List of languages by total number of speakers
These are lists of languages by the number of first and second language speakers. However, particularly because of large uncertainties in estimating the number of secondary speakers, all such lists should be used with caution. In particular, the lists below should be seen as tentative.
- 1 Ethnologue and other current estimates
- 2 George H. J. Weber's estimate (1997)
- 3 Estimates by language
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Ethnologue and other current estimates
|Language||Ethnologue||Other current estimates|
|1. Mandarin Chinese||1026 mill. (848 mill. L1 + 175 mill. L2)|
|2. English||760 mill.||1500 mill. (375 mill. L1 + 375 mill. L2 + 750 mill. FL)|
|3. Spanish 466 mill. (406 mill. L1 + 60 mill. L2)||528 mill. (457 mill. natively + 51 mill. with limited knowledge)||765 mill. (335 mill. L1 + 430 mill. L2)|
|4. Hindi||380 mill. (260 mill. L1 + 120 mill. L2)|
|5. Standard Arabic||353.5 mill. (L2)||422 million in Arab-speaking countries|
|6. Russian||272 mill. (162 mill. L1 + 110 mill. L2)|
|7. Bengali||250 mill. (193 mill. L1 + 57 mill. L2)|
|8. Portuguese||217 mill. (202 mill. L1 + 15 mill. L2)||240 million |
|9. Malaysian/Indonesian||163 mill. (23 mill. L1 + 140 mill. L2)||268 million|
|10. Japanese||123 mill. (122 mill. L1 + 1 mill. L2)|
|11. French||118.5 mill. (68.5 mill. L1 + 50 mill. L2)||220 million,|
|12. German||111.8 mill. (83.8 mill. L1 + 28 mill. L2)||169 million|
|13. Filipino||(64.0 mill. L1 + 36.6 mill. L2)|
|13. Urdu||104 mill. (63.4 mill. L1 + 36.6 mill. L2)|
|14. Javanese||84.3 mill. (L1)|
|15. Telugu||79 mill. (74 mill. L1 + 5 mill. L2)|
|16. Wu||77.2 mill. (L1)|
|17. Tamil||76.8 mill. (68.8 mill. L1 + 8 mill. L2)|
|18. Marathi||74.8 mill. (71.8 mill. L1 + 3 mill. L2)|
|19. Italian||73.4 mill. (61.2 mill. L1 + 11.2 mill. L2)||187 million (62 mill. L1 + 125 mill. L2)|
|20. Turkish||73.2 mill. (70.0 mill .L1 + 3.2 mill. L2)|
|21. Vietnamese||67.8 mill. (L1)|
|22. Korean||66.4 mill. (L1)|
|23. Western Punjabi||62.6 mill. (L1)|
|24. Cantonese||62.2 mill. (L1)||70 million|
|25. Persian||56.6 million (L1)|
|26. Kannada||46.1 million (L1)|
George H. J. Weber's estimate (1997)
In an article published in December 1997, Weber posted estimates of primary and secondary speakers (this only includes the main land). Adding these, it is possible to obtain estimates for total speakers. However, since only graphs and not numerical figures are listed, readers are referred to his article.
George H. J. Weber's report on the number of total speakers of the top languages.
|Language||Native speakers||Secondary speakers||Total|
|1. Mandarin Chinese||1,100 million||20 mill.||1,120 mill.|
|2. Spanish||395 mill.||20 mill.||415 mill.|
|3. English||365 mill.||150 mill.||480 mill.|
|4. Russian||160 mill.||125 mill.||285 mill.|
|5. French||75 mill.||190 mill.||265 mill.|
|6. Hindi/Urdu||250 mill.||250 mill.|
|7. Arabic||200 mill.||21 mill.||221 mill.|
|8. Portuguese||160 mill.||28 mill.||188 mill.|
|9. Bengali||185 mill.||185 mill.|
|10. Japanese||125 mill.||8 mill.||133 mill.|
|11. Punjabi||130 mill.||130 mill.|
|12. Sindhi||130 mill.||130 mill.|
|13. German||100 mill.||9 mill.||109 mill.|
Criticisms of Weber's List
As mentioned in the previous section, Weber's list fails to mention Indonesian/Malay, which other sources list as a top 10 language. Additionally, Weber's list uses data collected between the early 1980s and mid 1990s. Weber states that his list does not need to be updated because "[t]he number of speakers of all the top ten languages have gone up in the last quarter century but relative to each other, the situation among the top ten remains unchanged."  Weber does not provide any evidence to support this claim. With the rise in access to the internet, whose content is led by English and Russian, and because increased exposure to languages increases one's ability to use that language even if the exposure is virtual, it is possible that the number of second language speakers of English and Russian has increased faster than that of other top languages.
