from Sanskrit.
During the 12th to 16th century, Muslim and Hindu cultures came into contact as a result of the on-going Islamic conquests. This brought on an infusion of northern Old Hindi and Persian, creating Hindustani – a polycentric language that became the lingua franca of Pakistan and Northern India. Hindustani is also called Hindi-Urdu, because although the two languages have different scripts, they are mutually intelligible in speech!
Urdu combines a lot of beautiful aspects from several languages, and you’ll easily be able to practice, as it’s estimated that at least 800 million people speak Hindustani. On top of this, Urdu literature and poetry is infamous for it’s beauty. So if languages like Arabic or Hindi have peaked your interest, maybe consider Urdu before you choose!
4 Tips on how to choose a language to learn
Now you know the most spoken languages in the world, as well as some background and fun facts about each of them. Are you still unsure which one to learn in 2022? Here are some general tips to help guide you:
1. Consider your motives
We have mentioned some of it before, but just as a recap, ask yourself, “why do I want to learn a new language?”
- Culture: food, movies, music, customs
- Travel: communication with locals, understanding your surroundings, immersion
- Work: international business/marketing, communicating with foreign colleagues or customers
- Other: family heritage/root, migration, hobby
- Do you want to master writing, reading, speaking, and listening, or focus on certain aspects?
2. Consider your mother tongue
- Which language is closer to your mother tongue, i.e. easier to pick up?
- What differences are there in terms of grammar, pronunciation, script, sentence structure, alphabetical system, etc.?
3. Consider your available time and resources
- Are there classes, textbooks, and/or other learning resources, of the language you want to learn, in your local communities?
- How much time (i.e. per week) can you dedicate to learning a new language?
The chart below shows the four difficulty levels of the top 10 most spoken languages, including the number of weeks needed to gain proficiency. The difficulty estimation is based on how long it would approximately take an English speaker to learn these languages.
|I||26 weeks||French, Portuguese, Spanish|
|II & III||34-48 weeks||Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Russian|
|IV||64 weeks||Arabic, Mandarin Chinese|
How Swap Language can help?
Additionally, Swap Language (SWL) offers different services (free and paid) and events to help you break down language and cultural barriers:
- Free SWL tandem partner (who is a native speaker)
- Danish lessons. Grammar, vocabulary and culture, taught by native speakers.
In conclusion, no matter the language you will choose, we wish you lots of luck, motivation, and patience. Make it fun and don’t forget to enjoy the process!