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]

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,[2] 99% in Taiwan and 48% in Hong Kong as L1 & L2.[3] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
English Indo-European,
355.5 million 505 million 841 million 1500 million (375 million L1 + 375 million L2 + 750 million FL).[4] 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).[5] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Hindi Indo-European,
Indo-Aryan, Hindustani
260 million (2001) 120 million 380 million[6] 490 million[7][8] (311 million L1[9]). 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) [10] 295 million.[9] One of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Russian Indo-European,
166 million 110 million[11] 276 million One of the six official languages of the United Nations
Portuguese Indo-European,
216 million 15 million[12] 231 million 250 million.[13]
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).[14] 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
German Indo-European, Germanic 78 million 28 million[15] 106 million 115 million (100 million L1 + 14.5 million FL)[16]
Javanese Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian 84 million (2000) 84 million
Telugu Dravidian 110 million (2014) 10 million in India (no date) 110 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
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.[17] 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.[18][19] 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.[20][21]

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

Totaling about 268 million speakers,[22] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

Urdu estimates (total number of speakers)[edit]

Totaling about 376 million speakers. 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 181 million Pakistanis as it is the official language of Pakistan and 130 million speakers in India as it is the language of Indian Muslims. Urdu is the native language of 15 million speakers in Pakistan and 50 million speakers in India. Urdu is also mutually intelligible to Hindi.

See also[edit]


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