Top 10 Most Popular Languages

How many of these languages can you speak?

China, Shanghai skyline at dawn
Martin Puddy/ Stone/ Getty Images

There are 6,909 languages actively being spoken in the world today. Only about six percent of them have more than a million speakers each. As globalization becomes more common so does the learning of languages. Many people see the value of learning a foreign language to improve their international business relations. Because of this, the number of people who speak certain languages will continue to rise.

There are 10 languages that dominate the globe. Here's a list of the 10 most popular languages spoken worldwide, along with the approximate number of primary or first language speakers for that language.

10 Most Spoken Languages

  1. Chinese/Mandarin - 882 million
  2. Spanish - 325 million
  3. English - 312-380 million
  4. Arabic - 206-422 million
  5. Hindi - 181 million
  6. Portuguese - 178 million
  7. Bengali - 173 million
  8. Russian - 146 million
  9. Japanese - 128 million
  10. German - 96 million

The Languages of China

With 1.3 billion people, it's no surprise that Chinese is the most commonly spoken language. Due to the size of the population, the country is able to sustain many unique and interesting languages. When speaking of languages, the term "Chinese" encompasses to the many dialects spoken in the country. Because it is the most commonly spoken dialect, many people use Mandarin and Chinese interchangeably. While roughly 70 percent of the country speaks Mandarin, many other dialects are spoken as well.

Chinese dialects include (in order of popularity):

  1. Mandarin
  2. Shanghainese
  3. Taiwanese
  4. Cantonese

Why Are There So Many Spanish Speakers?

While Spanish isn't a commonly heard language in most parts of Africa, Asia, and the majority of Europe, that hasn't stopped it from becoming the second most commonly spoken language.

The spread of the Spanish language is rooted in colonization. Spain colonized the majority of South, Central, and large parts of North America as well. Before being incorporated into the United States, places like Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona were all part of Mexico, a former Spanish colony. While Spanish isn't a common language to hear in most of Asia, it's very common in the Philippines because it too was once a colony of Spain.

Like Chinese, there are many dialects of Spanish. The vocabulary between these dialects varies greatly depending on what country one is in. Accents and pronunciation also change between regions. While these dialectic differences can sometimes cause confusion, they do not block cross communication between speakers.

English, a Global Language

After World War II, the United States led the world in both technological and medical innovation. Because of this, it was beneficial for students pursuing work in these fields to learn English. As globalization occurred, it was useful to have a shared common language. This caused many parents to push their children to study English as a second language in the hopes of better preparing them for the business world.

It's also a useful language for travelers to learn because it's spoken in so many parts of the globe.