10 most popular languages in the world and the most beautiful words in each

most popular languages in the world
Priyanka Chopra can speak two of the most popular languages in the world. Source: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP

Knowing one of the most popular languages in the world doesn’t just help you communicate with a lot of people.

You’re also speaking the language of winners.

At its height, the British empire controlled 25% of the world’s land surface, including large parts of North America, Australia, Africa and Asia.

This includes India, today the world’s most populous country with around 1.4 billion people — recently surpassing China.

At one point, the empire’s reach was so vast — with around 412 million inhabitants, or around 23% of the world’s population at the time — that it became known as “the empire on which the sun never sets”.

When the British empire took over countries, it spread its religion and culture too. English was the medium of its schools, churches, governments, offices, ports and more.

Locals had to learn English or risk punishment. But the empire has been dead after the end of World War Two, marked by the independence of India in 1946 and then the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 as its final end.

Why is English still one of the most powerful and most popular languages in the world?

Science and technology are the reasons why English is one of the most popular languages in the world

While England led the Industrial Revolution, and thus forced anyone who wanted to use its steam engines, cars, the spinning jenny, cotton gin, and the telegraph to understand English, it was the US that truly made English one of the most popular languages in the world today.

And the reason for this can be found in the very thing you’re using to read this article: the internet.

With the internet available to everyone from the richest billionaires to the poorest slum-dwellers, information is no longer limited to anyone who can afford to buy books, magazines and newspapers.

Everyone can access as many websites as their data plans allow. We’re all hooked to our phones — where we’re reading content around which 60% is in English.

With Silicon Valley leading more advances, apps and discoveries, there will be more words created, all of which will likely be primarily in English.

Think “Internet of Things,” “virtual technology,” and “wireless earphones” — though we may speak Mandarin, Hindi or Tagalog at home, we’re using the language of those who create these emerging technologies, i.e. the winners.

10 most popular languages in the world

The world is changing fast. In a blink of an eye — at least in a historian’s eye — the British empire fell. The US is now the world’s superpower, but other countries are showing their might.

Soon, English may no longer be the lingua franca of the world. And for certain periods of the eras before ours, there were competing superpowers who spread their language far and wide.

Is your mother tongue one of them? Find out in the list of the most popular languages in the world. 

1. English 

With over 1.5 billion native and non-native speakers, English is the most popular language in the world.

It is the official language in 40 countries, including:

  • The Bahamas
  • Belgium
  • Fiji
  • Ghana
  • Guyana
  • India
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand

While it isn’t the mother tongue of most people, it is the language that most people seek to learn.

Fun fact: English is the official language for pilots. This is a requirement by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to ensure effective and efficient communication between pilots and air traffic controllers, regardless of their native languages.

While useful, not everyone believes English is a gift to the world.

With more people using English, it can cause many other languages to become endangered or extinct, such as Welsh, Irish and Yoruba.

This has caused some academics to describe it as a killer language.

Sociolinguists Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas note how “the international prestige and instrumental value of English can lead to linguistic territory being occupied at the expense of local languages and the broad democratic role that national languages play.”

most popular languages in the world

Mandarin is one of the most challenging and most popular languages in the world. Source: Robyn Beck/AFP

2. Mandarin 

Most beautiful word in Mandarin: 岁月 [sùi yùe], which means “years, time, passing of time” evoking nostalgic childhood days 

Chinese, spoken by 1.3 billion people, is one of the most popular languages in the world. Among the many dialects, Mandarin, which is China’s official state language, represents the most popular choice for language learners.

Knowing the basics of Mandarin can open doors to many opportunities in the second-largest economy in the world, with a GDP of over US$17 trillion.

Mandarin holds the second position as the most widely used language among internet users. With the continuous growth of online sales, Mandarin is predicted to surpass English as the dominant language on the internet.

Billionaire and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, picked up the language to help him with business negotiations with the Chinese government. 

This growing significance of Chinese in the business world has increased the demand for Chinese-speaking professionals in the field. The number of employers seeking for employees fluent in Mandarin has increased by 35% in recent years.  

However, be prepared. Mandarin is known to be one of the most difficult languages to learn to its complexity.

3. Spanish 

Most beautiful word in Spanish: “Vivir” which means “to live.”

After Mandarin, Spanish is recognised as the second most popular language in the world. There is a total of over 485 million native speakers and over 550 million speakers of the language. 

Spanish is the official language in more than 20 countries. It holds the unofficial status as the second language in the US, with approximately 13% of the population speaking Spanish at home.

The popularity of the language has increased, with Netflix offering many Spanish-speaking shows, including the popular series “Money Heist.”

According to language experts, Spanish is considered one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.

most popular languages in the world

You can’t act in Bollywood unless you’re fluent in one of the most popular languages in the world: Hindi. Source: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP

4. Hindi

Most beautiful word in Hindi: नमस्ते  “Namaste” (nah-mah-stay) which is a greeting that says “I bow to you.”

With over 344 million native speakers, there is no denying that Hindi is one of the most popular languages in the world.

