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What Are The Most Widely Spoken Languages?

What are the most widely spoken languages in the world? Well, some of them are no-brainers, like English! Or maybe you were thinking Chinese, and yes that`s one of them. But what other languages are spoken by similarly staggering numbers of people? Let`s look at the top most commonly spoken languages.

We can answer this question in two ways: by number of native speakers, or by total number of speakers – since some languages are used as lingua-francas by non-native speakers. Let`s examine both.

Here is a list compiled by George Weber in Language Today, of the top languages based on number of native speakers:

Map of most widely spoken languages1) Mandarin Chinese (1100 million)

2) English (330 million)

3) Spanish (300 million)

4) Hindi / Urdu (250 million)

5) Arabic (200 million)

6) Bengali (185 million)

7) Portuguese (160 million)

8) Russian (160 million)

9) Japanese (122 million)

10) German (100 million)

11) Punjabi (90 million)

12) Javanese (84 million)

13) French (75 million)

I`m not so sure about Mandarin Chinese having 1.1 billion native speakers – I think it could be lower. But it is still by far the most widely spoken. But what makes this list most questionable is that the number of native speakers could be radically different from the number of proficient speakers. Some languages are spoken more widely by second language speakers than they are by native speakers. For example, Malay/Indonesian has a relatively small number of native speakers, but as the official language and lingua franca of Indonesia, it is spoken by around 270 million people in total, putting it close to the top of the list. French also moves much higher on the list when we include all the second language speakers in Africa and other former colonies (mostly in Africa). So let`s look at a list that includes both native speakers and proficient second language speakers:

Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia1) Mandarin (1350 million)

2) English (1200 million)

3) Hindi/Urdu (715 million)

4) Spanish (530 million)

5) Arabic (390 million)

6) French (274 million)

7) Malay/Indonesian (270 million)

8) Russian (260 million)

9) Portuguese (255 million)

10) Bengali (250 million)Map of French language

11) German (145 million)

12) Japanese (123 million)

13) Javanese (84 million)

This list gives us a slightly better idea of which languages are most widely spoken. The notable changes are the prominence of French, and the appearance of Malay/Indonesian which pushes Javanese further down the list. Javenese is the most widely spoken native language in Indonesia, but Indonesian (a standardized form of Malay) is spoken by far more people overall, and is the language of communication across different regions and cultural groups.

Being the most widely spoken languages doesn`t necessarily make these the most important languages in the world.