It’s difficult to imagine a world where English isn’t spoken, heard, or written as often as today. There’s no denying that it’s, by far, one of the most popular languages around the world. In fact, it’s one of the so-called world languages in every sense of the word. But it’s not the only one. Other than English, there are several others that billions of people speak. We’ll take a look at them right here and now.
How Many People Speak English?
While it’s true that English isn’t that popular everywhere around the world, it is still a language a lot of people want to learn. In fact, according to the Washington Post, there were over 1.5 billion active English learners in 2015.
This figure, of course, includes both native and non-native speakers. Be that as it may, it’s still a shocking number. And, we should note, it’s a number that has certainly grown since 2015.
Why Is English So Popular When Compared to Other Languages?
We can summarize the answer to the question above in two words: mass media.
Nearly everything that’s popular today is in English. Movies, video games, TV shows, books — everything we consume is in this language. In addition, English is more or less the language of the Internet. Meme culture alone shows how popular it really is.
Naturally, there are other factors. Some of them are historical, like the influence of the British Empire throughout history. Others are geopolitical. After all, the US has a lot of influence on global politics.
Then, there are factors that not many people take into account. For example, English is very flexible. It incorporates many words, phrases, and grammar rules from other languages.
So yes — English is far more popular than other languages we are about to list. However, it’s by no means the only language a person should learn. In fact, we highly encourage everyone to learn any of the following languages.
The Most Spoken Languages Around the World (Excluding English)
1. Mandarin Chinese
This shouldn’t surprise any of our readers. After all, the most populous country would certainly have the most spoken language around the world.
In Mandarin, the name of the language is actually Putonghua or 普通话; this term translates to ‘common language.’ Mandarin is currently spoken by a whopping 1.09 billion people. Of those, close to 900 million are native speakers.
People write Chinese using the Han pictographs. Each pictograph represents a single word or phrase. For comparison, in most European languages, a letter represents a sound, i.e., a phoneme.
An average Chinese academic uses about 8000 Han characters. However, roughly 3000 should be enough for everyday use.
Of course, we should note that Chinese speakers use two different versions of their ‘alphabet.’ The Traditional Chinese style is used in Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Simplified Chinese, on the other hand, is used in mainland China, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Once again, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The second most populous country in the world has the second most populous language. Yet, the number isn’t quite as large. Almost 550 million people speak Hindustani, of which only three-fifths are natives.
Hindustani is actually a common term for two separate dialects. Those are the Hindi (हिन्दुस्तानी) and the Urdu (ہندوستانی). Both of these dialects have their own individual scripts as well.
People speak Hindi mostly in Northern and Central India. It’s also the official language of the country. Urdu, on the other hand, is spoken in Pakistan. However, speakers of Hindi and Urdu can understand each other without difficulty.
Spain, like Britain, colonized much of the known world. For that reason, there are many countries that recognize Spanish as their official language. The majority of them are in Central and South America.
In terms of native speakers, Spanish surpasses Hindustani globally. At the moment, it has a whopping 450 million speakers. However, only a little over 90 million non-natives can speak it.
Interestingly, Spain is not the country with the most Spanish speakers in the world. Mexico is at the top, but shockingly, the US is in second place. Right now, it has over 40 million active Spanish speakers. If that number grows, in a few decades, it will overtake even Mexico!
With the expansion of Islam through history, the Arabic language gained millions of new speakers. Since then, it has become the lingua franca of the Muslim world.
In 2019, roughly 430 million speakers use Arabic. The speakers themselves refer to the language as ‘al-ʻarabiyyah (العَرَبِيَّة).’
A lot of non-native speakers use Arabic regularly because of how important this language is to the Muslim faith. However, traditional Quran Arabic is usually only used in religious ceremonies. Most people now use Modern Standard Arabic.
Interestingly, Malay is spoken by barely 80 million native Malaysian speakers. In contrast, over 200 million non-natives use it! That’s because ‘bahasa Melayu,’ or Malay, is a lingua franca in Southeastern Asia.
Malay is important to the people of Indonesia. This island nation has over 700 languages currently in use! For that reason, Malay (or as they call it, ‘bahasa Indonesia’) is the official language that every Indonesian uses.
Aside from Malaysia and Indonesia, we can also hear Malay in Singapore and Brunei.
Ру́сский язы́к, or the Russian language, is the most widely spoken Slavic language in the world. Over 270 million people speak it today, with more than half living in Russia.
It’s the official language of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Most former Soviet republics also have a lot of citizens who still speak Russian fluently.
Like a few other Slavic languages, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet.
A little over 260 million people regularly speak Bengali, or ‘Bangla (বাংলা).’ It’s mostly spoken in Bangladesh and India. In fact, it’s the second most spoken language in India after Hindustani.
Like the Spanish, the Portuguese also had their own fair share of colonizing the globe; so much so that over 230 million people globally speak Portuguese right now.
The first two countries that come to mind are Portugal and Brazil. However, people also speak Portuguese in several African and Asian countries. The Chinese city of Macau, for example, recognizes Portuguese as an official language.
The native 80 million French speakers are a mere fraction of the total number of people who use this language globally. Today, over 230 million people speak French.
Interestingly, French used to be the official diplomatic language until not that long ago. People speak it in some of the biggest countries, like Canada, as well as in the smallest ones, like Monaco. But there are also huge parts of Asia and Africa where French is the official language. After all, France, like England and Spain, also engaged in colonization.
Japan didn’t colonize too many territories in its time. However, its language, called ‘Nihongo’ or 日本語, is fairly popular in 2019.
Around 130 million Japanese people speak it regularly. In addition, at least 130,000 non-natives speak it, and this number is still growing.
Japanese culture has undoubtedly become popular in the past few decades, thanks to video games, manga, and anime. It’s not at all surprising that many people around the world would want to learn this language.
What if I Do Not Know These Languages?
Sometimes, you’ll run into popular languages, like Arabic or French. Other times, you can run into some languages that are literally spoken by one or two people on this planet. If you can’t find the time to learn the language, you might need a translator device.
A translator device converts words and phrases into a different language in real time. You use it by clicking a button and speaking a sentence or a word into it. The device then translates it to the target language. That way, the person in front of you can understand what you’re saying.
Most translator devices have built-in languages. Some, like Muama Enence, have over 40 different ones to choose from! It’s definitely something to take with you on a trip. You never know if you’ll need to translate a quick phrase into Spanish or Mandarin.