World Map of the 25 Most Spoken Languages
What languages are most spoken around the world? Well, that can be a tricky question.
While we have a pretty good idea of how many people speak the major languages of the world, determining where they're most spoken can be complicated. Countries often have official languages that are given legal status, but there are also additional designations — including regional, minority, national and widely spoken languages — that indicate a language is spoken by a sizable share of a country's population.
Attempting to piece these all together with easy-to-view world maps, we've broken down the most spoken languages based on their total number of speakers, while sharing where you will hear them most. Appropriately enough, we start with the language this very piece is written in, which also happens to be the most commonly used in the world...
1. English — 1.5 Billion Speakers
Official language in: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Dominica, Eswatini, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somaliland, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, UK, United States, Vanuatu, Zambia
Regional language in: Honduras in the Bay Islands, Micronesia except for Kosrae, Netherlands in Saint Maarten, Saint Eustatius and Saba islands
Widely spoken in: Cyprus, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Israel, Palestine, Switzerland
*Info sourced primarily from the World Atlas and List of Official Languages by Country and Territory; other sources hyperlinked where referenced.
The History of English
The English language dates back to the fifth century A.D. when Germanic tribes invaded the isle of Britain. Today, nearly 1.5 billion people speak it, including 480 million native English speakers. That's 20 percent of the world!
As the world's most commonly spoken language, English is also considered the official language of international business.
2. Mandarin Chinese — 1.3 Billion Speakers
Official language in: China, Singapore, Taiwan
Widely spoken in: Malaysia
The History of Mandarin Chinese
Of all the 297 living languages spoken in China, Mandarin Chinese is by far the most common, with 1.3 billion speakers. (As a point of comparison, the second-most-prevalent language, Wu — see No. 21 on this list — is spoken by 80 million people.)
There is much debate about Mandarin eventually surpassing English to become the language of international business, but as most people outside of Asia do not have a basic understanding of Mandarin, experts do not predict this will happen.
Fun fact: Chinese can either be written in traditional characters or with simplified characters created via a government initiative in the 1950s that was designed to make the language easier to learn.
3. Spanish — 661 Million Speakers
Official language in: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela
Minority language in: Andorra
Regional language in: Belize
Widely spoken in: Philippines, United States
The History of Spanish
The Spanish language extended its reach quickly around the world as conquests were made to discover new lands. Commonly found in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, it is today spoken by millions of people in many different countries.
The majority of Spanish speakers in the world are in Mexico. Across the border in the United States, where English is the official language, 41 million people speak Spanish as their first language. Nearly 12 million Americans are bilingual, as well, and studies predict that the U.S. will topple Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking country by 2050.
4. Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) — 544 Million Speakers
Official language in: Fiji and India (Hindi); Pakistan (Urdu)
The History of Hindustani
Hindustani refers to both the Hindi and Urdu languages, which are direct descendants of Sanskrit.
Hindi is spoken by so many people in large part because it's an official language in India, the second-most-populous country on Earth. Urdu, an official language in the neighboring country of Pakistan, is more often spoken in Muslim communities.
5. Arabic — 422 Million Speakers
Official language in: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Somaliland, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
Regional language in: Israel
National language in: Cyprus (Cypriot Arabic), Niger, South Sudan, Tunisia
Widely spoken in: Eritrea, Indonesia, Philippines
The History of Arabic
A Semitic language from the Arabian Peninsula, Arabic began as a language used by nomadic tribes to converse with one another. Today, it is particularly dominant in the Middle East and nearby Asian and African countries.
Although Hebrew, a similar language, began with tribes in the same area, it is not considered Arabic as it was influenced by Slavic, Roman and German dialects. It is spoken in Israel and by Jewish communities globally, whereas Arabic is mostly used in Muslim communities.
6. Malay — 281 Million Speakers
Official language in: Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia
The History of Malay
Indonesian is the most widely used of the Malay dialects, spoken by some 170 million people. Standard Malay, by comparison, is spoken by about 18 million people.
It's believed that Malay began on the Asian island of Borneo around 1000 BC.
7. Russian — 267 Million Speakers
Official language in: Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Transnistria
Regional language in: Moldova
Minority language in: Poland,
Widely spoken in: Israel, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia
The History of Russian
Russia is a large country, and it was even larger when it was the Soviet Union — so it should come as no surprise that Russian is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world.
Its speakers can be found not only in modern-day Russia, but in nations that received independence when the Soviet Union collapsed, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
8. Bengali — 261 Million Speakers
Official language in: Bangladesh
Regional language in: India
The History of Bengali
In Bangladesh, nearly 100 million people speak Bengali, the Indo-Ayran language of the country. Another 85 million speak it in India, primarily in the states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.
Like many languages on this list, Bengali has been spread around the world thanks to sizable Bangladeshi and Indian immigrant communities in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Middle East.
9. Portuguese — 229 Million Speakers
Official language in: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe
Minority language in: Andorra, Spain
The History of Portuguese
Though Portugal is a relatively small country, the reach of its language is vast, thanks in large part to the abundance of Portuguese colonizers, traders and missionaries who brought it to other corners of the world. A Romance language with similarities to Spanish and Italian, Portuguese is today found in parts of South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
Though it's not widespread enough to earn a spot on the map, Portuguese is also used more than you may think in North America. More than half a million speak it in the U.S., making it the 12th most-spoken language in the country.
