Languages are a fundamental aspect of communication and human society. It plays a crucial role in human relations, culture, and society. Thus, it shapes our thoughts, understanding, and interaction.
Languages are essential for communication, cultural preservation, empathy, cognitive growth, knowledge, economic opportunities, and personal/societal enrichment. Supporting linguistic diversity is essential for fostering awareness and global connection.
It is hard to determine the exact number of languages as the criteria and classification for defining a distinct language vary. But it is reckoned that there are thousands of languages spoken universally.
Linguists and organizations globally actively work to document and preserve endangered languages. Still, the total number can fluctuate as some become more prominent while others fade away.
But it’s important to note that this number can vary because of dialects, mutual intelligibility, and regional variations.
- 25 most spoken first languages worldwide 2023
- 1. Mandarin Chinese (939+ million native speakers)
- 2. Spanish (559+ million native speakers)
- 3. English (380+ million native speakers)
- 4. Hindi (345+ million native speakers)
- 5. Portuguese (236+ million native speakers)
- 6. Bengali or Bangla (233+ million native speakers)
- 7. Russian (147+ million native speakers)
- 8. Japanese (123+ million native speakers)
- 9. Yue/Cantonese Chinese (86+ million native speakers)
- 10. Vietnamese (85+ million native speakers)
- 11. Turkish (84+ million native speakers)
- 12. Wu Chinese (83.3 million native speakers)
- 13. Marathi (83.2 million native speakers)
- 14. Telugu (83+ million native speakers)
- 15. Korean (82+ million native speakers)
- 16. French (81+ million native speakers)
- 17. Tamil (79+ million native speakers)
- 18. Egyptian Spoken Arabic (77+ million native speakers)
- 19. Standard German (75+ million native speakers)
- 20. Urdu (70+ million native speakers)
- 21. Javanese (68+ million native speakers)
- 22. Western Punjabi (66+ million native speakers)
- 23. Italian (65+ million native speakers)
- 24. Gujarati (57+ million native speakers)
- 25. Iranian Persian (57+ million native speakers)
- Other languages with sizeable first-language speakers
- Final words on most widespread mother tongues
25 most spoken first languages worldwide 2023
The Ethnologue, a typically known reference work on languages, currently lists 7,168 living languages. This includes dialects, widespread, rarest, and hundreds of endangered languages.
It is also worth mentioning that languages are not static; they evolve, change, and sometimes become endangered or extinct.
While some languages have vast numbers of speakers, like Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, English, Portuguese, and French. In contrast, many have few speakers and are at risk of disappearing.
Even though the exact number differs, it is still staggering, with over 7,000 spoken worldwide. There’s good news, though, over half of the world’s population speaks just 23 languages!
This article will examine the 25 most spoken native or first languages. I will also explore their importance, where it is spoken, facts, and details.
1. Mandarin Chinese (939+ million native speakers)
The term “Chinese” is often used to refer to Mandarin Chinese, the most widely spoken variety of Chinese.
Hundreds of different Chinese languages or dialects exist. These are mostly mutually unintelligible, meaning speakers of various languages cannot understand each other. The most widely variant are Mandarin, Cantonese, and Wu.
Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken mother tongue in China and the world. As per Ethnologue, there are 939 million native Mandarin Chinese speakers, about 13% of the world’s population.
Most of these speakers live in China, where Mandarin is the official language. It is also spoken in Taiwan, Singapore, and other areas in Southeast Asia.
Mandarin is complex, with 50,000 distinct characters. But just 3,000 are needed to understand most Mandarin. If you enjoy tone languages with easy syntax and will take the time to learn their subtleties, Mandarin is for you.
2. Spanish (559+ million native speakers)
As of 2023, 485 million are natives of Hispanic nations. After Mandarin, it is the second most spoken mother tongue. As a second or foreign language, 74 million people speak Spanish.
Spanish is the official tongue of 20 nations, and Puerto Rico is an unincorporated part of the USA.
There are more native Spanish speakers in Mexico than anywhere else. Colombia, Spain, and Argentina follow closely behind. In the US, roughly 41 million people speak Spanish as their primary language, even though it is not official.
Some believe Spanish is lengthy because of its complex conjugations, gender, and lengthy grammar. But it is a phonetic language that shares similarities with Romance and Germanic languages like English.
Spanish is the perfect choice if you’re hunting for a language that is easy to speak. But remember, Spanish varieties and lengthy grammatical are challenging.
Spanish is a lovely and adaptable language, and it is spoken by people all over the planet. Many resources and online Spanish language courses are available for learners to assist them.
