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.

Krysstal (1997, 2010)[1][edit]

Pos Language Family Script(s) Used Millions of speakers Location
1 Mandarin Sino-Tibetan Chinese Characters 1151 China, Malaysia, Taiwan
2 English Indo-European Latin 1000 USA, UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand
3 Spanish Indo-European Latin 500 Mexico, Central and South America, Spain
4 Hindi Indo-European Devanagari 490 North and Central India
5 Russian Indo-European Cyrillic 277 Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Central Asia
6 Arabic Afro-Asiatic Arabic 255 Middle East, Arabia, North Africa
7 Portuguese Indo-European Latin 240 Brazil, Portugal, Southern Africa
8 Bengali Indo-European Bengali 215 Bangladesh, Eastern India
9 French Indo-European Latin 200 France, Canada, West Africa, Central Africa
10 Malay, Indonesian Malayo-Polynesian Latin 175 Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
11 German Indo-European Latin 166 Germany, Austria, Central Europe
12 Japanese Altaic Chinese Characters and 2 Japanese Alphabets 132 Japan
13 Persian Indo-European Nastaliq 110 Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia
14 Urdu Indo-European Nastaliq 104 Pakistan, India
15 Punjabi Indo-European Gurumukhi 103 Pakistan, India
16 Wu Sino-Tibetan Chinese Characters 90 China
17 Vietnamese Austroasiatic Based on Latin 86 Vietnam, China
18 Javanese Malayo-Polynesian Javanese 85 Indonesia
19 Tamil Dravidian Tamil 78 Southern India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia
20 Korean Altaic Hangul 78 Korean Peninsula
21 Turkish Altaic Latin 75 Turkey, Central Asia
22 Telugu Dravidian Telugu 74 Southern India
23 Marathi Indo-European Devanagari 72 Western India
24 Italian Indo-European Latin 62 Italy, Central Europe
25 Thai Sino-Tibetan Thai 60 Thailand, Laos
26 Burmese Sino-Tibetan Burmese 56 Myanmar
27 Cantonese Sino-Tibetan Chinese Characters 55 Southern China
28 Kannada Dravidian Kannada 47 Southern India
29 Gujarati Indo-European Gujarati 46 Western India, Kenya
30 Polish Indo-European Latin 46 Poland, Central Europe

Ethnologue (2013, 17th edition)[edit]

The following languages are listed as having 50 million or more speakers by SIL Ethnologue.[2]

Language Family L1 speakers L2 speakers Total Other sources and Notes
Mandarin Sino-Tibetan,
848 million (2000) 178 million 1026 million 70% of the Chinese population in China as L1 & L2,[3] 99% in Taiwan and 48% in Hong Kong as L1 & L2.[4] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
English Indo-European,
355.5 million 505 million 841 million 1.5 billion (375 million L1 + 375 million L2 + 750 million FL).[5] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Spanish Indo-European,
399 million 89.5 million 489 million 560 million (470 million L1 & L2 with native competence + 58 million L2 with limited competence + 20 million FL).[6] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Hindi Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
260 million (2001) 120 million 380 million[7] 490 million[8][9] (311 million L1[10]). Spoken by 41% of Indians. Mutually intelligible to Urdu but uses the Devanagari script.

(Standard Arabic)

206 million (all varieties) 246 million (all varieties) 352 million (452 million L1 & L2 all arabic varieties, but 100.5 million are not educated with standard arabic) [11] 295 million.[10] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Russian Indo-European,
166 million 110 million[12] 276 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations
Portuguese Indo-European,
216 million 15 million[13] 231 million 250 million.[14]
Bengali Indo-European,
189 million 19 million 208 million
French Indo-European, Romance 76 million 87 million 163 million 274 million (212 million L1 & L2 + 62 million FL).[15] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Malay Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 23 million 140 million in Indonesia and East Timor 163 million Malay and Indonesian are mutually intelligible
Urdu Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
64 million 94 million 158 million Mutually intelligible to Hindi but uses the Arabic-Perso script.
Japanese Japonic 128 million 128 million
Persian Indo-European 80 million 40 million 120 million
German Indo-European, Germanic 78 million 28 million[16] 106 million 181 million (106 million L1 + at least 75 million FL)[17][18]
Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 84 million (2000) 84 million
Telugu Dravidian 110 million (2014) 10 million in India (no date) 110 million
Turkish Altaic 50 million 30 million 80 million
Tamil Dravidian 70 million (2005) 8 million in diaspora (2005) 78 million
Korean language isolate 77 million 77 million
Sino-Tibetan, Chinese 77 million (1984) 77 million
Marathi Indo-European, Indo-Aryan 72 million (2001) 3 million in India (no date) 75 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 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.[19] 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.[20][21] 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, India, Pakistan, 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.[22][23]

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

Totaling about 268 million speakers,[24] 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.[24] 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 estimates[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.[25] Younger people and urban people in China are more likely to speak mutually intelligible varieties of Mandarin 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.[26]

Urdu estimates (as a second language)[edit]

Totaling about 335 million speakers that would rank Urdu as the 6th most spoken language in the world. Urdu is unusual, as it is sometimes listed as having a relatively small number of second language speakers. However, Urdu is the second language of 150 million Pakistanis and 120 million Indian Muslims. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. Urdu is historically associated with the Muslims of the region of Hindustan and an official language of six states of India. It is also one of the 22 official languages recognized in the Constitution of India.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Ethnologue". SIL Haley. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Crystal, 2006 (6 The native speaker and ELT challenges)
  6. ^ Instituto Cervantes (
  7. ^ Flows, Capital. "The Problem With The English Language In India". Retrieved 2015-06-02. 
  8. ^
  9. ^$File/Spotlight_on_Indias_entertainment_economy.pdf
  10. ^ a b Nationalencyclopedin, 2010
  11. ^ Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  12. ^ Ethnologue 16th Eidition
  13. ^ Ethnologue 16th Eidition
  14. ^ Instituto Camoes (
  15. ^
  16. ^ Ethnologue 16th Edition
  17. ^ Ammon, Ulrich - Die Stellung der deutschen Sprache in der Welt (de Gruyter Mouton; ISBN 978-3-11-019298-8)
  18. ^ Eurobarometer Survey 2012 by the European Commission
  19. ^ "The World's 10 most influential Languages". Retrieved 2014-03-21. 
  20. ^ "Future of English" (PDF). The British Council. Retrieved 2011-08-24.  (page 10)
  21. ^ "World-Wide English". eHistLing. Universität Basel. Archived from the original on 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  22. ^ "English language". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  23. ^ "Number Of English Speaking People". Number Of. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  24. ^ a b "How many people speak Indonesian?". Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  25. ^ "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. 
  26. ^ 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]