Estimates by language
English estimates (total number of speakers)
Totaling about 1.5 billion or 1.8 billion speakers. English is the primary language of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and various Caribbean and Pacific island nations; it is also an official language of Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Singapore and many sub-Saharan African countries. It is the most widely spoken language in the world, and the most widely taught foreign language.
Indonesian/Malay estimates (total number of speakers)
Totaling about 268 million speakers, Indonesian/Malay is unusual, as it is sometimes listed as having a relatively small number of native speakers. However, it is the sole official language of Indonesia, which has a population of 237 million people. In Indonesia, schooling is compulsory and is in the Indonesian language (Indonesia has a 92% literacy rate), and the percentage of Indonesians who speak the Indonesian language is close to 100%. It is also the official language of Malaysia, with a population of over 27 million. Counting the populations of Indonesia, Malaysia, plus speakers in Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, and southern Thailand gives an estimate of 268 million people, making it one of the top ten most widely spoken languages in the world in terms of total number of speakers. Some sources rate it as the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. However, despite this, it is often inexplicably absent from many lists of the world's most widely-spoken languages, such as George H. J. Weber's list.
Most statistics count the native speakers of Chinese dialects. However, with Chinese investments in developing countries including many African countries, people in these countries have started to learn Chinese. Chinese is also increasing in number as a second or third language in developed countries.
- Linguistic demography
- Lists of languages
- List of languages by number of native speakers
- List of languages without official status by total number of speakers
- List of most widely spoken languages (by number of countries)
- Lists of endangered languages (for languages with the fewest numbers of speakers)
- M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig, eds. (2013). Summary by language size, Ethnologue, 17th edition.
- Standard Chineses reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- Spanish reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- According to an Instituto Cervantes 2013 report, there are 528 millon Spanish speakers, including speakers with limited knowledge, or students of the language: eldiae.es
- Hindi reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- 206,000,000 L1 speakers of all Arabic varieties + 246,000,000 L2 speakers of all Arabic varieties – 100,500,000 don't have adequate education in Standard Arabic: Standard Arabic reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Russian reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- Bengali reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- Portuguese reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- Malaysian/Indonesian reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- "How many people speak Indonesian?". Indonesian-online.com. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- Japanese reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- French reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- francophonie.org (page 6)
- German reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- 89 million natively speakers Nationalencyklopedin, 2010 + 80 million secondary speakers (National Geographic Collegiate Atlas of the World. Willard, Ohio: R.R Donnelley & Sons Company. April 2006. pp. 257–299. ISBN Regular:0-7922-3662-9, 978-0-7922-3662-7. Deluxe: 0-7922-7976-X, 978-0-7922-7976-1).
- Urdu reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Javanese reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Telugu reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Wu reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Tamil reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Marathi reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Italian reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- The Italian language in the digital age (2012)
- Turkish reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Vietnamese reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Korean reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Western Punjabi reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Cantonese reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- searcharticles.net. The Amazing World of Chinese Translation (Jessica Thomson)
- Persian reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- kannada reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- "The World's 10 most influential Languages". Andaman.org. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "Usage of content languages for websites". Web technology surveys. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
- "Internet Resources and Second Language Acquisition: An Evaluation of Virtual Immersion". Onlinelibrary.wiley.com. 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "Future of English". The British Council. Retrieved 2011-08-24. (page 10)
- "World-Wide English". eHistLing. Universität Basel. Archived from the original on 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "English language". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "Number Of English Speaking People". Number Of. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "Chinese Rising in Language Popularity". Nypress.com. 2011-03-23. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- Most Widely Spoken Languages
- The World’s 10 most influential Languages by George Weber
- (French) Qu'est-ce que la Francophonie?