With roughly 7,000 beautiful and diverse languages spoken in the world today, there are many incredible languages to explore. 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 many different countries, making them popular choices among language learners.
If your language-learning goals include communicating with others or boosting your career, you may want to consider learning one of the most spoken languages in the world (according to Ethnologue).
So, to learn more about the twelve most spoken languages in 2023 in terms of total speakers, read on!
Language family: Germanic, a subfamily 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 1.4 Billion 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 considered one of the greatest dramatists of all time, but over his lifespan he added an incredible amount of words to the English language – about 1,700, to be exact. How’d he do it? By changing nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, connecting some words with each other and adding prefixes or suffixes to others.
Language family: Sino-Tibetan
Related to: Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese
Fun fact: Research suggests that – though Mandarin Chinese has as many as 50,000 characters – you’ll only need around 2,500 characters to be able to read around 98 percent of everyday written Chinese.
In terms of native speakers alone, Mandarin Chinese is by far the most spoken language in the world, and when you count those who speak it as a second language, it comes in at a close second to English for the total number of speakers.
It’s an official language of mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Plus it’s used, along with English, as a lingua franca for business and tourism in some other parts of Asia. So it’s not surprising that there are approximately 1.1 Billion speakers worldwide!
Mandarin is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word changes based on the way the pitch of your voice rises and falls when you pronounce it.
That, plus those 50,000 characters, makes it one of the most complex languages to learn.
But don’t worry: there are no verb conjugations, no tenses and no gender-specific nouns in Mandarin Chinese, so learning it might not be as hard as it sounds – especially if you have more of a musical ear and less of a knack for complex grammar.
Language family: Indo-Aryan, a subfamily 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 610 million Hindi speakers, making it the third most spoken language in the world. It’s the official language of India, but 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.”
Language family: Romance, a subfamily 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? Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, of course!
22 countries over four continents have Spanish as one of their official languages, and it’s already the second most-studied language in the world.
In fact, researchers believe that, within three generations, ten percent of the world’s population will be able to communicate in Spanish!
This is great news for native English speakers. After all, our language experts deemed Spanish to be the easiest foreign language for English speakers to learn! Experts say it takes just 22 to 24 weeks to reach general professional proficiency in the language.
Learn quickly with Busuu’s free online courses, and order your next cup of coffee in Spanish when you travel to 22 Spanish-speaking countries! Start learning Spanish today!
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 – from the rest of France and parts of Canada, to French Polynesia and the Caribbean, to a number of African countries, including Senegal and Madagascar – the French language has spread its roots far and wide. And it’s still growing! While many of the less spoken languages globally are starting to die out, French is one of the 10 fastest growing languages in the world, along with several other languages on this list.
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 274 million 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 thanks to many years of cross-cultural exchange and occupations between Southern Spain and North Africa. In fact, some words sound exactly the same across the different languages.
And Arabic has left its mark on the English language, too. The word coffee, for example, comes from the Arabic word qahwa, and many words in math and science have Arabic roots, including ‘algebra,’ ‘alkaline,’ and ‘chemistry.’
Language family: Indo-Aryan, a subfamily of Indo-European
Related to: Hindu, Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali
Fun fact: Though the Bengali script is relatively unknown in the West, it’s actually the fifth most widely-used writing system in the world!
Bengali, sometimes called Bangla in English, is mostly spoken in Bangladesh and India. It is considered by some to be the second most beautiful language after French.
With around 273 million speakers, it’s the seventh most spoken language in the world.
The Bengali alphabet is particularly interesting. It’s actually what’s called a syllabary, like you see in Hangul in Korean and in Japanese hiragana and katakana. That means every consonant has a vowel sound built in, which is quite unusual for most Westerners.
In Bengali writing, different marks then change the default vowel sound of a syllable and, in doing so, change the meaning of the word!
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 standardize 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 a small percent of the 263 million Portuguese speakers actually live in Portugal.
You probably know that it’s the official language of Brazil, which has a population of around 214 million people. But you might be surprised to learn that Portuguese also has the sole official status in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe!
Language family: East Slavic, a subfamily 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!).
With around 255 million speakers living across the world, the ninth most spoken language in the world is Russian. Russian speakers are also among the most spread out in the world, thanks both to Russia’s large geographical size and history, including the use of the Russian language across the former Soviet Union. Today, there are roughly 1 million native Russian speakers in Israel and over 2 million in Germany, plus millions more in neighboring countries like Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
While Russian grammar is renowned to be a little tricky, Russian only has about 200,000 words. (For context, English has roughly 1 million!)
While this makes memorizing vocabulary a little easier, to make up for the difference, many of those 200,000 words have more than one meaning.
Language family: Indo-Aryan
Related to: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali
Fun fact: 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!
Hindi and Urdu speakers can have a simple conversation just fine, provided they keep things relatively simple. After all, Urdu is the lingua franca of Pakistan and linguistically very close to Hindi.
Urdu, which is also spoken to a lesser extent in India, Nepal, South Africa, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and has been making its way up the most spoken languages list in the last few years.
Language family: Austronesian
Related to: Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese etc.
Fun fact: Indonesian is the name for the standardized lingua franca used in Indonesia, but there are over 700 indigenous languages across the Indonesian archipelago!
Indonesian is a standardized variation of Malay, the official language of Malaysia. It’s the official language of Indonesia, which makes it a shoe-in for most spoken languages. After all, Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world by population.
Indonesian is a great example of a widely spoken language that encompasses a number of distinct dialects. Most Indonesians speak at least one of the many, many other languages found around the country.
And despite Western preconceptions, with relatively simple structure and easy pronunciation in its favor, Indonesian is surprisingly easy to learn.
Language family: West Germanic, a subfamily of Indo-European
Related to: English, Frisian, Dutch
Fun fact: Thanks to the way German grammar works, German is known for its seemingly endless sentences.
Often referred to as the language of writers and thinkers, German has around 95 million native – and just over 38 million non-native – speakers worldwide, and is the most spoken native language among citizens of 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 capture unique ideas and feelings.
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. Kummerspeck, literally ‘grief bacon,’ refers to weight gained from emotional eating.
Ready to learn one of the languages in our top 12 list?
Busuu offers 14 languages for you to choose from. Pick a language today and start your journey with our free online courses and resources designed by language experts.
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