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Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World

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100 Most Spoken Languages

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:

The-100-Most-Spoken-Languages-in-the-World_Supplemental

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.

RankLanguageTotal SpeakersLanguage Origin
1English1,132 millionIndo-European
2Mandarin Chinese1,117 millionSino-Tibetan
3Hindi615 millionIndo-European
4Spanish534 millionIndo-European
5French280 millionIndo-European
6Standard Arabic274 millionAfro-Asiatic
7Bengali265 millionIndo-European
8Russian258 millionIndo-European
9Portuguese234 millionIndo-European
10Indonesian199 millionAustronesian

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.

RankLanguageNative SpeakersLanguage Origin
1Mandarin Chinese918 millionSino-Tibetan
2Spanish460 millionIndo-European
3English379 millionIndo-European
4Hindi341 millionIndo-European
5Bengali228 millionIndo-European
6Portuguese221 millionIndo-European
7Russian154 millionIndo-European
8Japanese128 millionJapanic
9Western Punjabi93 millionIndo-European
10Marathi83 millionIndo-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.

RankLanguageTotal SpeakersNative SpeakersOrigin
1English1,132M379MIndo-European
2Mandarin Chinese1,117M918MSino-Tibetan
3Hindi615M341MIndo-European
4Spanish534M460MIndo-European
5French280M77MIndo-European
6Standard Arabic274MNAAfro-Asiatic
7Bengali265M228MIndo-European
8Russian258M154MIndo-European
9Portuguese234M221MIndo-European
10Indonesian199M43MAustronesian
11Urdu170M69MIndo-European
12Standard German132M76MIndo-European
13Japanese128M128MJapanic
14Swahili98M16MNiger-Congo
15Marathi95M83MIndo-European
16Telugu93M82MDravidian
17Western Punjabi93M93MIndo-European
18Wu Chinese82M81MSino-Tibetan
19Tamil81M75MDravidian
20Turkish80M69MTurkic
21Korean77M77MKoreanic
22Vietnamese77M76MAustronesian
23Yue Chinese74M73MSino-Tibetan
24Javanese68M68MAustronesian
25Italian68M65MIndo-European
26Egyptian Spoken Arabic65M65MAfro-Asiatic
27Hausa63M44MAfro-Asiatic
28Thai61M21MKra-Dai
29Gujarati61M56MIndo-European
30Kannada56M44MDravidian
31Iranian Persian53M53MIndo-European
32Bhojpuri52M52MIndo-European
33Southern Min Chinese50M50MSino-Tibetan
34Hakka Chinese48M48MSino-Tibetan
35Jinyu Chinese47M47MSino-Tibetan
36Filipino45MNAAustronesian
37Burmese43M33MSino-Tibetan
38Polish40M40MIndo-European
39Yoruba40M38MNiger-Congo
40Odia38M34MIndo-European
41Malayalam38M37MDravidian
42Xiang Chinese37M37MSino-Tibetan
43Maithili34M34MIndo-European
44Ukrainian33M27MIndo-European
45Moroccan Spoken Arabic33M27MAfro-Asiatic
46Eastern Punjabi33M33MIndo-European
47Sunda32M32MAustronesian
48Algerian Spoken Arabic32M29MAfro-Asiatic
49Sudanese Spoken Arabic32M32MAfro-Asiatic
50Nigerian Pidgin30MNAIndo-European
51Zulu28M12MNiger-Congo
52Igbo27M27MNiger-Congo
53Amharic26M22MAfro-Asiatic
54Northern Uzbek25M25MTurkic
55Sindhi25M25MIndo-European
56North Levantine Spoken Arabic25M25MAfro-Asiatic
57Nepali25M16MIndo-European
58Romanian24M24MIndo-European
59Tagalog24M24MAustronesian
60Dutch23M23MIndo-European
61Sa'idi Spoken Arabic22M22MAfro-Asiatic
62Gan Chinese22M22MSino-Tibetan
63Northern Pashto21M21MIndo-European
64Magahi21M21MIndo-European
65Saraiki20M20MIndo-European
66Xhosa19M8MNiger-Congo
67Malay19M16MAustronesian
68Khmer18M17MAustronesian
69Afrikaans18M7MIndo-European
70Sinhala17M15MIndo-European
71Somali16M16MAfro-Asiatic
72Chhattisgarhi16M16MIndo-European
73Cebuano16M16MAustronesian
74Mesopotamian Spoken Arabic16M16MAfro-Asiatic
75Assamese15M15MIndo-European
76Northeastern Thai15M15MKra-Dai
77Northern Kurdish15M15MIndo-European
78Hijazi Spoken Arabic15M15MAfro-Asiatic
79Nigerian Fulfulde14M14MNiger-Congo
80Bavarian14M14MIndo-European
81Bamanankan14M4MNiger-Congo
82South Azerbaijani14M14MTurkic
83Northern Sotho14M5MNiger-Congo
84Setswana14M6MNiger-Congo
85Souther Sotho14M6MNiger-Congo
86Czech13M11MIndo-European
87Greek13M13MIndo-European
88Chittagonian13M13MIndo-European
89Kazakh13M13MTurkic
90Swedish13M10MIndo-European
91Deccan13M13MIndo-European
92Hungarian13M13MUralic
93Jula12M2MNiger-Congo
94Sadri12M5MIndo-European
95Kinyarwanda12M12MNiger-Congo
96Cameroonian Pidgin12MNAIndo-European
97Sylheti12M10MIndo-European
98South Levantine Spoken Arabic12M12MAfro-Asiatic
99Tunisian Spoken Arabic12M12MAfro-Asiatic
100Sanaani Spoken Arabic11M11MAfro-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.