10. French — 229 Million Speakers
Official language in: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, Vanuatu
Regional language in: Belgium, Italy (in Aosta Valley), Spain, UK (Guernsey and Jersey)
Minority language in: Andorra, Spain
National language in: Mauritius
Widely spoken in: Algeria, Mauritania
The History of French
Another Romance language, French is heavily used around the world due to France's many conquests and settlements. Started by the Germanic tribe of Franks, it incorporates German and Latin and is spoken in territories that were home to the tribe, as well as later colonies of France.
In Canada, French is one of two official languages. In Quebec, 78.4 percent of locals speak the language as their mother tongue.
11. Hausa — 150 Million Speakers
National language in: Niger, Nigeria
The History of Hausa
The native people of Nigeria and Niger known as the Hausa are the largest ethnic group in western Africa, and this is their native tongue.
12. Punjabi — 148 Million Speakers
Widely spoken in: Pakistan
Regional language in: India
13. German — 129 Million Speakers
Official language in: Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Switzerland
Regional language in: Belgium, Brazil, Italy, Namibia, Romania
Minority language in: Denmark, Hungary, Poland
National language in: Czech Republic
The History of German
German has been enormously influential; English, for one, has its roots in Germanic languages. As seen on the map, it's also a language with extensive reach.
Surprised to see Brazil highlighted? That's due to German being spoken, along with Portuguese, by a vast majority of residents in the Brazilian municipality of Pomerode. Known as the "most German city in Brazil," its inhabitants are largely of German descent.
Not shown here are the many countries where German is not widely spoken, but still has a decent presence. This list includes Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the United States and Uruguay.
14. Japanese — 129 Million Speakers
Official language in: Japan
Regional language in: Palau
The History of Japanese
In addition to (obviously!) being the official language of Japan, Japanese is spoken in the state of Angaur in Palau. It's also spoken quite a lot — though not enough to earn it a spot on the map — in the U.S., specifically in the state of Hawaii, and in Brazil, where there are sizable Japanese immigrant communities.
Fun fact: Japanese includes a grammatical system to express politeness!
15. Persian — 121 Million Speakers
Official language in: Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikstan
National language in: Kuwait
The History of Persian
Also known as Farsi, Persian heavily influenced the Arabic language.
In Afghanistan, the official language is a variety of Persian called Dari; in Tajikstan, it's a variety called Tajik.
16. Swahili — 107 Million Speakers
Official language in: Rwanda, Uganda
National language in: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania
Widely spoken in: Burundi, Mozambique
The History of Swahili
The first language of the Swahili people, this Bantu dialect is found primarily in eastern and southeastern Africa. In Burundi, it's specifically spoken widely in the African Great Lakes Region.
17. Vietnamese — 95 Million Speakers
National language in: Czech Republic, Vietnam
Minority language in: Cambodia
18. Telugu — 92 Million Speakers
Regional language in: India
The History of Telugu
Another Indian language making the list is Telugu, spoken in the central southeastern states. Considered the largest of the Dravidian languages, Telugu dates back to the 6th century.
19. Italian — 87 Million Speakers
Official language in: Italy, Malta, San Marino, Switzerland, Vatican City
Minority language in: Slovenia
National language in: Croatia
Widely spoken in: Albania, Eritrea
The History of Italian
A Romance language, Italian was used as a collective means of communication to bridge the gap between many regional dialects.
Its speakers include 800,000 inhabitants of Albania, making it the most spoken foreign language in that country.
20. Javanese — 84 Million Speakers
Widely spoken in: Indonesia
The History of Javanese
On the Indonesian island of Java, which has more than 100 million inhabitants, the native language of the indigenous people is Javanese.
About two-thirds of the people of Java speak this Austronesian language.
21. Wu Chinese — 80 Million Speakers
Widely spoken in: China
The History of Wu Chinese
Known as the language of the Shanghainese, Wu is spoken in Shanghai and its communities of people in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The population of these communities equates to nearly 8 percent of the Chinese population speaking Wu.
Wu is also spoken in the Chinese cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Ningpo and Wenzhou.
22. Korean — 77 Million Speakers
Official language in: North Korea, South Korea
The History of Korean
No surprise here: South Korea, with 48 million people, and North Korea, with 24 million people, are home to the vast majority of Korean speakers.
Immigrants have also taken the language, which dates back to the 15th century, to nearby China and Japan, as well as across the United States, although it's not considered a major language in any of those countries.
23. Tamil — 75 Million Speakers
Official language in: Singapore, Sri Lanka
Widely spoken in: India
The History of Tamil
Yet one more Indian language makes our list.
In India, Tamil is mostly spoken in the state of Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Puducherry (Pondicherry). To a lesser extent (not enough to earn it a spot on the map), it's additionally spoken in Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji and South Africa.
24. Marathi — 74 Million Speakers
Regional language in: India
The History of Marathi
Derived from Sanskrit, Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language of western India. Spoken in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa, the language is native to the Marathi people.
It's also spoken in Israel and Mauritius, though not pervasively.
25. Yue Chinese — 72 Million Speakers
Regional language in: China
The History of Yue Chinese
Yue is the de facto official language of Hong Kong and Macau, both Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China, and is additionally spoken in the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces of China.
Chinese immigrants have made it a language of growing influence in Southeast Asia, Canada, Australia, the UK and the United States as well.