List of the most spoken languages in the world

Posted in Miscellaneous

This list gives the most spoken languages in the world according to the Ethnologue, a widely cited reference for languages around the world.

The Ethnologue is sometimes criticised for using out-of-date data, but there is no available fully authoritative source for numbers of first language speakers which uses the same criteria for counting in each case. Another tendency of the Ethnologue is to separate what many others (sometimes including speakers of the varieties) consider to be single languages: see for example comments in this article on English and German.

This list, based on the 15th edition (2005), aims to count first language speakers only (though there are some difficulties with this criterion, as with any other, caused by issues such as bilingualism, differing perceptions of cultural identity and the questions of when language varieties are to be considered different languages or dialects). It also counts macrolanguages, as defined by the Ethnologue, such that Chinese and Arabic are counted as united languages rather than by the varieties also listed, such as Mandarin Chinese or Egyptian Arabic. The year bracketed next to the number of speakers is the year given in the Ethnologue for when the data was taken (for the country with most speakers).  

Rank Language Number of speakers Where spoken natively by more than 5% of the population (in order of population, down to 20,000 speakers) Comments
1 Chinese 1,205m (1999) People's Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, Singapore This figure includes all varieties of Chinese such as Mandarin and Cantonese, which are not necessarily mutually intelligible
2 English 800-900m (2008) United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, Bermuda, Northern Mariana Islands, Bahamas, Guam, Cayman Islands, and many other countries  
3 Spanish 322.3m (1995) Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, United States, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Panama, Belize, Andorra, Gibraltar  
4 Russian 270m (2000) Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Israel, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Armenia Includes former Soviet Union countries, and Israel: Russian is spoken in all those countries, and not just by ethnic Russians, it is not an "monoethnic" language.
5 Arabic 206m (1998) Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Palestinian Territories, Israel, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Chad, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Djibouti, Western Sahara Figure from all Arabic dialects, which are not necessarily mutually intelligible
6 Hindi 180.8m (1991) (Khariboli dialect only) India, Fiji Speakers of the main Khariboli dialect. Indian census (1991) figure is 337m, and represents all Hindi dialects, which the Ethnologue deems mutually unintelligible. Hindi and Urdu are considered as separate languages although they are mutually intelligible when used in everyday conversation. They are written in two different scripts.
7 Portuguese 177.5m (1998) Brazil, Portugal  
8 Bengali 171.1m (1994) Bangladesh, India  
9 French 128m


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