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Cities

Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities

Highways improved mobility for the average American, ingraining the automobile into the urban fabric of American cities, for better and worse.

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The Impact of Highways

Footprint of Highways in American Cities

Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities

Driving on the open road is a defining feature of the American experience, made possible by coast-to-coast highways. It defined a generation of life and ingrained the automobile into the urban fabric of American cities, for better and worse.

Today’s animations show how highways reshaped the downtown cores of six American cities and created new patterns of urban life. But first, some background information on the creation of the interstate system.

The Interstate Highway System

The U.S. Interstate System was created on June 29, 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act. It would eventually run 46,876 miles, cost $521 billion and take 36 years to complete.

Map of the US Interstate System

From San Diego to Bangor, the interstate highway system connected Americans and opened up the country to commerce and geographic mobility like never before, but for all its benefits, this new transportation network ripped through established patterns of urban and town life, creating a new era of urban development.

The Legacy of Highways: The Suburbs and Inner Cities

The vast geography of continental America helped to entrench personal mobility and freedom into American society. Highways and automobiles accelerated this lifestyle and even changed the shape of entire cities.

According to Prof. Nathaniel Baum-Snow of the University of Toronto, between 1950 and 1990, the population of central cities in the U.S. declined by 17% despite a population growth of 72% in larger metropolitan areas during the same period. Baum-Snow posits that, had the interstate highway system not been built, central cities’ populations would have increased 8%.

Firms followed the workers to the suburbs, but the highways system also created additional benefits for these firms. Cross-country road access freed manufacturing from ports and downtown rail hubs, while allowing economies to operate across larger distances, altering the dynamics of typical urban economies.

Faced with this new reality, inner cities struggled in years to come.

Inner Cities

The introduction of highways created an increase in the supply of land for development through faster commutes to outlying areas. In 1950, half of all jobs were located in central cities. By 1990, less than one-third of urban jobs were located in the core of American cities.

“Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities.” Jane Jacobs, Author The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Benefits of new development accrued to the outer areas while the construction of the highways in inner cities displaced largely low-income communities, segregated neighborhoods, increased the amount of air and noise pollution, devalued surrounding properties, and removed access to jobs for those without a car, further concentrating poverty.

Before and After: Six American Cities

A bird’s eye view of six American cities reveals what was and what is now. By overlaying existing highways over the neighborhoods they replaced, it becomes clear how much interstate construction drastically altered America’s urban landscape.

Oakland
Public opposition to the construction of I-980 was so strong that developers abandoned the project in 1971, only to complete it over a decade later.

Miami Highway
The I-95 carved through Miami’s largely black Overtown neighborhood. The construction of a single highway cloverleaf resulted in 20 square blocks being demolished, displacing over 10,000 people in that community.

