Determining what are the most spoken languages in the world is a more difficult task than you might imagine. We can say with some confidence that Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic will make an appearance (and roughly in what order), but there are some surprises, too! Would you have guessed that Bengali is in the top 10 most spoken languages?
One small caveat: Assigning hard data, in the form of “X million native speakers,” to any of these languages is practically impossible. What constitutes a language or a dialect is hotly contested stuff. More troubling is the fact that what we refer to simply as “Chinese” is actually a whole family of languages conveniently lumped into a single category. “Hindi” is also used as a catchall term to cover numerous dialects and sub-dialects. We haven’t even yet acknowledged the unreliability of data sources, collected at different times by different institutions.
But then again, who doesn’t love a good list? So we’ve compiled two versions for you:
Top 10 Languages By Number Of Native Speakers
When tallied according to number of native speakers only, these are the most spoken languages in the world.
1. Chinese — 1.3 Billion Native Speakers
Numbers vary widely — Ethnologue puts the number of native speakers at 1.3 billion native speakers, roughly 917 million of whom speak Mandarin — but there’s no doubt it’s the most spoken language in the world. If you wish to learn a language that one in six people in the world speak, this is the one for you. Seeing as Chinese is a tonal language that uses thousands of logograms, it will certainly keep you busy.