List of languages by total number of speakers

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For number by native speakers, see List of languages by number of native 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)[edit]

The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more speakers by SIL Ethnologue.[1] 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 Punjabi.[citation needed]

Language Family L1 speakers L2 speakers Total Notes
Mandarin Sino-Tibetan,
850 million (2014) 500 million in China, Taiwan, Singapore and diaspora in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand) (2014) 1350 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
English Indo-European,
400 million in USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (2014) 800 million
- 400 as L2 in English-speaking countries
- 400 probably as foreign language
1200 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Hindi Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
300 million in India (2014) 240 million in India and around the world 540 million Spoken by 41% of Indians. Mutually intelligible to Urdu but uses the Devanagari script.
Spanish Indo-European,
390 million in Spanish-speaking countries (2014) 70 million
- 55 as L2
- 15 as Foreign language in the world (2014)
460 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations.

(Standard Arabic)[2]

340 million in the countries of the Arab league (2014) 50 million in sub-Saharan Africa and Arabic diaspora in Europe (2014) 390 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Urdu Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
15 million in Pakistan and 50 million in India (2014) 181 million in Pakistan and 130 million by Muslims of India (2014) 376 million Mutually intelligible to Hindi but uses the Arabic-Perso script.
Portuguese Indo-European,
265 million in Brazil, Portugal, Angola and Mozambique (2014) 31 million in the Portuguese Diaspora and 2 million Brazilian diaspora (undated) 336 million
French Indo-European, Romance 80 million in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Canada (2014)~ Re: Victor 194 million
- 134 as L2 in French-speaking countries
- 60 as a foreign language in the world
274 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Malay Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 70 million (40 in Indonesia, 28 in Malaysia, 2 in Singapore and Brunei) (2014) 200 million in Indonesia and East Timor 270 million Malay and Indonesian are mutually intelligible
Russian Indo-European,
180 million in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (2014) 80 million
- 65 in former USSR states but in decline (2014)
- 15 as a foreign language in the world
260 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations
Bengali Indo-European,
250 million (150 in Bangladesh and 100 in east India) (2014) 20 million L2 speakers in Bangladesh (2011 census)[3] 250 million
German Indo-European, Germanic 95 million (2014) 50 million in Europe (2014) according eurostat 145 million
Japanese Japonic 122 million (1985) 1 million in diaspora 123 million
Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 84 million (2000)
Telugu Dravidian 77 million (2005) 6 million in India (no date) 83 million
Tamil Dravidian 70 million (2005) 8 million in diaspora (2005) 78 million
Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 77 million (1984) 77 million
Korean language isolate 77 million (2008–2010) 77 million
Marathi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 72 million (2001) 3 million in India (no date) 75 million
Turkish Turkic, Oghuz 71 million (2006) 0.4 million in Turkey (2006) 71.4 million
Vietnamese Austroasiatic, Viet–Muong 68 million (1999) 68 million
Italian Indo-European, Romance 64 million (1977–2012) 64 million
Western Punjabi Indo-European,
63 million (2000) 63 million the Ethnologue boundary between Western and Eastern Punjabi is spurious
Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 62 million (1984–2006) 62 million

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)[edit]

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.[4] 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
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
Hindi/Urdu 250 million  ?  ?
Arabic 200 million 20 million 220 million
Brazilian Portuguese 160 million 30 million 190 million
Bengali 180 million  ?  ?
Japanese 110 million 10 million 120 million
Punjabi 90 million  ?  ?
German 100 million 10 million 110 million
Javanese 80 million  ?  ?

Estimates by language[edit]

English estimates (total number of speakers)[edit]

Totaling about 1.5 billion or 1.8 billion speakers.[5][6] 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 Hong Kong, 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.[7][8]

Indonesian/Malay estimates (total number of speakers)[edit]

Totaling about 268 million speakers,[9] 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, 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.[9] 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.

Chinese estimations[edit]

Regarding Chinese as a whole, most statistics count the native speakers of Chinese dialects. However, the most recent national language survey in China reported that barely more than half the population is conversant in Mandarin.[10] Younger people and urban people in China are more likely to speak mutually intelligible varieties of Mandarin and than older and rural people.

Standard Mandarin is also official outside the P.R.C. in Singapore and in Taiwan. There is increasing interest in learning Chinese around the world, but the number of second-language and foreign-language speakers for English is much larger than for Chinese.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ethnologue". SIL Haley. 
  2. ^ Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  3. ^ Bengali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  4. ^ "The World's 10 most influential Languages". Retrieved 2014-03-21. 
  5. ^ "Future of English" (PDF). The British Council. Retrieved 2011-08-24.  (page 10)
  6. ^ "World-Wide English". eHistLing. Universität Basel. Archived from the original on 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  7. ^ "English language". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  8. ^ "Number Of English Speaking People". Number Of. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  9. ^ a b "How many people speak Indonesian?". Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  10. ^ "More than half of Chinese can speak mandarin". China View. 7 March 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2015.  "Beijing says 400 million Chinese cannot speak Mandarin". BBC News. Retrieved 24 April 2015. 
  11. ^ McCrum, Robert; MacNeil, Robert; Cran, William (2003). The Story of English (Third Revised ed.). London: Penguin Books. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-14-200231-5. 

External links[edit]