Providence Highway
The I-95 comprised unconnected segments between 1957 and 1965 through the densest urban areas in a deliberate effort to prevent premature suburbanization and to revitalize the downtown core.

Cincinnati Highway
The I-71 cuts downtown Cincinnati off from its waterfront and a massive freeway interchange forced the destruction of dozens of blocks west of downtown.

Detroit highway construction
Freeway construction transformed Detroit between 1951 and 2010. Previously, its downtown had been surrounded by a high-density street grid. Today, it’s totally encircled by freeways.

Rochester Highway
Rochester is one of many cities opting to undertake freeway removal projects.

As the dotted line above shows, the “moat” surrounding downtown is slowly being removed. The city used reclaimed land from the Inner Loop freeway to construct three mixed-use developments that include below-market-rate units.

The Future of Urban Living: Do Highways Matter?

A new era of living is reconsidering the impacts of these highways on urban centers. As property values rise and existing housing stock is pressured, there are growing concerns over the environmental impacts of suburban life. As a result, urban planners and residents are looking to revitalize city cores and re-purpose land occupied by burdensome slabs of highway concrete.

Since 1987, there have been more than 20 urban highway segments removed from downtown cores, neighborhoods and waterfronts, mostly in North America. The pace of removals has picked up significantly and an additional 10 highways are now planned for removal in the United States.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, American cities have seen their traffic plummet. Rush-hour trips into cities are taking nearly half the time while some are not even commuting at all.

While this situation is likely temporary, it is offering a moment for reflection of how cities operate and whether the car should be at the center of urban planning.

*Hat tip to Shane Hampton, whose 60 Years of Urban Change compilation served as inspiration for this article. Visit that page for many more examples of highway impact on cities.

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Chart of the Week

At Risk: The Geography of America’s Senior Population

The U.S. senior population is much more vulnerable to COVID-19. Which states and cities have the most people in this at-risk age group?

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U.S. Senior Population

At Risk: The U.S. Senior Population

The U.S. now has the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, and modelling predicts that the country could see about 100,000 to 200,000 total deaths. Unfortunately, adults aged 65 or older—about 16% of the U.S. population—are at much higher risk of both severe illness and death.

Today’s chart uses U.S. Census Bureau data to map the percentage of the population that is 65 years or older by state. It also outlines the urban areas that are most heavily skewed towards this older age group.

Proportion of Seniors by State

Below is the full breakdown of the U.S. senior population by state, using the latest available data from 2018.

Maine tops the list with 20.6% of its population comprising adults age 65 or older. At the other end of the scale, Utah’s seniors make up only 11.1% of its population.

RankState65+, % of Population65+, Total Population
1Maine20.6%276,069
2Florida20.5%4,358,784
3West Virginia20.0%361,216
4Vermont19.8%123,875
5Montana18.8%200,239
6Delaware18.7%180,756
7Hawaii18.4%261,467
8Pensylvannia18.2%2,332,369
9New Hampshire18.1%245,156
10South Carolina17.7%899,754
11Oregon17.6%739,611
12Arizona17.6%1,259,103
13New Mexico17.6%368,480
14Rhode Island17.3%182,645
15Conneticut17.2%613,147
16Michigan17.2%1,720,453
17Ohio17.1%1,996,163
18Iowa17.0%537,818
19Wisconsin17.0%986,483
20Alabama17.0%829,663
21Missouri16.9%1,035,074
22Arkansas16.8%507,676
23Wyoming16.7%96,557
24South Dakota16.6%146,358
25Massachusetts16.5%1,137,541
26Kentucky16.4%731,392
27New York16.4%3,212,065
28Tennesse16.3%1,104,797
29North Carolina16.3%1,688,574
30New Jersey16.1%1,438,289
31Idaho15.9%279,441
32Kansas15.9%462,191
34Mississipi15.9%474,423
33Minnesota15.8%888,634
36Nebraska15.8%303,998
35Indiana15.7%1,051,146
37Nevada15.7%475,120
38Oklahoma15.7%619,601
39Illinois15.6%1,990,548
40Louisiana15.5%720,610
42Virginia15.5%1,318,225
41Maryland15.4%931,041
43Washington15.4%1,163,987
44North Dakota15.3%116,433
45California14.3%5,667,337
46Colorado14.2%807,855
47Georgia13.8%1,456,428
48Texas12.5%3,599,599
49Alaska11.9%88,000
50Utah11.1%351,297

Notably, Florida has the second highest percentage and number of seniors nationwide. Its governor just announced the state’s stay-at-home order on April 1st, after taking criticism for refusing to do so earlier.

