The 12 most spoken languages in the world


Map of most spoken languages in 2020What are the world’s most spoken languages?

Well, more than 7,100 languages are spoken in the world today. Each and every one of them make the world a diverse and beautiful place.

Sadly, some of these languages are less widely spoken than others. Take Busuu, for example – we’re named after a language spoken by only eight people.

Others are spoken by huge populations across different countries, and are often popular choices among language learners.

Read on for the twelve most spoken languages in the world, in terms of native speakers, and everything you need to know about them.

The top 12 most spoken languages in the world

Most spoken languages in the world - 2020

1. English (1,132 million speakers)

Language family: Germanic, a sub-family of Indo-European

Related to: German, Dutch, Frisian

Fun fact: The English word “goodbye” was originally a contraction of “God be with ye”.

With over 1,130 million native speakers, English is the most spoken language in the world.

It’s also the official language of the sky – all pilots have to speak and identify themselves in English.

Not only is Shakespeare widely considered as one of the greatest dramatists of all time, but over his lifespan he added an incredible amount of about 1,700 words to the English language by changing nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, connecting some words with each other and adding prefixes or suffixes to others.

2. Mandarin Chinese (1,117 million speakers)

Language family: Sino-Tibetan

Related to: Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese

Fun fact: Research suggests that you’ll only need around 2,500 characters to be able to read almost 98 percent of everyday written Chinese.

In terms of native speakers alone, Mandarin Chinese is by far the second most spoken language in the world.

It’s an official language of mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. So it’s not surprising that there are approximately 1.09 million native speakers worldwide.

Mandarin is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word changes based on the way we pronounce it.

With a set of about 50,000 characters, it is probably one of the most complex languages to learn.

But don’t worry: there are no verb conjugations, no tenses and no gender-specific nouns either.

Quite motivating, isn’t it? 

Maybe that’s also why it’s one of the most popular languages to learn today…

3. Hindi (615 million speakers)

Language family: Indo-Ayran, a sub-family of Indo-European

Related to: Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali

Fun fact: If you’re an English speaker, you probably already know some Hindi. Do words like ‘guru’, ‘jungle’, ‘karma’, ‘yoga’, ‘bungalow’, ‘cheetah’ and ‘avatar’ ring a bell? These words (and many more!) have been borrowed from Hindi.

There are about 615 million native Hindi speakers, which makes it the third most spoken language in the world. It’s the official language of India, and is also spoken in countries such as Nepal, Fiji, Mauritius and Guyana.

Hindi is highly influenced by Sanskrit and named after the Persian word hind, which means – quite literally – “Land of the Indus river”.

4. Spanish (534 million speakers)

Language family: Romance, a sub-family of Indo-European

Related to: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian

Fun fact: The first modern novel and the second most translated book after the Bible was written in Spanish. Which novel? It’s Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, of course!

Twenty-two countries over four continents have Spanish as the or one of the official languages, and it’s already the second most studied language in the world.

Can you believe that within three generations, 10 percent of the world’s population will be able to communicate in Spanish?

This is great news for native English speakers.

For Spanish appears to be the easiest foreign language for English speakers to learn! Experts say it takes only 22-24 weeks to reach what’s called general professional proficiency in the language.

5. French (280 million speakers)

Language family: Romance

Related to: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian

Fun fact: About 45 per cent of modern English words are of French origin.

In spite of what Hollywood movies might tell you, the language of love doesn’t solely exist on moonlit walks in Paris.

Spoken across different parts of the world – think everywhere from the rest of France and parts of Canada to a handful of African countries, including Senegal and Madagascar – the French language has spread its roots far and wide.

6. Arabic (274 million speakers)

Language family: Semitic, a sub-family of Afro-Asiatic

Related to: Hebrew, Amharic, Aramaic

Fun fact: Arabic has at least 11 words for love, each of them expressing a different stage in the process of falling in love. Now isn’t that a reason to start learning?

