Mandarin is often called Chinese by non-speakers, but it is in fact only one of many Chinese languages, which include Cantonese and Xiang, in the Sino-Tibetan language family. Mandarin is the largest of the Chinese languages, and is the official language of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. It is also one of four official languages of Singapore (the others being English, Malay and Tamil). In addition, large scale immigration from both mainland China and Taiwan have brought large populations of Mandarin speakers to the United States and Europe. Mandarin has two writing systems; Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.
2. Spanish (329 million speakers)
Spanish is a member of the West Iberian branch of the Romance languages, closely related to Portuguese. Spanish is one of the most widely distributed languages in the world; it is the official language of over 20 countries, and is the official language of nearly every state in Latin America, excepting Brazil, Belize, etc. Additionally, large populations of native speakers have immigrated to the United States, and Spanish is now one of the most common languages in the American southwest. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
3. English (328 Million speakers)
English is a member of the West Germanic language family. It originally sprouted from the Anglo-Saxon language (Old English) and borrowed heavily from Latin and French due to the Norman conquest of England. Though it developed in the British isles, the largest population of English speakers lives in the United States, with about 309 million speakers. English is the official language of 53 countries, including Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Jamaica, and New Zealand, and is the de facto language of the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. It also has large speaking populations in several African and Oceanian countries, and is a “subsidiary official language” in India.
English is also an official language of several organizations, including the UN, NATO, and the European Union.
4. Hindi-Urdu (242 million speakers total)
Hindi-Urdu is a member of the Indo-Aryan family, alongside Bengali. It is a pluricentric language and has two official forms, Standard Hindi and Standard Urdu, although the two forms are nearly indistinguishable from each other. Hindi is the official language of India, whilst Urdu is the official language of Pakistan. Urdu and Hindi are also spoken in parts of Europe and North America with heavy Indian and Pakistani immigrant populations. It is written in both the Hindi alphabet and the Arabic alphabet (for Urdu due to Islamic influence).
5. Arabic (221 million speakers)
Arabic is a member of the Semitic language family, which includes Hebrew Neo-Aramaic languages such as Syriac and Neo-Chaldean. Arabic is most often identified with the Middle East and North Africa, and is the official language of 26 countries. It sits alongside Hebrew as the official language of Israel, and has large populations of speakers in both Europe and North America. Additional, its classical variant is the language of the Qu’ran. Arabic is written in the Arabic script.
6. Bengali (181 million speakers)
Bengali is a member of the Indo-Aryan language family, alongside languages such as Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. Most of its speakers live in the country of Bangladesh, where it is the official language. Speakers also live in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. Speakers also live in Europe, the United States, and even Saudi Arabia. Bengali has a rich literary tradition and is a focal point of Bengali nationalism. Bengali is written in the Bengali script, which is related to the Sanskrit and Hindi scripts.
7. Portuguese (178 million speakers)
The Portuguese language is a member of the Italo-Western branch of the Romance language family. Like the other Romance languages, it is a descendant of Latin (“Romance” referring to Rome). It is the official language of both Portugal and Brazil, where most native speakers live. In addition, it is the official language of Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe, and is a mandatory subject of study in schools in Uruguay and Argentina. It is currently the fourth most learned language in the world, with 30 million learners.
8. Russian (144 million speakers)
The Russian language is a member of the East Slavic family of languages, a family which also includes the Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Rusyn languages. Most of Russian’s 144 million speakers live in Russia, where it is the official language. Other countries with large Russian-speaking populations include Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
9. Japanese (132 million speakers)
The Japanese language is a member of the Japonic language family (which also includes the Ryukyuan language spoken on the island of Okinawa). Most Japanese native speakers live in Japan and its territories, but native Japanese speakers also live in Korea, the United States and Europe. Japanese is the official language of Japan, and it also enjoys official status in Palau.
10. German (over 90 million speakers)
German is a member of the West Germanic language family, alongside English. German is primarily spoken, as its name suggests, in Germany, where it is the official language. However, it is also the official language of Austria, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, and is one of three official languages of Belgium (alongside Dutch and French) and one of four official languages of Switzerland (alongside French, Italian, and Romansch) and is the official language of Italian province of Bolzano-Bozen. In addition, it is recognized as a minority language in several countires, including Poland, Denmark, Hungary and the Czech Republic.