List of languages by total number of speakers
These are lists of languages by the number of first (L1) and second language (L2) 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.
(2013, 17th edition)
The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more speakers by SIL Ethnologue. are accompanied by dates of the reference used by Ethnologue; an old date means that the current number of speakers may be substantially greater, but even for a recent date the data may be several decades older. A range of dates means that the figure is the sum of data from different years in different countries. Spurious L2 data is not included; this includes cases where the number of L2 speakers claimed for a country is several times the population of that country. L2 figures for Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, and Arabic are spurious, as are L1 figures for Hindi and Punjabi.
|Language||Family||L1 speakers||L2 speakers||Notes|
|848 million||178 million in China||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
All varieties of Chinese: 1200 million (2000)
|415 million (1995–2012)||59 million (2014)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations 548 million total.|
|Hindi / Urdu||Indo-European,
|500 million is the current estimate (Hindi 400 million (2011 Census), Urdu 64 million (1998–2001)||350 million is the current estimate (Hindi 200 million in India (2011 Census) ,94 million in Pakistan (1999)||(spurious number: includes partial figures of ca. 100 million native speakers from many Hindi languages; mutually intelligible with Urdu)|
|335 million (2003–2012)||505 million (no date)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|485 million (2010)||145 million||Spoken throughout the Middle East and found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. One of the reasons why Arabic has such a high number of speakers is because it is the language of the Quran and Muslims all around the world learn it to some extent|
|304 million (1998–2005), possibly not counting conflicting, undated claim of 40% of Angola||6 million in Mozambique and 20% of Angola (undated)|
|250 million (2011) 150 million in Bangladesh and 90 million West Bengal (India) (2011)||2 million including 800,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar; United States, United Kingdom, Italy - each having 100,000+ diaspora; Australia and Canada each having ca. 40,000||Mutually intelligible with Assamese|
|Indonesian / Malay||Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian||77 million (2000)||143 million in Indonesia (no date)||Spoken in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei|
|170 million (2002)||5 million in Baltic countries (2012)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations|
|French||Indo-European, Romance||75 million (2012) ||50 million (2005) ||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|121 million (2011)||3 million in United Kingdom, Canada, United States and Gulf countries||Mutually intelligible|
|Japanese||Japonic||122 million (1985)||1 million in Japan (no date)|
|German||Indo-European, Germanic||78 million (2012)||8 million in Germany (no date)|
|Telugu||Dravidian||83 million (2011)||5.5 million||One of the six Classical Languages of India.|
|Javanese||Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian||84 million (2000)||NA||Javanese is the largest language without an official status anywhere (and thus the largest minority language in the world), despite being used throughout Southeast Asia and Suriname.|
|Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||77 million (1984)||NA||Shanghainese is not mutually intelligible with some other Wu dialects or languages.|
|Korean||language isolate||77 million (2008–2010)||NA|
|Tamil||Dravidian||80 million (2001–2006) in India, Sri lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Marutius.||around 2 million in India, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Mauritius.||The first to be recognized among the six Classical Languages of India.|
|Marathi||Indo-European, Indo-Aryan||72 million (2001)||3 million in India (no date)|
|Turkish||Turkic, Oghuz||71 million (2006)|
|Vietnamese||Austroasiatic, Viet–Muong||68 million (1999)||NA|
|Italian||Indo-European, Romance||64 million (1977–2012)||Figure includes Italian bilinguals who do not use standard Italian as their main language, and who may account for nearly half the population in Italy|
|Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||62 million (1984–2006)||NA|
George H. J. Weber (1997)
In an article published in December 1997, with data collected from the early 1990s, Weber estimated primary and secondary speakers. However, only graphs were published, so numerical figures need to be measured, and readers are referred to his article. Figures here have been rounded off to the nearest 10 million if over 20 million, and to the nearest 5 million if under.
George H. J. Weber's report on the number of total speakers of the top languages
|Language||Native speakers||Secondary speakers||Total|
|Chinese||1,100 million||15 million||1,115 million|
|Hindi/Urdu||250 million||500 million||750 million|
|English||330 million||150 million||480 million|
|Spanish||300 million||15 million||315 million|
|Russian||155 million||125 million||280 million|
|Arabic||200 million||20 million||220 million|
|Portuguese||160 million||30 million||190 million|
|Bengali||180 million||9 million||189 million|
|Japanese||110 million||10 million||120 million|
|Punjabi||90 million||20 million||110 million|
|German||100 million||8 million||108 million|
|Javanese||98 million||1 million||99 million|
|French||80 million||10 million||90 million|
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. Despite this it is often 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 endangered languages - with the fewest numbers of speakers
- Lists of languages
- List of languages without official status by total number of speakers
- List of most widely spoken languages (by number of countries)
- "Ethnologue". SIL Haley.
- "Ethnologue". SIL Haley.
- "The World's 10 most influential Languages". Andaman.org. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
- "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.
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- "How many people speak Indonesian?". Indonesian-online.com. 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?