With 295 million native speakers, Arabic is the sixth most spoken language in the world, and the only one in our top twelve that is written from right to left.

It has also heavily influenced European languages like Spanish and Portuguese: some words sound exactly the same.

It’s left its mark on the English language, too. The word coffee, for example, comes from the Arabic word qahwa.

7. Bangla/Bengali (265 million speakers)

Language family: Indo-Aryan, a sub-family of Indo-European

Related to: Hindu, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali

Fun fact: While the Bengali script is relatively unknown in the West, but it’s actually the fifth most widely used writing system in the world!

Bengali, known to many English speakers around the world as Bangla, is mostly spoken in Bangladesh and India and is considered by some to be the second most beautiful language after French.

With around 205 million native speakers, it’s the seventh most spoken language in the world.

The Bengali alphabet is particularly interesting.

Every consonant has a vowel sound built in, which is quite unusual for Westerners.

It gets even better: different marks change the default vowel sound of a word and therefore also the meaning!

8. Russian (258 million speakers)

Language family: East Slavic, a sub-family of Indo-European

Related to: Ukrainian, Belarusian

Fun fact: Due to Russia’s presence in space technology, it is a requirement for foreign astronauts to know a certain amount of Russian (as if becoming an astronaut wasn’t already difficult enough!).

One of the most spread out languages (with around 155 million native speakers living across the world), the eighth most spoken language in the world is Russian.

While Russian grammar is renowned to be a little tricky, Russian only has about 200,000 words (English has roughly one million), which is why most of them have more than one meaning.

9. Portuguese (234 million speakers)

Language family: Romance, a sub-branch of Indo-European

Related to: Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian

Fun fact: Until recently, the letters “k”, “w“ and “y” were not part of the Portuguese alphabet. In 2009, a new agreement was signed to standardise spelling forms across different variations.

Portuguese is rooted in the region of Medieval Galicia (which was partly in the north of Portugal and partly in the northwest of Spain), but only five percent of the 215 million native Portuguese speakers actually live in Portugal.

You probably know that it’s the official language of Brazil, but is also has the sole official status in: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

10. Indonesian (199 million speakers)

Language family: Austronesian

Related to: Malay, Javanese, Sundranese, Madurese etc. 

Fun fact: Along with Malay, it’s up there in the list of most polite languages in the world’s Eastern region.

A standardised variation of Malay, an Austronesian language that’s the official language of Malaysia, Indonesian is a great example of a widely spoken language that encompasses a number of distinct dialects across Indonesia.

And despite Western preconceptions, with a simple structure and easy pronunciation in its favour, Indonesian is surprisingly easy to learn. 

11. Urdu (170 million speakers)  

Language family: Indo-Aryan

Related to: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali

Fun fact: Hindi and Urdu speakers can have a simple conversation just fine – provided they keep things relatively simple!

The lingua franca of Pakistan and very close to Hindi, Urdu has crept up on the most spoken languages list in the last year or so.

Dubbed by some as the language of love for its intriguing-sounding and beautiful words, the French language may have some competition on its hands…  

12. German (132 million speakers)

Language family: West Germanic, a sub-family of Indo-European

Related to: English, Frisian, Dutch

Fun fact: German is known for its seemingly endless sentences.

Often referred to as the language of writers and thinkers, German has just over 100 million native – and just under 32 non-native – speakers worldwide, and is the most spoken language in the European Union.

It’s an official language of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

German is especially well known for its ability to create completely new and super specific words.

That’s probably why it’s so poetic. Schadenfreude, for example, literally means ‘damage happiness’, and is used to describe the happiness or entertainment derived from someone else’s misfortune, injury or pain.

Feeling inspired to learn a new language? 

We’re Busuu, an app that makes mastering a language easier for everyone. Start learning with us today. 

Anna is one of Busuu’s German Language Experts. She is from Potsdam in Germany where she studied German Linguistics and Sociology. She loves writing short stories and anything related to art and design. Her favourite food is cheese!