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January 2014

What beat out English as the most spoken language around the world?

It’s not surprising to see English at the top of languages most spoken by country. Its usage is international so much so that even this article is in English. But when you take population in consideration, English slips from its number one spot. Below are the top five languages spoken in terms of population. (Estimates come from Ethnologue, an organization that compiles information on living languages around the world.)

5.) Standard Arabic

Approximately 353.5 million people around the world speak Standard Arabic (or Literary Arabic), the official form of Arabic. The majority of speakers of Standard Arabic reside in the Middle East and North Africa. Arabic is the official language in 25 countries, most notably in Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. SADR and Somaliland recognize the language as well.

4.) Hindi

Hindi, one of the official languages of India, is spoken by as many as 380 million people worldwide. Controversy emerged in the 19th century over whether Hindi and Urdu, another prominent Indian language, should take precedence as the official language of the Republic of India. In 1950, Hindi, paired with the Devanagari script, was officially favored over Urdu and all other languages in India.

3.) Spanish

Spanish will get you far, at least if you’re a tourist. Widely spoken in the Americas (albeit in differing dialects) and the official language of Spain, knowing a bit of Spanish can help you travel in many countries around the world. Approximately 466 million people speak Spanish, one of the six official languages of the United Nations along with Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Russian. Spanish is also a growing language in the United States, evident by the recent political focus on Hispanic and Latino communities.

2.) English

British Imperialism certainly had a last effect, as today many learn English as a necessity for functioning in the international world. And though this may soon change with the existence of our number one language on the list (keep reading), there’s no question of English’s prolificity.

(Read: “Five differences between British and American English”)

1.) Mandarin Chinese

According to a 2012 estimation, there are approximately 1.34 billion people living in China. As a rising superpower, it’s no wonder that so many businesspeople are opting to learn Mandarin. Unlike China’s second most spoken dialect, Cantonese, Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China. Over 1.02 billion people speak the language worldwide. That’s a lot of people!

Other popular languages include Russian (6), Japanese (11), French (12), German (13), Italian (21) and Korean (23). Of course, rare languages still exist, including Archi, spoken by less than 1200 people in a small Russian village called Archib, and !Xóõ (or Taa), an official language of the Khoisan people of Southern Africa, spoken with a number of consonants and clicking sounds. When you also include more recent additions like Klingon from Star Trek or Tolkien’s Elvish from The Lord of the Rings, the list of available languages in the world seems infinite!

Are you learning one of the world’s most spoken languages? Let us know on our Facebook Page and be sure to “like” TELC English to stay updated on more interesting language learning tips and facts from around the world!