10 most spoken languages in the world and the powerful benefits of each

most spoken languages in the world
Indian superstar Deepika Padukona (right) can speak three of the 10 most spoken languages in the world: Hindi, English and Mandarin. Source: AFP

Master the most spoken languages in the world and you have the potential to connect with billions of people.

It’s a powerful skill to have, which could explain why, out of over 7,000 languages in the world, many important and famous people choose to take up Mandarin:

  • Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg
  • Film director extraordinaire Steven Spielberg
  • Former US First Lady Michelle Obama
  • Basketball player LeBron James

Language is the cornerstone of human communication, connecting diverse cultures and bridging global gaps. It is a powerful tool that shapes our thoughts, beliefs, and relationships.

And if you could speak just 23 languages, you could communicate with more than half of the almost 7.9 billion people on our planet.

But there are downsides to learning the most spoken languages in the world that many don’t speak about.

most spoken languages in the world

The first known writing system is the concept of pictographs which are drawings. Source: Remy Gabalda/AFP

What happens when billions of people speak one language?

From the first language in the world — Sumerian, as written proof of it was discovered on the Kish tablet in today’s Iraq, dating back to approximately 3500 BC — we now have 7,000 languages.

That number, however, is set to shrink.

When some languages thrive and continue to evolve, this causes others to face the risk of extinction.

When Japan colonised Hokkaido, they made the locals there — known as the Ainus — speak Japanese. Today, their language is classified as critically endangered, with only a handful of elderly native speakers remaining.

When a tiger parent from India pushes their children to speak English mostly, so that they may get into the best universities to later get the best jobs, they’re leaving little time for their children to master their mother tongues, like Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi or nearly 800 languages that can be found in the country.

When the Welsh and Scots joined the English, many of them moved to the cities, where English is more widely spoken, from government affairs to the media. Only 17.8% of the Welsh population today speak their mother tongue.

When the empire of the Hittites, who lived in what is now Turkey, collapsed, so did its language. This is despite their language being widely used then for diplomacy and trade.

Even the mighty can fall — and when a language dies, so does a culture’s heritage, art, unique words to describe the different shades of love, and more.

And what all this says about the most spoken languages in the world today is that the native speakers are the lucky ones.

Their cultures live and thrive, sustaining countless memories that can be told from one to another and memorialised in the written form in the most suitable words.

Below are the 10 most spoken languages in the world that dominate life as we know it today:

10 most spoken languages in the world 

most spoken languages in the world

Did you know that the word “coffee” was actually borrowed from Arabic? Source: Joe Raedle/AFP

1. English 

There are over 1.5 billion English speakers in the world. It is not only the most spoken language in the world but also the most studied language. 

English is the official language in 67 countries and is the official language of international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. 

English has borrowed and assimilated words from various languages throughout history due to factors such as colonisation, trade, and cultural exchanges. 

As a result, it has one of the largest vocabularies of any language, with estimates ranging from 250,000 to over one million words.

English has borrowed extensively from Latin, French, and Greek, particularly in areas such as science, medicine, law, and academia.

Some examples include: 

  • Bungalow – borrowed from Hindi 
  • Coffee – borrowed from Arabic
  • Mosquito – borrowed from Spanish 
most spoken languages in the world

Mark Zuckerberg is fluent in Mandarin which is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Source: Kevin Dietsch/AFP

2. Mandarin 

With over 1.3 billion speakers, Mandarin is one of the most spoken languages around the world. It has been the official language of China for over 3,000 years. 

Mandarin is also the official language of Singapore and Taiwan. 

While it comes in second after English on the list of most spoken languages in the world, it actually has the most native speakers and is the most spoken language in Asia. 

Fun fact: Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is fluent in Mandarin and is seen giving speeches and conducting interviews in the language.  

3. Hindi 

Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 500 million speakers. It is the official language of India and is also spoken in various other countries, including Nepal, Fiji, Mauritius, and Suriname.

Surprisingly, despite Hindi being recognised as an official language in India, it is not universally spoken by the whole country. 

One interesting fact about Hindi is that it is written in the Devanagari script, one of the oldest writing systems still used today.

Fun fact: Mark Ruffalo, who plays Hulk, speaks Hindi in Marvel’s first movie of The Avengers franchise. 

4. Spanish 

Spanish is the official language in 20 countries. It is recognised as one of the official languages not only by the United Nations but also by other international organisations like the African Union and the European Union.

Currently, there is a total of over 485 million native speakers and over 550 million speakers of the language.