3. English (380+ million native speakers)
English ranks third in terms of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. There are roughly 380 million native speakers. It is the most widely used and taught.
Although most English speakers are not native speakers, it is the world’s third most-spoken first language. Remarkably, with a widespread influence, and is spoken in over 70 nations, making it a universal language.
English is one of the easiest languages to learn, with simple grammar rules and no gender-specific terminology. This means that anyone can learn and master the language with ease.
With so many resources available to learners, learners have countless opportunities to improve their English skills. So, let’s embrace the beauty and learn this fantastic language today!
4. Hindi (345+ million native speakers)
Hindi may conjure images of exotic cuisine, lively places, exciting movies, vibrant culture, and India’s age-old traditions.
Hindi, the official language of India, holds immense importance as one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. With over 345 million native speakers, Hindi plays a significant role in India and other countries where the Indian diaspora live.
Its prominence can be attributed to its status as a lingua franca in many parts of India and its inclusion in education systems and media platforms. It facilitates communication and business interactions within the Indian subcontinent.
Hindi’s widespread usage makes it an essential language for personal and professional purposes. Speaking Hindi connects people from different regions and contributes to India’s culture.
There are many dialects of Hindi, just as there are in Chinese. The standard Hindi, however, is universally understood and spoken by nearly two-thirds of Indians to a varying degree.
5. Portuguese (236+ million native speakers)
Portuguese, one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, is important globally. Over 236 million people speak Portuguese as their native language.
Besides being the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor, Portuguese is also widely spoken in Macau (China), Goa (India), and several African countries due to historical ties.
This widespread usage positions Portuguese as a beneficial language for international trade relations and global collaborations. This makes it crucial for businesses and individuals and impacts communication, cultural exchange, and economic opportunities.
Recognizing the number of people who speak Portuguese as their native language highlights its importance globally and within specific regions.
Proficiency in Portuguese enhances communication and unlocks countless possibilities for personal growth and professional success in an increasingly interconnected world.
6. Bengali or Bangla (233+ million native speakers)
Bengali is a widely spoken language, with around 233 million people using it as their first language and 40 million as a second language. It is also the official language of Bangladesh.
Bengali is India’s second most widely spoken language after Hindi, and it is commonly used in significant states such as West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura. It is also spoken in Pakistan, Nepal, and the United Kingdom.
Bengali is the sixth most-spoken native language and the seventh most-spoken language worldwide. Like Hindi, every Bengali consonant has its own vowel sound, which is fascinating for Westerners. If you already speak Hindi, learning Bangla should be relatively easy.
7. Russian (147+ million native speakers)
Did you know that Russian is the most spoken Slavic language in Europe? It has 258 million speakers, including 147 million native speakers.
Russian is the official language of many countries, including Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. It is also an official UN language and one of the two official languages of the International Space Station.
Because of its historical ties and former Soviet Union countries, Russian is widely spoken in various parts of Europe. It is considered the most geographically widespread language in Eurasia.
If you aspire to be an astronaut or a literature enthusiast, you have reasons to learn Russian. This is because of Russia’s advanced space technology and vast literary resources.
8. Japanese (123+ million native speakers)
Japanese is spoken by about 124 million native speakers. It is also spoken by overseas Japanese worldwide, such as China, South Korea, the United States, Brazil, etc.
It’s true! In fact, many people globally are learning Japanese for career and personal reasons as a foreign language. Around 10 million people are currently studying it!
Japan is a stunning country with a rich culture and a way of life. Knowing Japanese could open up many job opportunities for you.
Japanese can be tough as it has complex grammar and a unique writing system that uses three characters: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.
But don’t let that scare you! Japanese is a beautiful and expressive language. It is becoming increasingly popular for personal and professional motivations.
9. Yue/Cantonese Chinese (86+ million native speakers)
Yue Chinese referred to as Cantonese, is a Chinese dialect commonly used in the Guangdong province of China, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau.
It is the official language of these two significant financial and business hubs. Also, it is spoken by many Chinese immigrants worldwide.
Yue or Cantonese is a highly influential Chinese variant with many speakers. That is why it is profitable to learn this Chinese language.
It ranks second among the most widely-spoken Chinese dialects, and it is the nineteenth most spoken language globally. Its significance extends to various regions worldwide.
10. Vietnamese (85+ million native speakers)
In Vietnam, Vietnamese is the leading and only official language. Most Vietnamese people speak it as their first language, while ethnic minority groups often speak it as their second language.
Around 85 million people speak Vietnamese as their mother tongue. Many Vietnamese live outside of Vietnam, especially in the USA, Europe, and the Middle East, and still speak their native language.
