Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Worldwide
Even though you’re reading this article in English, there’s a good chance it might not be your mother tongue. Of the billion-strong English speakers in the world, only 33% consider it their native language.
The popularity of a language depends greatly on utility and geographic location. Additionally, how we measure the spread of world languages can vary greatly depending on whether you look at total speakers or native speakers.
Today’s detailed visualization from WordTips illustrates the 100 most spoken languages in the world, the number of native speakers for each language, and the origin tree that each language has branched out from.
How Do You Define A Language?
The data comes from the 22nd edition of Ethnologue, a database covering a majority of the world’s population, detailing approximately 7,111 living languages in existence today.
The definitions of languages are often dynamic, blurring the lines around a singular understanding of what makes a language:
- Linguistic: focused on lexical and grammatical differences, or on variations within speech communities
- Social: focused on cultural or political factors, as well as heritage and identity
For the purposes of measurement, the researchers use the ISO 693-3 set of criteria, which accounts for related varieties and dialects—ensuring that linguistics are not the only factor considered in this count of languages.
Here are the language origins of the 100 most spoken languages:
Indo-European languages have the widest spread worldwide. According to Ethnologue, the language family contains over 3 billion speakers in total. Interestingly, there are actually 1,526 Niger-Congo languages altogether, though only 12 are represented here.
Let’s now dive into the top 10 most spoken languages overall.
Which Languages Have the Most Speakers?
It comes as no surprise that English reigns supreme, with over 1.1 billion total speakers—or roughly 15% of the global population. Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and French round out the top five.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Language Origin|
|2||Mandarin Chinese||1,117 million||Sino-Tibetan|
|6||Standard Arabic||274 million||Afro-Asiatic|
However, this is only one piece in the full fabric of languages.
The metrics for native speakers tell a slightly different tale, as Mandarin Chinese shoots up to 918 million—almost 2.5x that of English native speakers.
|Rank||Language||Native Speakers||Language Origin|
|1||Mandarin Chinese||918 million||Sino-Tibetan|
|9||Western Punjabi||93 million||Indo-European|
Note: No native speaker data was available for Filipino, Standard Arabic, Nigerian Pidgin, or Cameroonian Pidgin.
Here, Spanish comes in strong second for native speakers with 460 million, considering it’s well-used across Latin America. The Indian languages of Hindi and Bengali cap off the top five by native speakers as well.
These are the biggest languages people learn growing up, but what about the ones they pick up later in life?
What About Second (L2) Languages?
Nearly 43% of the world’s population is bilingual, with the ability to switch between two languages with ease.
From the data, second language (L2) speakers can be calculated by looking at the difference between native and total speakers, as a proportion of the total. For example, 66% of English speakers learned it as a second language.
Swahili surprisingly has the highest ratio of L2 speakers to total speakers—although it only has 16 million native speakers, this shoots up to 98 million total speakers. Overall, 82% of Swahili speakers know it as a second language.
Swahili is listed as a national or official language in several African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s likely that the movement of people from rural areas into big cities in search of better economic opportunities, is what’s boosting the adoption of Swahili as a second language.
Indonesian is another similar example. With a 78% proportion of L2 speakers compared to total speakers, this variation on the Malay language has been used as the lingua franca across the islands for a long time. In contrast, only 17% of Mandarin speakers know it as a second language, perhaps because it is one of the most challenging languages to learn.
Keeping Language Traditions Alive
Languages are fluid, and constantly evolving—altogether, the 100 most spoken languages paint a unique picture across centuries of a changing world. Here’s the full list of these languages, by types of speakers and language origin.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Native Speakers||Origin|
|26||Egyptian Spoken Arabic||65M||65M||Afro-Asiatic|
|33||Southern Min Chinese||50M||50M||Sino-Tibetan|
|45||Moroccan Spoken Arabic||33M||27M||Afro-Asiatic|
|48||Algerian Spoken Arabic||32M||29M||Afro-Asiatic|
|49||Sudanese Spoken Arabic||32M||32M||Afro-Asiatic|
|56||North Levantine Spoken Arabic||25M||25M||Afro-Asiatic|
|61||Sa'idi Spoken Arabic||22M||22M||Afro-Asiatic|
|74||Mesopotamian Spoken Arabic||16M||16M||Afro-Asiatic|
|78||Hijazi Spoken Arabic||15M||15M||Afro-Asiatic|
|98||South Levantine Spoken Arabic||12M||12M||Afro-Asiatic|
|99||Tunisian Spoken Arabic||12M||12M||Afro-Asiatic|
|100||Sanaani Spoken Arabic||11M||11M||Afro-Asiatic|
One reason these languages are popular is that they are actively and consistently used. Unfortunately, nearly 3,000 (about 40%) of all languages are at risk of being lost, or are already in the process of dying out today.
Languages play a crucial role in our daily lives. … [Their] losses have huge negative impacts indigenous peoples’ most basic human rights.
—UN, IYoIL statement
As a result, the United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYoIL), with a resolution to continue fostering these languages and pass on their knowledge for future generations.
Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries
Tech, finance or energy giant? We mapped the biggest companies by market cap and industry.
The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries
Tech giants are increasingly making up more of the Fortune 500, but the world’s biggest companies by market cap aren’t so cut and dry.
