Top 10 Countries that Speak the Most Languages

December 22, 2023

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Intersecting words in different languages from around the world

For thousands of years, humans have been developing their own unique languages. Some are constantly evolving to incorporate elements of other languages, while others, like modern Icelandic, which remains similar to its parent, Old Norse, have changed very little over time. Others still have died out completely. 

According to language experts at Ethnologue, roughly 40 percent of the world’s current languages are at risk of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 people speaking them. In contrast, the most-spoken languages in the world account for half the global population.

That said, more than 7,000 languages are currently spoken around the world — despite there only being around 200 countries. This means that some countries have multiple languages.

With that in mind, this article explores which countries are the most linguistically diverse. Continue reading to find out what they are.

1. Papua New Guinea

View of Eastern Highland Province in Papa New Guinea
Eastern Highlands province, Papa New Guinea
Number of Languages: 840
Percentage of world’s languages: 11.7%
Official language(s): English, Hiri Motu, PNG Sign Language, Tok Pisin

When it comes to linguistic diversity, Papua New Guinea is the winner, with 840 languages spoken in the country.

Located in the western Pacific Ocean, this small island nation has a population of just 9.5 million, yet its number of languages is more than double that of the whole of Europe.

Most of Papua New Guinea’s languages are indigenous to the country, with many spoken by just a few hundred people.

The likely reason why there are so many languages is that the country’s clans and tribes are isolated from one another due to rough terrain. This has led them to evolve separately and develop their own dialects.

2. Indonesia

View from Padar Island, Indonesia
View from Padar Island, Indonesia
Number of Languages: 715
Percentage of world’s languages: 9.9%
Official language(s): Indonesian

The second-most linguistically diverse country is Indonesia, with 715 languages. 

Some of these include Javanese, Sudanese, and Indonesian (known locally as Bahasa Indonesian), and, again, the majority are indigenous.

Comprising more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, so, like Papua New Guinea, geography could be the reason why the country has so many languages.

3. Nigeria

View of Lagos from the other side of Tarkwa Bay
View across Tarkwa Bay, Lagos
Number of Languages: 527
Percentage of world’s languages: 7.3%
Official language(s): English

In total, Nigeria’s civilians speak 527 languages. As well as being one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 2.2 million people living there.

While the official language of Nigeria is English, Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba are also widely spoken in the country.

4. India

View across tea plantation in Munnar
Tea Gardens in Munnar
Number of Languages: 456
Percentage of world’s languages: 6.3%
Official language(s): Hindi, English

Some of India’s most common languages are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipur, Marathi, Nepalese, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. However, the most widely spoken of these are Hindi, Bengali, and Telugu.

5. United States

View of the Golden Gate Bridge at golden hour
Golden Gate Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Marin Country
Number of Languages: 337
Percentage of world’s languages: 4.7%
Official language(s): English (de facto)

With 337 languages spoken across the United States, it takes the fifth spot on the list of countries that speak the most languages.

But while English is the most commonly used language in the US, it is not the country’s official language. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have one.

Spanish, Chinese, and French are some of the other languages that are widely spoken in the US.

6. Australia

Aerial view of Sydney
Aerial view of Sydney
Number of Languages: 317
Percentage of world’s languages: 4.4%
Official language(s): English (de facto)

In Australia, 317 different languages are spoken, but like the United States, the country has no official language. English is the de-facto and most widely spoken. The second-most widely spoken language in Australia is Chinese, with many people also speaking Arabic, Filipino, and Punjabi.

The island nation’s indigenous languages include Kriol, Pitjantjatjara, and Warlpiri.

7. China

View of the Forbidden City in Beijing
Forbidden City, Beijing
Number of Languages: 307
Percentage of world’s languages: 4.2%
Official language(s): Standard Chinese

With a population of around 1.5 billion, China is the world’s most populous country, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it would appear higher on this list. In fact, China has (only) 307 languages.

The country’s official language is standard Chinese, but Cantonese and Wu are widely spoken in China too.

8. Mexico

Ancient Mayan temple in Chichén-Itzá
Ancient Mayan city of Chichén-Itzá
Number of Languages: 301
Percentage of world’s languages: 4.1%
Official language(s): Spanish (de facto)

The eighth-most linguistically diverse country in the world is Mexico, with 301 languages spoken. Spanish — the country’s official language — may be the most widely spoken of these, but the Aztec language of Nahuatl is also common, with more than a million people speaking it.

Some of Mexico’s other indigenous languages with at least 400,000 native speakers include Mixtec, Tzeltal Maya, Tzotzil Maya, Yucatec Maya, and Zapotec.

9. Cameroon

View of Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon
Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon
Number of Languages: 277
Percentage of world’s languages: 3.8%
Official language(s): English, French

In ninth place on the list of countries that speak the most languages is the African country of Cameroon, which has 277 languages.

The Central African country’s official languages of English and French are the most widely spoken, but indigenous languages like Bafut, Bulu, Ewondo, Ghomala, Mafa, and Yemba are spoken by hundreds of thousands of people in Cameroon too.

10. Brazil

A bird's eye view of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
Number of Languages: 238
Percentage of world’s languages: 3.3%
Official language(s): Portuguese

Taking the tenth spot on this list is Brazil — a country that has 238 languages. 

More than 200 of these are indigenous, but German, Italian, Japanese, and the country’s official language of Portuguese are also spoken in Brazil.

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