The is something profoundly fascinating about foreign languages and the different linguistic patterns that form groups of different speakers worldwide. From Romance to Germanic languages and beyond, there are an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to learning a new tongue. A look at the most widely spoken languages across the globe may surprise you and open your eyes to the language you should focus on studying before your next trip.
If you take into account the number of native and non-native speakers, English is the most spoken language in the world and is recognized as an official language in over fifty countries across the globe. However, only 380 million people speak English as their primary language, which would bump it to the number three spot of most spoken languages.
English is an Indo-European language and is spoken across all six inhabited continents. The English language is believed to have spread across the globe with the Anglo-Saxons from Britain during the period of colonization. It is part of the group of Germanic Languages, bearing similarities to German and Dutch.
With 1,117 million speakers worldwide, Mandarin Chinese is the second most spoken language in the world. In fact, there are more native speakers of Mandarin than English. Spoken primarily in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau, Mandarin Chinese is classified as a group five language that is very difficult for English speakers to learn. What complicates matters are the fact that there is no alphabet. Mandarin is a pictographic language that is formulated from written symbols. It will take an English speaker roughly 2200 hours to achieve proficiency.
Hindi is the third most spoken language in the world when combining native and non-native speakers. It has 615 million total speakers and 341 million people consider Hindi their native tongue. Hindi is primarily spoken in India, Nepal, Mauritius, and the United States. While it is an official language of India, it is only spoken as the main language in specific states, including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Bihar, and Rajasthan.
Hindi is an Indo-European language that is challenging for English speakers to learn. It's written in a script called Devanagari and shares some words with Arabic. Hindi is classified as a group four language that takes roughly 1100 hours for English speakers to grasp.
Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world with 534 million total speakers. It is the second-most spoken among native speakers with 460 million people calling it their first language. Spanish is primarily used in Spain, throughout the continent of South America, and is a common second language in the United States. It is also the primary language spoken in Mexico and Central America.
Spanish is among the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. It's classified as a group one language which encompasses those that are similar to English and take between 575-600 hours of study to achieve general proficiency.
French is the fifth most spoken language in the world with 280 million speakers worldwide. Of course, it is spoken throughout Western Europe in France, Switzerland, and Belgium, but it is also an official language in many African nations including Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Chad, Madagascar, and more. French is also one of the official languages of Canada.
French is another one of the easier languages for English speakers to grasp falling into the group one category and requiring 575-600 hours of study. It is a Romance language and shares many grammatical similarities with Spanish and Italian, making it an easy second language for native speakers of those tongues to pick up or understand.
Standard Arabic is the sixth most spoken language in the world, with 274 million speakers. It is an Afro-Asiatic language classified as group five and extremely difficult for English speakers to learn. To become competent in Arabic, English speakers must commit at least 2200 hours to study.
Arabic is widely spoken in Africa and the Middle East in countries like Tanzania, Morocco, Egypt, and Chad to Iraq, Jordan, and Oman. Arabic is one of the oldest languages in the world and has had a significant influence on other languages including Spanish and Maltese.
This one may come as a surprise since not as many people are familiar with Bengali in the Western world, but Bengali is spoken by 265 million people worldwide, with 100 million of them residing in Bangladesh, another 85 million in India, and a large number of immigrants in the United States, England, and the Middle East.
Bengali falls into the group four language category along with Hindi, as a challenging language for English speakers to learn as it requires 1100 hours of study.
Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world with 258 million speakers. It is an East Slavic language of Indo-European origin and is spoken in many nations throughout Europe and central Asia. Besides Russia, it is an official language in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. It is widely spoken in other nearby countries like Ukraine and Estonia.
Russian is a group four language and is one of the only languages in Europe to have its own unique alphabet, making it challenging for non-native speakers to learn. Russian is extremely useful for travelers who are backpacking Eastern Europe because it is the most common language across the Baltics and Caucuses.
With 234 million speakers across four different continents, Portuguese is a useful language to know when traveling. Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Cape Verde. It is classified as a co-official language in Macau, East Timor, and Equatorial Guinea.
Portuguese is a group one language, making it easy for English speakers to learn, especially if they already understand Spanish, which bears many similarities. Falling into the category of Romance languages, it also has grammatical ties to French, Italian, and Romanian, making it quicker for speakers of those languages to pick it up.
The Indonesian tongue has a whopping 199 million speakers across the globe. Indonesian is an Austronesian language and falls into the group three category of bearing cultural and linguistic differences to English. For English speakers, it takes about 900 hours of study to become proficient in Indonesian.
Indonesia is the only country in the world where the language is official, though it is closely related to Malay, which is spoken in Malaysia and in Singapore. Bahasa Indonesian, or Indonesian Malay, is nearly identical to Bahasa Melayu, the version of Malay spoken in Malaysia. If you're planning to spend a long vacation backpacking South East Asia, this might be a useful language to take a look at.