The 10 Most Spoken Languages in the World

January 5, 2024

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Intersecting words in different languages from around the world

The origins of language is a hotly contested topic. For example, some argue that humans began communicating through words in the Old Stone Age, but evidence suggests that language only dates back to the New Stone Age. And although it is thought that currently, around 7,000 languages are spoken worldwide, what determines a language isn’t always clear.

In this article, we’ll reveal the ten most spoken languages in the world in 2023 according to Ethnologue, which is widely regarded as the most comprehensive language data source. We’ll also reveal the ten languages with the most native speakers (people who speak it as their first language). Keep reading to find out what they are.

1. English (1,456 million speakers)

English words on a chalkboard
English words on a chalkboard

It may come as no surprise to learn that English is the most spoken language, with more than 1.4 billion native and non-native English-speaking people across the world.

As well as being the official language of 67 countries, including Canada, South Africa, the US, and of course, England, it is one of the official languages of numerous large international organizations, such as the European Union, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization. It is also the default language for international business and in the tourism and technology industries. 

Additionally, 55 percent of the internet is written or spoken in English, and English is the most-studied language in the world.

English is relatively easy to learn compared to languages like Mandarin and Russian. This, coupled with the UK and US’s cultural influence on the world, indicates that it is likely to be the most-spoken language for some time yet.

2. Mandarin (1,138 million speakers)

Gold Chinese characters written on the wall of a temple
Gold Chinese characters written on the wall of a temple

With more than 1.1 billion Mandarin Chinese speakers, Mandarin is the second-most spoken language in the world. Although, if you are considering only native speakers, it is the most-spoken language in the world (see below for the list of languages with the most native speakers).

Many other languages and dialects — such as Cantonese, Wu, and Min — are spoken in China, but Mandarin is the most widely spoken, with 70 percent of the country’s population speaking it. Mandarin is also the official language of Taiwan and Singapore, as well as one of the official languages of the United Nations.

Technically, Mandarin is a set of dialects rather than a language. However, it is classed as one because the speakers of these dialects are able to understand each other.

3. Hindi (609.5 million speakers)

Indian man writing Hindi on a blackboard using colored chalk
Man writing Hindi on a sign

The third-most spoken language in the world is Hindi, with more than 609 million speakers.

Before India gained independence, English, Hindi, and Urdu were the country’s official languages. Today, however, the Indian Constitution specifies Hindi as the official language — although, surprisingly, not everyone in India speaks it. This is because more than 300 languages and even more dialects are spoken in the country. 

Hindi is mainly spoken in northern India, as well as Pakistan, and by 25 percent of the population of Nepal. It is also one of Fiji’s official languages and is widely spoken in the Caribbean islands of Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Like Mandarin, though, the Hindi language includes multiple dialects, meaning many variations exist.

4. Spanish (559 million speakers)

Cobbled steps in Calpe, Alicante painted in the colors of the Spanish flag
Cobbled steps in Calpe, Alicante painted in the colors of the Spanish flag

Spain may come second on the list of languages with the most native speakers, but it takes fourth place on the world’s most spoken languages list, with more than 559 million speakers. It is such a widely spoken language due to Spain’s colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, but dozens more have a significant number of Spanish speakers. It is the primary language of most of Central and South America, with the United States coming second as the country with the most Spanish speakers (after Mexico). Additionally, Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the US, after English.

Spanish is also an official language of the African Union, European Union, and United Nations.

5. French (309.8 million speakers)

French flag outside a building
French flag hanging outside an ornate building

Across the world, almost 310 million people speak French, making it the fifth-most spoken language. It is the official language of 29 countries and territories, including Canada, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and multiple African countries such as Cameroon, the Congos, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda. It is also another of the European Union and United Nations’ official languages.

Like English and Spanish, the French language spread throughout the world due to colonization, and it has also had a huge impact on existing languages. Around 40 percent of English words, for example, have a French origin.

