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.
Ethnologue (2013, 17th edition)
The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more speakers by SIL Ethnologue. Figures 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 Panjabi.
|Language||Family||L1 speakers||L2 speakers||Notes|
|850 million (2000)||180 million in China (no date)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
All varieties of Chinese: 1200 million (2000)
|335 million (2003–2012)||505 million (no date)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|415 million (1995–2012)||15 million in Spain & France (2006–2012)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|260 million (2001)||120 million in India (1999)||(spurious number: includes partial figures of ca. 100 million native speakers from many Hindi languages; indistinguishable from Urdu)|
|190 million (2001)||140 million in Bangladesh (no date)|
|200 million (1998–2005), possibly not counting conflicting, undated claim of 40% of Angola||6 million in Mozambique and 20% of Angola (undated)|
|170 million (2002)||5 million in Baltic countries (2012)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations|
|64 million (1998–2001)||94 million in Pakistan (1999)||(indistinguishable from Hindustani Hindi)|
|Indonesian||Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian||23 million (2000)||140 million in Indonesia (no date)||invented language heavily borrowed from Malay|
|Japanese||Japonic||122 million (1985)||1 million in Japan (no date)|
|German||Indo-European, Germanic||78 million (2012)||8 million in Germany (no date)|
|Javanese||Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian||84 million (2000)||NA|
|Telugu||Dravidian||74 million (2001)||5 million in India (no date)|
|Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||77 million (1984)||NA|
|Korean||language isolate||77 million (2008–2010)||NA|
|Tamil||Dravidian||69 million (2001–2006)||8 million in India (no date)|
|French||Indo-European, Romance||75 million (1987–2012)||27 million UK, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg (2012), 2 million Morocco (1997), 0.4 million Haiti (undated), 20% Lebanon (undated)||One of the six official languages of the United Nations.|
|Marathi||Indo-European, Indo-Aryan||72 million (2001)||3 million in India (no date)|
|Turkish||Turkic, Oghuz||71 million (2006)||0.4 million in Turkey (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|
|63 million (2000)||NA||the Ethnologue boundary between Western and Eastern Punjabi is spurious|
|Sino-Tibetan, Chinese||62 million (1984–2006)||NA|
|54 million (2006)||NA||Used in media across the Arab world. 206 million native and 246 million L2 speakers of all varieties of Arabic (1999)|
Arabic is only listed under Egyptian Arabic, as Arabic as a whole is not considered a single language by Ethnologue. Other languages, such as Persian, Tagalog/Filipino, and Swahili, failed to make the list because they are divided into more than one language by Ethnologue. The distinction Ethnologue uses for Eastern and Western Panjabi is the national border, which does not correspond to the linguistic distinction. Indonesian and Malaysian are essentially the same language. Hindi and Urdu are as well; however, 100 million non-Hindustani speakers are included as "Hindi". Hausa has 25 million L1 total and 15 million L2 in Nigeria, and so at least approaches our limit of 50 million. Coastal Swahili has 15 million L1 in Tanzania (2012) and "probably over 80% of rural" Tanzania as L2, not counting Kenya or the 10 million L2 speakers of Congo Swahili (1999), so it also at least approaches our limit.
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||(not a significant difference)|
|English||330 million||150 million||480 million|
|Spanish||300 million||15 million||315 million|
|Russian||155 million||125 million||280 million|
|French||80 million||190 million||270 million|
|Arabic||200 million||20 million||220 million|
|Brazilian Portuguese||160 million||30 million||190 million|
|Japanese||110 million||10 million||120 million|
|German||100 million||10 million||110 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. 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.
Regarding Chinese as a whole, most statistics count the native speakers of Chinese dialects. However, figures are often ambiguous for the numbers of both native and total speakers regarding varieties other than Mandarin and to a lesser extant, Cantonese. This is due to the fact that while there are countless of different varieties of Chinese, most dialects form a dialect continuum, in which differences in speech generally become more pronounced as distances increase, resulting in them being regarded as one dialect as in the case with Hokkien and Hakka.
With the rise of China's economy, Chinese is also increasing in number as a second or third language in many countries. In most cases, inclusion of Chinese as a second language usually refers to Mandarin only.
- 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.
- Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- "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.
- "Number Of English Speaking People". Number Of. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "How many people speak Indonesian?". Indonesian-online.com. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- Norman (1988), p. 187.
- Norman (1988), pp. 189–190.
- "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?