Vietnamese is useful and easy to learn if you already speak English or another tonal language. Therefore, it has become more and more popular for global communication.
11. Turkish (84+ million native speakers)
Did you know Turkish has approximately 84 million native speakers, according to data from Ethnologue?
As the language of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish is the most commonly spoken Turkic language. It is used primarily in Turkey, where it is the official language.
It is spoken in Cyprus, Syria, Germany, Austria, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Northern Cyprus, and the Caucasus. Turkish is beneficial in other countries, mainly Europe and Central Asia, with Turkish diaspora populations.
12. Wu Chinese (83.3 million native speakers)
The Wu Chinese language is primarily spoken in Shanghai, Zhejiang Province, southern Jiangsu Province, and the surrounding areas of the Wu cultural zone.
Wu Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages, with variations in cities such as Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, and Ningbo.
It can be helpful in these parts of China, as it is spoken by roughly 82 million people in the regional zones, with only about one million speakers outside the country.
If you already have a basic understanding of Chinese, transitioning to Wu Chinese would be a simple way to immerse yourself in the bustling city of Shanghai. You can make the most out of your experience.
13. Marathi (83.2 million native speakers)
Marathi is the official language of Maharashtra, a West Indian state. It ranks third on the list of Indian languages, with 100 million speakers and 83 million native speakers.
Marathi is also the official language of Goa and is used by the Indian government and semi-government agencies. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India.
If you’re unfamiliar with Marathi, it’s worth learning as Mumbai, a popular destination, awaits you.
14. Telugu (83+ million native speakers)
If you’re from the southern half of India, you might already know about widespread Telugu that ranks 14th in this list.
Telugu is spoken in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and other places. Different parts of the states have their own dialects. There are also significant diaspora communities worldwide.
Telugu is the third most spoken language in the country and is recognized as a scheduled language. It’s spoken by 83 million native speakers.
15. Korean (82+ million native speakers)
Korean is the official language of South Korea and North Korea, with a significant number of speakers worldwide estimated at around 82 million. Diaspora communities also speak Korean in China, the US, Japan, and the former Soviet Union.
The Korean language is gaining popularity because of Korean culture, entertainment, and business. As a result, many young people are learning Korean for jobs and hobbies.
The Korean language has two primary standardized forms: South Korean Korean (SKK) and North Korean Korean (NKK). They are still mutually comprehensible despite vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar differences.
16. French (81+ million native speakers)
North America, French Polynesia, Europe, and Africa are among the places where French is spoken as one of the widespread languages. It is the official language in 29 nations and is spoken on all five continents as a native language.
Many international organizations, such as the WTO, Francophonie, FIFA, UN, UNESCO, EU, OSCE, OIC, and NATO, have French as their official language.
France is a key tourist destination and a significant player on the global stage. If you are interested in exploring the language, its rich history and cultural diversity are excellent reasons to do so.
French is a valuable language to study, weighing over 25 Francophone nations. It can open up many doors for your personal and professional life. So why not start studying today?
17. Tamil (79+ million native speakers)
Tamil is another widely spoken first language in India and ranks 17th on the global list. Once again, Indian languages dominate the world, with another on the list.
It is spoken by 86 million people worldwide, with 78 million native speakers, in Southern India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Mauritius, and Malaysia. Further, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are official states in India that use it.
Tamil portrays individual traditions as an ancient language with ancient literature and was designated a classical language in 2004. It is one of the oldest languages, along with Sanskrit, though a bit hard language to learn.
18. Egyptian Spoken Arabic (77+ million native speakers)
Egyptian Spoken Arabic, also known as Masri or Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, is a widely spoken language in Egypt and holds significant importance in various aspects of daily life.
As the native language of most Egyptians, it plays a crucial role in communication, culture, and identity. It is used in informal conversations and formal settings such as business transactions, education, media, and government administration.
With about 77 million natives, Egypt boasts one of the largest Arabic-speaking populations in the world. Egyptian Spoken Arabic is the primary communication for Egyptians across all social classes and age groups.
The importance of Arabic extends beyond its widespread usage within Egypt. Due to Egypt’s historical significance and cultural influence on the Arab world, many non-native speakers also learn this dialect to better understand Egyptian culture and engage with its rich artistic heritage.
19. Standard German (75+ million native speakers)
German is the only national official language in Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, with over 133 million speakers and 76 million natives.
It’s also one of the official tongues of Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland. It is widely spoken in many other countries worldwide. In fact, its widespread use has made it the European Union’s second most widely studied language, after French.
German is known for its capacity to develop new and exact terms, making it a language of inventors.