Despite accounting for the largest market caps worldwide—with trillion-dollar companies like Apple and contenders including Tencent and Samsung—tech wealth is largely concentrated in just a handful of countries.
So what are the biggest companies in each country? We mapped the largest company by market cap across 60 countries in August 2021 using market data from CompaniesMarketCap, TradingView, and MarketScreener.
What are the Largest Companies in the World?
The world has 60+ stock exchanges, and each one has a top company. We looked at the largest local company, since many of the world’s largest firms trade on multiple exchanges, and converted market cap to USD.
|Country||Company||Industry||Market Cap (August 2021)|
|Saudi Arabia||Saudi Aramco||Energy||$1.9T|
|Belgium||Anheuser-Busch Inbev||Consumer Staples||$122.7B|
|Indonesia||Bank Cental Asia||Financials||$54.8B|
|Philippines||SM Investments||Consumer Cyclical||$22.9B|
|Kuwait||Kuwait Finance House||Financials||$21.9B|
|Czech Republic||ÄŒEZ Group||Energy||$15.8B|
|Poland||PKO Bank Polski||Financials||$12.6B|
|Bahrain||Ahli United Bank||Financials||$8.6B|
|Egypt||Commercial International Bank||Financials||$5.9B|
Many are former monopolies or massive conglomerates that have grown in the public space, such as South Africa’s Naspers and India’s Reliance Industries.
Others are local subsidiaries of foreign corporations, including Mexico’s Walmex, Chile’s Enel and Turkey’s QNB Finansbank.
But even more noticeable is the economic discrepancy. Apple and Saudi Aramco are worth trillions of dollars, while the smallest companies we tracked—including Panama’s Copa Group and Oman’s Bank Muscat—are worth less than $5 billion.
Finance and Tech Dominate The Biggest Companies By Market Cap
Across the board, the largest companies were able to accumulate wealth and value.
Some are newer to the top thanks to recent success. Canada’s Shopify has become one of the world’s largest e-commerce providers, and the UK’s AstraZeneca developed one of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines.
But the reality is most companies here are old guards that grew on existing resources, or in the case of banks, accumulated wealth.
|Industry||Biggest Companies by Country|
Banks were the most commonly found at the top of each country’s stock market. Closely behind were oil and gas giants, mining companies, and former state-owned corporations that drove most of a country’s wealth generation.
But as more economies develop and catch up to Western economies (where tech is dominant), newer innovative companies will likely put up a fight for each country’s top company crown.
All World Languages in One Visualization
See the world’s major languages broken down by country in this stunning visualization.
All World Languages, By Native Speakers
View a high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.
Languages provide a window into culture and history. They’re also a unique way to map the world – not through landmasses or geopolitical borders, but through mother tongues.
The Tower of Babel
Today’s infographic from Alberto Lucas Lopez condenses the 7,102 known living languages today into a stunning visualization, with individual colors representing each world region.
Only 23 languages are spoken by at least 50 million native speakers. What’s more, over half the planet speaks at least one of these 23 languages.
Chinese dominates as a macrolanguage, but it’s important to note that it consists of numerous languages. Mandarin, Yue (including Cantonese), Min, Wu, and Hakka cover over 200 individual dialects, which vary further by geographic location.
|Country||Native Chinese speakers (millions)|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||6.5|
|🇲🇴 Macau SAR||0.5|
Chinese is one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to pick up, in part due its completely unfamiliar scripts. You’d have to know at least 3,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper, a far cry from memorizing the A-Z alphabet.
Spanglish Takes Over
After Chinese, the languages of Spanish and English sit in second and third place in terms of global popularity. The rapid proliferation of these languages can be traced back to the history of Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, and British colonies around the world.
Animation: Map of Colonization (1492 – 2008):
Today, Spanish has 399 million native speakers, but these are mostly concentrated in Latin America. English has 335 million native speakers under its belt, with a widespread reach all over the globe.
Two Worlds, One Family
While the visualization makes all the world languages seem disparate, this linguistic family tree shows how they grew from a common root. It also explains how languages can evolve and branch out over time.
Created by Minna Sundberg. Full version.
This linguistic tree also includes many languages that are not on the large visualization of 23 mother tongues. Some of them might be considered endangered or at risk today, such as Catalan or Welsh. However, with globalization, a few interesting linguistic trends are arising.
1. Language revival
Certain enclaves of marginalized languages are being preserved out of pride for the traditional and cultural histories attached.
While Catalan was once banned, its rebirth is a key marker of identity in Barcelona. More than 150 universities teach Catalan worldwide. In the case of Welsh, a mammoth university project plans to make sure it does not die out. Researchers are compiling ten million Welsh words to preserve the past, present, and future of the language.
2. Language forecast
At this point in time, English is the lingua franca – adopted as a common language among speakers with different mother tongues. However, this status might soon be fuzzier as demographic trends continue.
The rise of China is an obvious one to consider. As China continues to increase its economic might and influence, its languages will proliferate as well.
At the same time, 26 African countries are projected to double their current size, many of which speak French as a first language. One study by investment bank Natixis suggests that Africa’s growth may well bring French to the forefront – making it the most-spoken language by 2050.
Could French provide a certain je ne sais quoi that no other world language can quite replace?
This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.
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