New York, the current global hot spot of COVID-19, is close to the national average with 16.4% of its population aged 65 or older. However, with over 3.2 million seniors, the sheer volume of individuals needing hospitalization has already put a strain on the state’s healthcare system. Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will run out of its current supply of ventilators in less than a week.

The Most Vulnerable Urban Areas

On a local level, which places have the highest proportion of seniors? Based on all urban areas* with a population of 250,000 or more, here’s how the top 50 looks:

RankUrban Area65+, % of Population65+, Total Population
1Bonita Springs, FL38.2%135,286
2Sarasota–Bradenton, FL33.2%242,613
3Barnstable Town, MA29.4%74,614
4Palm Coast–Daytona Beach–Port Orange, FL28.3%110,355
5Myrtle Beach–Socastee, SC–NC27.3%74,783
6Cape Coral, FL27.0%175,483
7Indio–Cathedral City, CA26.0%95,054
8Port St. Lucie, FL25.6%110,883
9Palm Bay–Melbourne, FL22.9%114,347
10Youngstown, OH–PA21.0%78,739
11Asheville, NC20.9%65,540
12Pittsburgh, PA19.6%335,546
13Canton, OH19.6%54,214
14Scranton, PA19.1%71,876
15Mission Viejo–Lake Forest–San Clemente, CA19.0%115,891
16Tampa–St. Petersburg, FL18.9%516,269
17Tucson, AZ18.8%165,399
18Lancaster, PA18.5%77,538
19Cleveland, OH18.4%324,707
20Miami, FL18.3%1,117,926
21Buffalo, NY18.1%168,121
22Dayton, OH18.0%130,722
23Harrisburg, PA18.0%83,201
24Wilmington, NC17.8%45,457
25Urban Honolulu, HI17.7%148,045
26Akron, OH17.6%99,010
27New Haven, CT17.6%97,888
28Rochester, NY17.5%125,516
29Peoria, IL17.5%44,722
30Allentown, PA–NJ17.4%119,508
31Concord, CA17.4%115,460
32Chattanooga, TN–GA17.4%69,098
33Flint, MI17.2%59,525
34Santa Rosa, CA17.1%55,094
35Lakeland, FL17.1%51,107
36Davenport, IA–IL17.1%48,387
37Providence, RI–MA17.0%204,148
38Rockford, IL16.9%48,370
39Springfield, MA–CT16.8%105,694
40Knoxville, TN16.8%101,332
41Albany–Schenectady, NY16.8%100,756
42Albuquerque, NM16.7%126,081
43Hartford, CT16.6%153,367
44Toledo, OH–MI16.6%82,480
45Pensacola, FL–AL16.6%62,216
46Bridgeport–Stamford, CT–NY16.5%156,035
47Syracuse, NY16.4%66,818
48Detroit, MI16.2%608,427
49St. Louis, MO–IL16.2%347,537
50Trenton, NJ16.2%47,803

*Urban areas consist of a downtown core and adjacent territories

With 6 areas in the top 10, Florida is quite vulnerable at the local level as well. Other states with multiple areas on the list include Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The Senior Population of Current U.S. Hotspots

To determine the vulnerability of current COVID-19 hotspots, we compared U.S. counties with a high number of cases per capita against their percentage of seniors.

Counties at the bottom left have low readings on both metrics. Conversely, counties in the top right have a dangerous combination: a high concentration of cases and vulnerable seniors.

senior population vs covid-19 outbreak

Multiple counties in New York occupy the top right quadrant, with Yonkers being the worst off. Los Angeles county, which has a similar population to all counties in New York City, has fewer cases and a smaller proportion of seniors.

To date, outbreaks have been mostly focused in urban areas where populations tend to be younger. However, as COVID-19 begins infiltrating rural areas, healthcare systems will need to contend with both older age groups and fewer resources.

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