Language is an incredibly important tool in our lives. We use language to communicate with everyone and only when this tool is taking away do we realize how important it is. When we speak to someone that uses a different language we immediately realize how much we rely on language every day. There are many tools in development that may remove the barrier of language in the future as automatic translation could become a reality very soon. Until then we can rely on advanced services like Google Translate that make having a conversation with anyone, a possibility.
There is often debate over what is the most spoken language in the world. The distinction comes down to how you define spoken. If you take the primary language of all the people in the world or if you count every language that a person can speak. If we define it by the total number of speakers then English is the most spoken language in the world with between 1.3 to 1.5 billion speakers. Mandarin Chinese (and its dialects) comes a close second at 1.3 billion. However, if we look only at native-level speakers, the picture is very different.
There are obviously many different forms of the language that many people call ‘Chinese’ Mandarin is the predominant form and there are an estimated 1.28 billion native speakers of the 13 different dialects that the language has. Clearly, the number is not that different from total speakers as few people learn Chinese who are not native speakers.
While many people would expect English to be second it actually falls behind Spanish. There are 437 million native Spanish speakers in the world today. While many come from Spain, the majority come from the countries of South America (excluding Brazil).
English is the third most spoken native language with 376 million speakers across over 106 countries. It is incredible to think about the hundreds of millions of English speakers as a second language that would bring that figure to over 1.3 billion in total. This is why English is seen as the most common language when traveling.
Arabic falls into fourth place with 295 million speakers across 57 countries and 19 dialects. The country is often missed in the list because Western populations are only starting to travel to these countries more now and only beginning to understand the spread of the Arabic tongue.
Hindi comes in fifth place with 260 million speakers. This often surprises people that the main country of India is so low. This is because India has a number of languages and while they all have an incredibly high number of speakers they bring down the total number of each.
Bengali is the other prominent language of India with 242 million speakers. It is spoken in three other countries as well as India. While Hindi is spoken in four.
Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world as a primary language despite the small size of Portugal. The reason is of course Brazil. With a population of over 200 million Brazil alone accounts for many of these native speakers. There are another 12 countries that speak the language as well. This means that well over 220 million people speak Portuguese in the world.
Russian is spoken by 154 million people across 19 countries. The breakup of the Soviet Union has shown many other languages but Russian is still very dominant across Eastern Europe.
128 million people speak Japanese as a primary language. Japan remained isolated from much of the world for a very long time allowing the country to place significant importance on its own culture and retain its own traits.