Did you know that the world is home to around 7,097 different languages? That's according to the magazine Ethnologue. It's definitely a demonstration of linguistic variety that, with a global population of around 7.9 billion people, comes as no surprise. However, the distribution of speakers is highly uneven: while some languages are spoken by 14% of the global population, others are on the verge of extinction.
If you want to find out what are the 6 most spoken languages in the world, in ascending order of number of speakers - both native and non-native, which have the greatest geographical spread and a few other fun facts, such as which are most associated with certain fields, for example the arts and culture, work or social life, then here we explain all.
French has a total of 267 million speakers. However, of that sum, only 77 million are native speakers. This is because, despite the fact that its relevance in education has decreased in recent years in favour of English, it still enjoys great prestige and is therefore the third most spoken as a foreign language.
Meanwhile, French is very important within the European Union - in particular in cultural and artistic spheres - where it is one of the working languages. French is also an official language in 29 countries around the world, making it a vehicle for communication commonly used in international collaboration. For example, it competes with English as a common language for communications in Europe.
Modern Standard Arabic is a grouping of different varieties of the language and in total, it has some 274 million native speakers, making it the fifth most spoken language in the world. It is a common language for communications in the Muslim world, and serves as a bridge between various dialects that are so distinct from each other that often they are barely mutually understandable.
Arabic is the official language of 20 countries and serves as a business language, like English, albeit more locally in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Although it is mainly spoken in these countries, the language has experienced a slight growth outside of its natural boundaries, due to the region's economic growth and migratory flows. Hence the growth in Arabic language course, both online and face to face.
Thanks to both its geographical reach and number of users, Spanish - with 543 million speakers - takes the fourth spot for the most spoken language; second if we take only native speakers into account.
Although there are many regional varieties, there is a clear cultural connection between Spanish-speaking countries, and the language is used for communications between Europe and South America. Meanwhile, due to the migratory flow between the United States and Latin America, there is an increased interest in Spanish as a second language, and that's why it's no surprise that Spanish is the fourth most studied language in the world.
One interesting thing about India is the large number of co-official languages it has. Hindi, with 341 million native inhabitants, is a co-official language in India along with 21 other languages, including English. In an area with such linguistic diversity as this, Hindi serves as a lingua franca between many non-native speakers and, thanks to the population density in these regions, the total number of speakers is as much as 600 million.
However, as with Arabic, outside of India and its neighbours, Hindi is not a widespread language, although there are sizeable communities of speakers in countries such as Fiji or Trinidad and Tobago.
Mandarin Chinese is the set of Chinese dialects spoken in northern, central and south-eastern China. With 918 million native speakers, it is the language with most native speakers in the world, although if speakers of Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language are added to this figure, it reaches a total of 1.1 billion speakers, the second most spoken language in the world.
It is used mainly in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, places where it serves as a language of business and trade. It is also frequently used in other countries further afield, such as Australia, Canada and the US, thanks to the influx of migrants and for business and trade purposes. However, in these regions, although there are major communities of Mandarin Chinese speakers - some of which amount to more than 5% of the population - day-to-day use is less common.
English boasts some 1.3 billion speakers, of which 379 million are native. However, this number is continually growing, because English is the most studied language in the world and the one most commonly used for international communications, both of a personal and professional nature.
Its success is, in part, down to Britain’s former colonial presence, as well as the huge volume of cultural and scientific content available in English. Its status as the international lingua franca has also given it certain idiosyncrasies, such as the emergence of varieties that facilitate learning for non-native speakers, and distinctive regional elements that, little by little, produce new dialects such as Globish or Euro-English.
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