Many job opportunities involving German are there for those fluent in German. This makes it a popular choice for individuals passionate about words and vocabulary.
20. Urdu (70+ million native speakers)
Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and is widely spoken in India. In recent years, it has become one of the most spoken languages, with over 230 million speakers, including 70 million native speakers.
Urdu is also spoken in Bangladesh and South Asian communities in various countries, such as the Middle East, the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany, and Norway.
It is often referred to as the “language of love” due to its enchanting vocabulary, similar to Hindi. Interestingly, Urdu and Hindi speakers can easily understand each other, making it one of the moderate languages to learn on this list.
21. Javanese (68+ million native speakers)
Javanese, a Southeast Asian language spoken by 68 million, is important in various aspects of society. Recognizing how many speak Javanese is essential to appreciate its cultural importance and influence.
As one of Indonesia’s most widely spoken languages, Javanese is a means of communication and a source of identity for its speakers. It plays a meaningful role in preserving local traditions, literature, and oral histories passed down through generations.
The essence of Javanese extends beyond cultural heritage. In a globalized world, the number of Javanese speakers emphasizes Indonesia’s linguistic diversity. It contributes to a more inclusive understanding of language dynamics.
22. Western Punjabi (66+ million native speakers)
Around 66 million native speakers speak Western Punjabi in Pakistan. There is a different variant in India, i.e., Eastern Punjabi, with over 50 million native speakers, one of the 22 officially recognized languages.
The principal difference between Western and Eastern Punjabi is the scripts. Western Punjabi is written in Shahmukhi, while Eastern is written in Gurmukhi. There are also some differences in their pronunciation, usage, and vocabulary.
It is also commonly spoken outside India and Pakistan, ranking as the third most spoken in the UK and fourth most spoken language in Canada. Further, it is among the top non-English languages spoken in other parts of Europe, Australia, etc.
23. Italian (65+ million native speakers)
Italian is a language spoken by about 70 million people worldwide. Most of these people, around 65 million, speak Italian as their first language.
The language is primarily spoken in Italy, where it is the official language. Still, it is also spoken in countries such as Germany, France, and the United States.
Italian is an important language in Europe and is one of the official languages of Co-operation in Europe and the Organization for Security. It is also one of the working languages of the Council of Europe.
Learning Italian is a useful skill that can open up job opportunities and is a beautiful and expressive language. With globalization, knowing Italian is becoming increasingly important. Italian is an excellent choice if you want to learn a new language.
24. Gujarati (57+ million native speakers)
The Gujarati language is an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Gujarati people. It is spoken by over 57 million people, primarily in the Indian state of Gujarat and in various diaspora communities worldwide.
The language is crucial in preserving and promoting Gujarati culture, traditions, literature, and arts. It has emerged as one of India’s most extensively spoken languages, with a rich history and vibrant culture.
Gujarati language, which is one of the 25 most spoken native tongues. It plays a pivotal part in shaping the Gujarati-speaking community’s identity, heritage, and social fabric.
25. Iranian Persian (57+ million native speakers)
Iranian Persian, also known as Farsi or Persian, is primarily spoken in Iran. The widespread importance of Farsi can be credited to its historical value, literary contributions, and importance in regional communication.
Whether poetry, literature, music, or daily conversations, Farsi connects people across borders. Recognizing the number of Farsi speakers shows its global significance.
Farsi, or Iranian Persian, reminds us of the diverse linguistic geography around us. It highlights embracing different cultures and languages in our interconnected world.
Other languages with sizeable first-language speakers
Beyond these 25 languages, there are some other languages with a substantial number of native speakers and part of the 50 most spoken languages.
There are many Indian languages, like Kannada, Bhojpuri, and Eastern Punjabi. Also, Chinese variants like Min Nan, Jin, and Hakka, with a sizeable number of native speakers. Try some professional language translation services if you intend to translate from one language to another.
Final words on most widespread mother tongues
The number of languages spoken in the world exceeds 7,000. The most widely spoken mother tongues are listed here.
You will get internationally recognized if you learn one of these first languages. In turn, this can lead to many opportunities for travel, work, and enrichment of one’s life.
It is hard to determine the exact number because of the lack of definition of what makes up a “speaker” of a language. Some native speakers may not be proficient, whereas many do not have a specific native language.
Counting the exact number of speakers is difficult, but many languages are spoken worldwide.
It is possible, however, that this number may vary. The number of language speakers changes because of population growth, new data availability, and language use changes.
What defines a language needs to be clarified. Some languages are identical and may be considered dialects of the same language.
Despite these challenges, the top 25 spoken first languages summarize today’s world’s most noteworthy languages.