6. Modern Standard Arabic (274 million speakers)

Close-up shot of Arabic writing
Arabic script

Modern Standard Arabic is the sixth-most spoken language in the world, with around 274 million people speaking it.

While Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, most have their own dialects, meaning some Arabic speakers can struggle to understand each other. For this reason, Modern Standard Arabic is used in newspapers, on TV, and in movies. However, people don’t usually speak it in everyday life unless they are trying to understand one another. It is primarily a written language, similar to Quran’s Classical Arabic. 

Some of the different Arabic dialects include Egyptian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic, and Mesopotamian Arabic. 

7. Bengali (272.8 million speakers)

Man standing beside a boy on a busy street in Bangladesh
Bengali is the official language of Bangladesh

With more than 272 million speakers, Bengali comes seventh on the list of the 10 most spoken languages in the world.

Despite only being spoken in Bangladesh (where it is the official language) and parts of Myanmar and India, it makes the top ten due to the population density of these regions. In fact, after Hindi, it is the second-most spoken language in India — the most populous country in the world.

Some other interesting facts about Bengali are that it is the fifth most used writing system in the world, the Indian national anthem was first written in Bengali, and UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day is based on Bengali to commemorate the people who died during the Language Movement in 1952.

8. Portuguese (263.6 million speakers)

View from a cable car looking down on Rio De Janeiro
Portuguese is the official language of seven countries, including Brazil

There are more than 263 million native and non-native Portuguese speakers, making the language the ninth most spoken in the world.

This is largely due to it being the official language of Brazil, which has a population of over 200 million. In addition to Brazil and Portugal, Portuguese is the official language of seven other countries: Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Angola, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Portuguese is also widely spoken in Agualusa, Bossa Nova, Fernando Pessoa, Machado de Assis, and Mia Couto.

Portuguese is another language that owes its expansion to the colonization of countries in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. India, in particular, has many Portuguese speakers.

The Portuguese language is quite similar to Spanish, and learning Portuguese makes it easier to learn the other romance languages of French, Italian, and Romanian too.

8. Russian (255 million speakers)

Russian letters on a chalkboard
Russian alphabet on a chalkboard

Considering that Russia is the world’s largest country, it should come as no surprise that Russian is the eighth most spoken language, with more than 255 million speakers worldwide.

As well as being the official language of Russia, Russian is the official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is also widely spoken in 15 other countries — including all the former Soviet states, plus Israel and Mongolia — and it is one of the official languages of the United Nations.

According to linguists, Russian is one of the richest and most complicated languages in the world, but interestingly, every word that begins with an “A” comes from another language.

10. Urdu (231.7 million speakers)

Manuscript written in Urdu
Urdu manuscript

Urdu takes the tenth spot on this list, with more than 231 million speakers of the language. 

It is the official language of Pakistan — along with English — and it is widely spoken in parts of India. Speakers of Hindi (the official language of India) and Urdu can generally understand each other when they are talking, but not in writing, as the two languages use different scripts for their alphabets. Hindi uses Sanscrit, while Urdu uses a modified Persian script.

There is some crossover between the English language and Urdu, with Urdu using English words like “library”, “bus”, and “airport”, and English using Urdu words like “jungle”, “pajamas,” and “khaki”.

Languages with the most native speakers

When determining the ten most spoken languages in the world, the results will differ depending on whether you are accounting for the number of people who can speak the language or native speakers only.

With that in mind, the languages with the most native speakers are:

RankLanguageNumber of native speakers
1Mandarin920 million
2Spanish475 million
3English373 million
4Arabic362 million
5Hindi344 million
6Bengali234 million
7Portuguese232 million
8Russian154 million
9Japanese125 million
10Lahnda101 million

As you can see from the list above, the major differences are that Mandarin and Spanish have more native speakers than English, and French and Urdu don’t make it onto the list, but Japanese and Lahnda do.

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