India is a major player in today’s world economy, and Hindi serves as the most widely spoken language in the country.

It may come as a surprise, but Hindi ranks as the third most spoken language globally.

Whether aspiring to work in international business or any other industry, acquiring proficiency in Hindi can prove highly advantageous for career advancement and establishing connections with Hindi-speaking businesses.

most popular languages in the world

Nick Jonas and Shakira both speak Arabic. Source: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images/AFP

5. Arabic 

Most beautiful word in Arabic: أمل “Amal” means “hope” or “aspiration.”

Arabic is the official language in numerous countries, making it the fifth most spoken language globally. These Arabic-speaking countries collectively possess a GDP exceeding US$600 billion.

The US has deemed Arabic a language of strategic importance. Proficiency in Arabic opens doors to many career opportunities, especially in the field of international affairs.

Although it sounds beautiful, learning Arabic can be a nightmare for English speakers. In fact, it is known to be one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to acquire. 

This is mainly due to the many variations in Arabic across different regions. An Arabic speaker from Lebanon may have difficulty understanding someone from Algeria and vice versa.

most popular languages in the world

France is home to one of the most popular languages in the world known as the “language of love”. Source: Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP

6. French

Most beautiful word in French:”Onirique” which means “dreamy, surreal,” best used to describe people, places, things, or experiences.

With over 300 million speakers worldwide, French is the second most spoken language in Europe and emerging markets. 

According to Forbes, the number of French speakers worldwide will reach 750 million by 2050. The French-speaking world encompasses Africa, which is experiencing rapid population growth. 

Among the top five fastest-growing economies in Africa, three have French as their official language. In countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Vietnam, and Cambodia, where English proficiency is limited, French serves as a lingua franca. 

French is also the second most widely learned foreign language after English. With its status as the official language in 29 countries, including Madagascar and Canada, French attracts learners from around the world. 

Learning French can enhance employment prospects in global industries such as tourism, fashion, visual arts, and theatre, as French is the predominant language within these sectors.

most popular languages in the world

Famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is fluent in one of the most popular languages in the world — Portugese. Source: Fayez Nureldine/AFP

7. Portuguese 

Most beautiful word in Portuguese: “Saudade” which means “a mixture of a few emotions: longing, melancholy, incompleteness, and love.”

Boasting an impressive 232 million native speakers and nearly 270 million speakers in total, Portuguese is the fifth most popular language in the world. I

ts influence extends beyond Brazil and Portugal, as Portuguese is spoken in several African countries, including Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde. It is the official language in 10 countries across South America, Africa, and Europe.

According to UNESCO, Portuguese is the fastest-growing European language after English, surpassing the popularity of German, French and Italian.

For native English speakers, learning Portuguese will not be difficult to learn. While distinct from English, the grammar and sentence structure are relatively straightforward. 

8. Russian 

Most beautiful word in Russian: “Вдохновение” (vdoh-no-ve-nie) which mean “inspiration”

Russian is currently spoken by around 260 million native speakers and 120 million non-native speakers — making it the eighth most spoken language worldwide.

It’s the official language in international organisations such as the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This makes it highly significant in international relations, diplomacy, and trade.

Knowing some Russian can get you far if you plan to study at its universities or if you want to work in the world’s sixth-largest economy. However, beware that it is not for the faint-hearted, due to its complex grammar rules and even harder pronounciation.

most popular languages in the world

Sandra Bullock (L) and Heidi Klum (R) Two speakers of one of the most popular languages in the world: German. Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America/AFP

9. German 

Most beautiful word in German: “Wanderlust” which means “the desire to travel and see the world.”

German comes from the same language family as English, sharing many similarities that make it easier for English speakers to learn.

If you are a “Grammar Nazi”, you will definitely enjoy learning German as it has many rigid grammar rules. 

German is one of the most popular languages in the world, as it is spoken not only in Germany but also in Austria and Switzerland. It serves as one of the three official languages of the European Union as well.

In the past, German held the title of “the language of science” until it was replaced by English after World War I.

However, it maintains a rich history in scientific and academic literature, making it an excellent language to learn for individuals interested in these subjects.

most popular languages in the world

The rise of the K-pop band BLACKPINK has made Korean one of the most popular languages in the world. Source: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

10. Korean 

Most beautiful word in Korean: 한  “Han” which means a “mutual feeling of sorrow” that’s unique and has national significance in Korea.

With over 79 million speakers, Korean is the 18th most popular language worldwide. 

With the rise of popular bands such as BLACKPINK, BTS, Girls’ Generation and many more, Korean has become one of the most popular languages in the world. 

As Korea continues to wield significant political and cultural influence on a global scale, the importance of the language is expected to grow further.

Hangul, the Korean alphabet, consists of just 24 letters, each designed to represent their sounds accurately. This logical approach to written Korean makes it one of the easiest languages to learn in terms of writing.

Beyond the cultural significance of K-pop and other forms of Korean entertainment, some of the world’s largest companies are headquartered in South Korea.

Acquiring a basic understanding of the Korean language can greatly enhance your value in the workplace and potentially open doors to job opportunities overseas.