In the US, you might be surprised to learn that Spanish ranks as the second most spoken language. With over 40 million Spanish speakers in the country, its presence is significant.

One interesting fact about Spanish is its influence on the English language. Spanish has contributed numerous words to English vocabulary.

Words like “siesta,” “fiesta,” “cafeteria,” “adobe,” “admiral,” “banana,” and “chocolate” are just a few examples of Spanish words that have been adopted into English.

In recent years, Spanish has gained fame in pop culture as well. If you tune in to the radio, it’s likely you will come across Spanish-language songs being played, such as Bailando by Enrique Iglesias, Despasito by Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber, Limbo by Daddy Yankee and many more. 

Fun fact: Many famous people are fluent in Spanish, including Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and former US president George W. Bush.

most spoken languages in the world

Timothée Chalamet is bilingual in two of the most spoken languages in the world — English and French. Source: Ethan Miller/AFP

5. French 

With over 300 million speakers worldwide, French is one of the most spoken languages in the world

The interesting thing about French is that it isn’t just spoken in France. 

French is the official language in 29 countries worldwide, including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Haiti, and several African nations.

French is also considered one of the most influential languages in the world. It has had a significant impact on various fields, such as diplomacy, literature, cuisine, fashion, and the arts.

Another fascinating fact about French is its extensive influence on the English language. Many English words have been borrowed from French, especially in areas like:

  • Food – cuisine, croissant
  • Fashion – chic, boutique
  • Arts –  ballet, encore

Fun fact: Timothée Chalamet, Johnny Depp, Emma Watson and Tom Hiddleston are fluent speakers of French. 

6. Arabic 

Arabic is one of the oldest languages in the world, with a rich history spanning over 1,500 years.

Arabic is the official language of 26 countries and is spoken by more than 300 million people worldwide. It is the liturgical language of Islam (which means it’s used for religious worship by billions of Muslims).

Fun fact: Zayn Malik, Shakira, Rami Malek, Natalie Portman and Salma Hayek all speak Arabic as a second language. 

most spoken languages in the world

Aishwarya Rai is fluent in Bengali, which is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Source: Loic Venance/AFP

7. Bengali

Bengali, also known as Bangla, is the only language in the world that has been recognised as an official language in two countries, Bangladesh and India. 

It serves as the official language of Bangladesh and is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India.

Though many have not heard of the language, it actually has over 280 million speakers making it one of the most spoken languages in the world. 

Fun fact: Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachan once said, “My nani’s (grandmother) biggest regret in life is that I never learnt fluent Bengali.” 

However, he might have made up for it by marrying Aishwarya Rai, who is fluent in Bengali. 

most spoken languages in the world

Mila Kunis is a native speaker of Russian — one of the most spoken languages in the world. Source: Kevin Winter/AFP

8. Russian 

It is the official language of Russia and is also spoken in several other countries, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine.

There are about 260 million native speakers and 120 million non-native speakers of Russian – making it the eighth most spoken language in the world. 

Russian literature has produced world-renowned authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, and Alexander Pushkin. Their works include novels like “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment.” 

Fun fact: Actress Mila Kunis does not only understands Russian; it is actually her first language. Despite moving to the US at the age of seven, her Russian language skills have remained. 

9. Portuguese

Portuguese is the official language of nine countries, which are Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe. 

This makes it one of the most spoken languages in the world, with over 260 million native speakers. 

One interesting fact about Portuguese is its global influence during the Age of Discoveries. Portuguese explorers and navigators, such as Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, played a crucial role in the exploration and colonisation of various parts of the world, including Brazil, parts of Africa, and Asia. 

Fun fact: J.K. Rowling is not only fluent in magical spells, but also Portuguese. Aside from her, celebrities such as Nelly Furtado, Ricky Martin and Hailey Bieber are also fluent in the language. 

10. Indonesian 

Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, which is why Indonesia is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Indonesian, also known as Bahasa Indonesia, is the official language of Indonesia and serves as a unifying language among the diverse population of the country.

When you speak Indonesian, you will also be able to communicate with people in Malaysia and Brunei because it is very similar to Bahasa Melayu. 

There are over 198 million Indonesian speakers in the world — if you can understand and speak to them, you can take advantage of the many opportunities in store, from getting new customer for your business to finding out the best-kept secrets of tropical paradises like Bali. 

Fun fact: Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor in The Avengers franchise, is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia. The Australian actor learnt the language during primary and high school.